TAKRAF South Africa's Women in Mining: anything is possible

The following article first appeared in the August issue of “Engineering News” magazine in South Africa, highlighting the incredible journey of ‘Women in Mining’ working at TAKRAF South Africa. Thanks to Creamer Media we can re-publish the article in our news area.

The picture shows TAKRAF South Africa´s women in mining
Back row (l to r): Rianti Gouws; Evah Malatse; Merlie Oschmann; Rose Maile; Heidi Strydom; Juliana Ndisengei; Sphile Mokoena; Michelle Prinsloo; and Louise Kriel. Front row (l to r): Lindiwe Mthembu; Corné Jordaan; Shoki Moetlo; Zandile Mthunzi; Liz Agrela; and Linn Boyd.

When asked what advice to give to young women looking to enter mining, TAKRAF South Africa’s Rena Odhav urged, “If you want to attain long lasting success, what matters is not a title but your character. Continuously improve yourself and always keep in mind that life is full of challenges and struggles, but at the same time, there are always things to be grateful for.”

The need to focus on contribution rather than achievement and the importance of committing yourself to personal growth is echoed throughout the TAKRAF South Africa (TRSA) organization, with Lindiwe Mthembu quoting the entrepreneur Vusi Thembekwayo: “Everything they know, they have learned; and so you can learn it too …” - go for it, anything is possible and achievable, she continued in her own words.

Rianti Gouws also stressed the importance of believing in yourself and perseverance. “If you know your facts are correct, stand by them and speak up.  If you do not know – find out! Make it your mission to learn all you can from people who have been in the job longer than you have. If you fail, overcome and try again.”

“If you’re prepared to learn, adapt and push through tough times and tough projects, there is nothing that can stop what you are able to achieve.” Tania Peacock.

This is without doubt the spirit of TAKRAF South Africa’s ‘Women in Mining’, who, undaunted by the reputation of the industry as a male-dominated world, entered this challenging field both to learn and to give as much as they can. As a result, working side by side with their male counterparts, TAKRAF South Africa’s women have been integral to the success and growth of the company.

As Juliana Ndisengei points out, TAKRAF South Africa (TAKRAF) strives to create an environment where gender diversity is not a “battle of the sexes”, but rather a collaboration, with appointments made on merit; it is not about being male or female, but about what you can bring to the table. Michelle Prinsloo reinforces this: “Diversity brings benefits such as team building and balance between different jobs.”

At TAKRAF, women are not expected to act and behave as men – but rather to bring their strengths to the company. So paint your nails bright pink if that is what you desire and, when required, put on the PPE with your best foot forward!

Introducing the TAKRAF Women in Mining

While TAKRAF’s female staff bring a rich diversity of skills to the company, what unites them is their determination to grow both within the company and in their personal lives.

Qualified as an artisan, Internal Sales Consultant, Lindiwe Mthembu started her career as an apprentice in a mine, and now that she has moved into an office environment, she still enjoys working on earthmoving machines, giving advice to clients while reading a schematic drawing and troubleshooting the machine. “I enjoy being able to support our customers, delivering on a challenging task by working hard to find solutions and assuring the customer that we are on their side - holding hands with them every step of the way.”

For Internal Sales Consultant, Michelle Prinsloo, “targets are my thing. I love working with numbers, costings and being profitable”. As a result, Michelle has seen considerable growth and evolution in her own career, having started in data capture. Michelle loves the fun and friendliness of the company environment:  “Working for TAKRAF, you are a family member, not just a number.”

The lone woman and sole administrator in the Middelburg regional office, Internal Sales Consultant, Lizelle Ludick, thrives on challenges. Unphased by, in fact thriving in, the male-dominated environment, she is committed to continually acquiring the evolving technical skills required in the various aspects of office and project management she deals with daily, “striving for excellence in customer and aftermarket service”. With 20 years in sales and customer service in the Mpumalanga mining industry, Lizelle knows the sector well and is very task-orientated and linear in thinking. “We women, bring our ability to see things through a more holistic perspective and assess various outcomes pro-actively.” “Man up girl, the world needs us!” Is her advice, which she obviously follows as she has run multiple half marathons and bungeed from two of the highest bridge jumps in Africa: Victoria Falls and Bloukrans.

Having studied retail marketing management and public relations, Brand and Communications Coordinator, Juliana Ndisengei was well equipped to steer TAKRAF though three brand transitions. “My personal stimulation is meeting the demands of the project team, who are very focused on the end goal, which is always based on the facts – the hard side of the business – whilst I put the soft touch around the brand perception out in the market.” For Juliana, the challenge of accommodating the pressure in the mining and engineering fields with that of being a mother is inspiring and has assisted her develop problem solving skills, useful both inside and outside of work.

Product Engineer, Louise Kriel believes that success in the mining industry is not gender related, but rather due to a person’s strengths and personality traits, and that choosing a career in the engineering/mining industry should stem from one’s interest and passion for the work. As a chemical engineer, she enjoys identifying, developing and implementing solutions to problems on projects, regardless of whether they are related to budget, design or site installation and commissioning. These are skills that she brought to the close out of a project that saw a profit increase from 8% to 28%. Such tenacity has also proved invaluable outside of work for Louise, as she has completed two of the grueling Comrades marathons.

Looking back on her involvement in various projects at TAKRAF, including the mid-life refurbishment on a stacker/reclaimer and project execution of a load-out station, Product Engineer, Tania Peacock finds it rewarding to push herself to deliver a product in the allotted budget and timeframe, and resolving the difficulties that arise along the way. Moreover, as a mechanical engineer, she is proud that her profession has a tangible impact on the world we see. "We make ideas become a reality, and this directly impacts job creation, our economy and the world as we know it.” Gender has no place in Tania’s thinking: “Every problem encountered in our sector needs a range of skills to be applied in order to be solved. Whether it be a man or a woman, we need to be flexible and adapt to every situation at hand so that we are able to solve the problem quickly and effectively as a team.”

With a degree in Human Resources (HR), Heidi Strydom is the General Manager Human Resources for TAKRAF South Africa, as well as the Global HR Coordinator for TAKRAF Group. Heidi finds fulfillment in the HR field through being able to influence people’s lives and careers due to a unique perspective of the business. She thrives on being part of the journey each employee takes within the company. “Diversity in TAKRAF has shown us that a variety of perspectives leads to better decision making and problem solving.”

Coco Chanel said:  “A girl should be two things - who and what she wants.”

With 20 years experience in her chosen career, Senior Human Resources Practitioner, Rianti Gouws finds it rewarding to ensure the smooth flow of processes, help people, see employees grow and celebrate their achievements with them. In this previously male-dominated environment, it is satisfying to experience the fact that “women can be just as good an engineer as any man”, she says, and bring the added qualities of compassion, reading people well and empathy.

As a chartered accountant, Finance Manager, Rena Odhav has brought to TAKRAF her skills in financial strategies that have resulted in increased profitability for organizations and a track record of developing innovative solutions to financial problems. “One of the most important things to me is to enjoy a good work-life balance. By having this, I find I can retain the energy and passion I need in order to perform a high standard of work.” And with company success has come personal satisfaction: “Moving up the ranks not only brings self-satisfaction but also creates enthusiasm and is encouraging to other women that this is achievable.”

Thriving on challenges both inside and outside of work, Rena failed in her first attempt at the 94.7 cycle challenge, but, persevered and finally succeeded!

Also part of the finance team is Credit Controller, Shoki Moetlo who enjoys the opportunity to interact with the various people employed by the company and the challenge of breaking the gender-biased focus of the mining and engineering environment. For her, the team spirit and togetherness that women bring to the workplace are invaluable. ”Women are just givers,” she says. Her advice to young women:  “Go out and excel.”

With a BCom, Cost Controller, Zanele Ngcobo strives to have her work recognized both at TAKRAF South Africa and at the global TAKRAF Group level. While she enjoys working with numbers, she also finds it very rewarding to interact with the project managers and engineers. She emphasizes that: “Women can also succeed in the careers that were previously classified as male, so go out there and study subjects such as mathematics, accounting, science or quantity surveying.”

“We, as women, bring along life to the work environment, we are nurturers …” Sphile Mokoena, Debtors Controller.

Currently studying towards her Bachelor’s Degree in Supply Chain and Operations Management, Buyer,  Zandile Mthunzi is proud to have been able to work her way into her current position whilst studying at the same time. As required in her role to negotiate with different suppliers, she notes that the industry provides a good opportunity for women to showcase their abilities, including their willpower, patience and multi-tasking. “Always concentrate on the solution rather than a problem and develop critical thinking”, she advises young women.

With 18 years experience within TAKRAF’s finance department, Accountant, Corné Jordaan, finds the variety and type of work ever stimulating. For her, “women bring their skills as multi taskers, plan makers and organizers to the sector".

Debtors Controller, Sphile Mokoena holds a BCom as well as a MBA and has taken advantage of every opportunity and role offered to her, which has proved to be an invaluable learning experience – advice that she gives to others entering the field: “Be yourself, open up to learning, ask as many questions as you possibly can. I love the fact that I have a say in what I do at TAKRAF – this, and the knowledge that you can bring change to this world by being innovative and providing solutions, makes this sector so special.” 

Why do we need Women in Mining?

Fresh perspectives, unique ideas, diverse experiences, approaches and viewpoints – these are qualities that play a significant role in innovation, better problem solving and decision-making that women bring to a team, according to TAKRAF South Africa’s ‘Women in Mining’. Furthermore, women tend to be more empathetic, while men tend to respond more to facts. But all agree, one cannot work without the other, “both men and women in a team put a much-needed balance into decision-making”, Richard Späth, Managing Director TAKRAF South Africa adds.

Innovation out of tradition – It pays to talk to a specialist!