The need for increased flexibility in the steel industry to accommodate women’s needs, greater visibility of women working in the sector and higher levels of creativity were key concerns raised at the South African Institute of Steel Construction (SAISC) Women in Steel event held in Woodmead earlier this month.
“There aren’t enough women in the industry, potentially because they don’t think it’s glamourous. However, I do think there is a lot of possibility for creativity in the steel industry. If women can embrace that, it’s quite an exciting industry to be in,” says newly appointed first female SAISC chairperson Nicolette Skjoldhammer.
Women really have a unique voice and are positioned to make a unique contribution to the industry, she says, adding that the current pool of candidates is small because not enough women are attracted to the industry.
“Women need to make themselves more visible in their own companies and the steel construction industry. This will help to not only attract more women to the industry but also further their careers,” she tells Engineering News.
SAISC corporate marketing and events manager Liezel Weber adds that this increased visibility will help to improve the number, position and perception of women working in the steel construction industry.
There is also the challenge of retaining women in the industry.
“Capable women might leave the industry because, for example, there might be a lack of support and flexibility for women who are primary caregivers and have to raise children. If there were more senior women in the industry, there would be a greater degree of identification with those kinds of challenges and, therefore, greater implementation of the policies that could address these concerns to help avoid losing women to other industries,” Skjoldhammer notes.
This call for more women in senior positions is in line with the SAISC’s vision to have at least 50% female representation on its 14-member board, of which only two are female.
Steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal South Africa commercial GM Bridget Ledwaba believes that women are not doing enough to help themselves: “Women always say that it’s men who keep us from succeeding, and we as women are often told how strong and how resilient we are, but what are we actually doing to rise above our current status?”
The call for greater female visibility entails more women attending industry networking events, less timidity in boardrooms – which are typically overwhelmingly male – and greater self-confidence in whatever roles women are assigned to.
“For the steel ecosystem to thrive, everyone has to step up. New ideas and ways of doing things need to be embraced. There are no small roles. We believe that the SAISC’s drive to encourage and foster more inclusive representation throughout the steel sector is integral to positioning the entire industry for success,” states SAISC marketing manager Denise Sherman.
Skjoldhammer emphasises the importance of strengthening the confidence of female newcomers so that outdated male-centric perspectives can be adjusted.
This message is in line with the SAISC’s 2019 campaign – See yourself in steel – which aims to encourage women – among other previously disadvantaged demographics – to recognise that steel is an integral part of South African society and is also an important contributor to the economy, and that it provides for attractive career path options. The campaign aims to enable women to be more proactive and contribute more to the steel construction industry.
“In an industry context, See yourself in steel is about recognising and being proud of the part you play in the story of South African steel,” Sherman explains.
This campaign is designed to not only boost industry growth through transformation but also promote the creative possibilities in the steel construction industry.
“We want to ensure that we equip women with strategic skills to become steel industry disruptors – through innovative and creative thinking – in what . . . is a dynamic and yet extremely volatile and challenging environment. A more diverse industry is a stronger industry,” Weber points out.
She explains that women can add fresh perspectives to the industry, which is particularly useful amid the current tough economic climate.
“The steel industry, like many other heavy industries, is still very much seen as male dominated, even though . . . many women in different professional capacities . . . are doing great things in steel. The SAISC is determined to challenge the perception that the steel industry is a club for men alone.
“We need to acknowledge and celebrate our talented and capable women in steel,” concludes SAISC CEO Paolo Trinchero.