Women in Construction continue to face major hurdles

Despite the progress made in closing the gender gap and making more opportunities available for women in business, South Africa’s construction industry is one place where being a woman is still a major challenge.

To give you some perspective, according to South African Women in Construction (SAWIC) women hold just 9 % of the jobs in the construction sector. This is a very small number, and not one that shows that any real advancement has been made; especially when you take into account that most (76%) of the positions held by women in the sector fall into the category of office support and other clerical duties.

The public sector in particular has made efforts to address this. There are changes that are not yet reflected in these figures that are slowly but surely happening on the ground. As a woman owner of a construction company these are efforts I can fully appreciate.

Semi government institutions have led the way in enabling this advancement. Their training seminars and workshops, free of charge, have been a marvel in capacitating and developing me. One parastatal that I can mention, without dismissing others, is SANRAL. Through them I underwent comprehensive training and coaching which motivated me to move higher in the industry.

Government has also played its role – their policies for the advancement of women participation in businesses that were previously male dominated has opened up exciting opportunities. Many women, like me, have taken them up and made the most of them despite the many the challenges they may encounter along the way.

There are many things I learned as I struggled to make something of myself in the industry. On top of being a woman, I ventured into the construction business at a very young age. It’s not a business you get into for the sake of being in business; you need to be self-motivated in order to succeed.

The obstacles I came across could have very easily discouraged me. During the time I was undergoing my SANRAL learnership, I had to return my bakkie to the bank because I couldn’t continue with instalments. It was my only means of getting around. This was made worse by the fact that as a single parent I couldn’t stay in Port St Johns in order to be closer to the programme as I would have liked to. The daily commute was both physically and emotionally draining.

I was greatly marginalised as a woman. How I was treated in business had an emotional impact on me. I still remember the feeling of losing confidence in myself, losing my drive and ability to achieve set goals. I constantly struggled with thoughts of never succeeding in what seemed to be male-only territory. This is something that women must overcome and I am grateful for the support and coaching that I received along the way.

It is my strong wish within the next two years to own plant and machinery. I want to go from being a subcontractor to a fully-fledged independent contractor that is involved in the construction of national roads. I would like to attain the highest grading in CIDB sector through hard work and excellent workmanship and keep my feet firmly embedded in the construction sector in order to set benchmarks that other women can be proud of.

I would also like to contribute to the growth of other women owned businesses by way of capacity building, skills transfer and so on. There are a number of things that women can do that will give them an edge in the industry:

  • Find a good trainer / mentor – I am fortunate enough to have been part of the SANRAL learnership. Look out for similar opportunities. This will be invaluable if you want to really succeed in this industry.
  • Passion is key – it’s not just about chasing the rewards – you must have a love for the work. That way you will avoid becoming more interested in what material things the business offers and neglect the nitty-gritties of the enterprise resulting in your venture sinking before it has even surfaced.
  • Be vigilant – every business has its risks and it needs to be approached with caution and alertness. Don’t be deceived by the large amounts of money you receive; avoid extravagance and learn to reinvest for the growth of the business.
  • Be bold – As a business woman you must be able to enter where angels fear to tread. Not only will you need to have a firm grip on developments in the industry, you will also need to network and establish strategic alliances with other business people.
  • Have confidence – It’s been said that cowards die many times before their actual death. I agree – if you have no confidence in yourself you will never get anywhere in life. Admittedly, you will fall along the way but another saying puts it: Never say die!


Thabile Nkonki

Owner: Talinko Construction Enterprise