Women empowerment has been a widely promoted topic globally, particularly in traditionally male-dominated industries like construction. In South Africa, the rate of unemployment amongst women was 29.5% in the second quarter of 2018, compared with 25.3% amongst men.1 As a proposed solution, government is addressing this by analysing the unequal representation of women in construction and supporting construction businesses with gender equality initiatives.2
The Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi made an announcement that the Preferential Procurement Regulations of 2017 allow for tenders to be sub-contracted to women-owned companies, or those that have 51% representation of black and female employees. This is on the proviso that they’re registered with the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) and the Central Supplier Database of the National Treasury, and that the company’s taxes are up to date with the South African Revenue Service.3
The Public Works Department has followed through by granting 30 tenders with a combined value of R54m to women-owned construction enterprises in the first quarter of the financial year from 2018 to 2019.4 In addition, 578 quotations have also been granted totalling R43.5m.5 “There is a lot of work to be done in terms of training and mentoring, and the CIDB plays a major role here, as well as in incubation and providing opportunities from the bigger players in the sector and from government. We have to make the most of what we have, including using policy, regulation and advocacy to support women contractors,” Nxesi said.6Although transformation in South Africa has been slow, the presence of women in the workforce – and particularly in leadership positions – is increasing.
Paving the way forward
Dr Thandi Ndlovu is the founder and CEO of the Motheo Construction Group, which has been in operation for over 20 years.7 In 2018, she was given the Lisa Blane Award at the fourth annual South African Women in Property Awards, in recognition of her work in uplifting women of colour and providing quality leadership.8
Dr Ndlovu’s business model relies on the use of local sub-contractors and materials to complete construction projects, as well as getting the local community to support the project. Her company has empowered people who have built homes and learnt valuable skills, which will help them find their own employment. She employs more than 120 permanent staff and 600 temporary staff members.9 In her experience, community engagement helps to ensure a smoother process – aligning the community’s expectations and their involvement in sub-contracting roles in each project.
Overcoming the challenges
What are the factors that are holding back women empowerment in construction?
Lack of skills and experience.
Contractors are graded from one (low) to nine (high) in order to be granted specific tenders. These grades categorise contractors through financial and work capability factors.10 According to the CIDB, statistics from 2018 show that 437 women-owned contractors are in grades seven to nine, which is only 1% of the total 40,065 women-owned contractors. The vast majority are still in grade one.11 Training and mentoring is a necessity for women to become empowered with the right skill sets to achieve higher grading for construction work.\
Safety and health issues.
Construction is inherently a risky industry with safety issues ranging from slight to fatal injuries. However, personal protective equipment (PPE) is made to fit the average male worker.12 Female workers are generally smaller than their male colleagues, and this becomes a safety issue as ill-fitting PPE doesn’t protect them properly. The PPE requirements include: gloves, harnesses, safety vests, work boots and outerwear.13“Safe work creates no obstacles to being competitive and successful. In fact, no country – and no company in the long run – has been able to jump to a high level of productivity without making sure that the work environment is safe,” says the International Labour Organisation.14
Perceptions that women find it too physically challenging.
There is a misconception that women do not want to work in this traditionally male industry. However, the CIDB is challenging this outdated presumption. Its main goal under the Department of Public Works is to drive delivery, capacity and strategy, by working in collaboration with partnerships to maintain and ensure that buildings are built to standard and are fit for habitation.15Dr Ndlovu is equally dedicated to changing this perception. She uses her company, The Motheo Construction Group, as a vehicle of empowerment for women entering or in the construction industry. Dr Ndlovu says, “… my contribution to the company over the 20 years had included a vision that would see black women becoming viable players in the construction industry and leadership that has helped steer Motheo to success, among many other qualities that I had brought to the table.”16
Monopolies in the industry.17
According to Dennis Pillay, the chairperson of the Co-operative South African Building Contractors and Civils Association, equality in this sector is still the same as it was in the 1970s, because small contractors are still struggling to break into the market for tenders.He highlights that the top five construction companies handle at least 70% of all the available work. “The industry is still very discriminatory, if we look at the Construction Industry Development Board grading, you will see that the big companies have the best grading, so they qualify for major multi-billion, million contracts and the smaller guys go up to grade seven and they stay there,” Pillay added.19
The outlook for 2019
Global forecasts predict that the expected growth in this industry will make it increasingly profitable. Daniel Farnham references this aspect in his book on Case Study Research: “According to the Construction Intelligence Center, the global construction industry is expected to reach $10tn by 2020 with emerging economies expected to contribute 51.9% of the value of this sector.”20
Bryte Insurance published their Construction Activity Monitor report in 2018, noting this importance, “As ‘one of the economic engines’ of the country, South Africa’s construction sector is an important gauge of the general financial health of the country.”21 For women to participate in this economic promise, the answer lies in upskilling so that more women are empowered with the necessary abilities to compete. The current state of the construction industry is changing for the better, with government driving procurement policies to support female contractors.22 The idea of women working, and becoming leaders in this field is already a reality.
With this in mind, the University of Cape Town, in collaboration with GetSmarter, is offering an eight-week Construction Management online short course. The purpose of this online short course is to develop your ability to manage large- and small-scale projects. You’ll gain practical skills in key management principles, with a project-management focus. This online short course is ideally suited for working professionals, including site managers, contractors, supervisors, quantity surveyors or junior architects.
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14 Crampton, N. (Aug, 2017). ‘How upskilling programmes can benefit your construction business‘. Retrieved from Standard Bank BizConnect.
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16 Zwane, N. (Mar, 2018). ‘Motheo Group works hard at skilling youth.’ Retrieved from Cape Times.
17 Ramphele, L. (May, 2018). ‘Construction industry hasn’t changed since the ’70’s, lacks transformation’. Retrieved from Cape Talk.
18 Ramphele, L. (May, 2018). ‘Construction industry hasn’t changed since the ’70’s, lacks transformation’. Retrieved from Cape Talk.
19 Ramphele, L. (May, 2018). ‘Construction industry hasn’t changed since the ’70’s, lacks transformation’. Retrieved from Cape Talk.
20 Farnham, D. (Feb, 2018). ‘Global construction industry expected to reach $10 trillion by 2020’. Retrieved by Scalar.
21 (Jul, 2018). ‘South Africa: Bryte construction activity monitor 2017’. Retrieved from Construction Activity Monitor_July 2018_final.pdf Bryte.
22 (Apr, 2018). ‘Construction in South Africa – Key trends and opportunities to 2022’. Retrieved from Global Data.