Breaking Barriers: Young women in male dominated industries

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Partinella Ngozo

Increasing gender diversity in the traditionally male-dominated industries is an important way to facilitate and accelerate progress towards Vision 2030 thereby achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Women are major, but often an overlooked or neglected source of talent. However, their participation cannot only enhance companies’ resources in the industry but can also boost their innovation and organizational performance.

Faith Manyunyire a young woman in Midlands Province, Kwekwe city has made a name for herself in the male dominated construction industry. At 25 years of age, she is already the founder and managing director of Construction Shift Private Limited. She is also an accountant by profession.

The construction industry in Zimbabwe is male dominated and according to statistics from the Zimbabwe Building Contractors Association, out of 3000 members only 38 are women. As a young women and director of a construction company Faith said that she faces gender discrimination from her competitors who feel that construction industry should only be a male domain.

“Construction industry still comprises of elderly men from the age of 45 and above whom I have observed are not that innovative and if you introduce something new they are not willing to support your ideas since they believe that they have been in the construction industry for a long time,” she said.

According to her being in the male dominated industry is not easy and to penetrate into the market is also a neck breaking challenge since most builders who are the customers usually refer each other to other male competitors.

“It is very difficult to penetrate a new market worse when people have already created their data base of clients. Sometimes I face resistance from builders that a young women cannot work in the construction industry but we are managing to create our brand and a data base of new clients as well in the competitive industry.

“Our challenges as women are compounded by the fact that, most builders and construction workers are male and they often buy from fellow male colleagues whom they relate with in their social circles. You must also note that, these male give each other kicks-backs so most of them shun us women as we prefer ethical business transactions”, she highlighted.

Manyunyire also explored the challenges she faced due to the the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. She said the production of bricks was low since the supply chain of cement was also low as companies were working skeletal workforce. In this way, her income was affected drastically.

She pleaded with the government to assist young women in construction with financial assistance and land for use since rentals are very expensive especially during the lockdown when business is down.

However, despite all these and other challenges she was awarded for being Business Minded by Red Lipstick Revolution and also got an award from Agro Biz Africa as an upcoming Young Woman Entrepreneur.

Manyunyire shed light of the challenges that male construction industry unenviable for women.

“Most women don’t want to be part of construction industry even those who are building their houses because of the derogatory language that is usually in the industry and also the terms and quotations they are given by builders. Some are afraid to even ask or get second opinion about construction. I urge women to be part of the construction industry, and I believe women can make a difference,” she said.

Lisa Sibanda is another woman who is doing wonders with her renewable energy company. We caught up with her while she was speaking during a youth entrepreneurship program hosted by Youth Essence. Sibanda who is the Managing Director of Chassis Solar and a Mechanical Engineer by Profession narrated how her entrepreneurial journey began in November 2019.

“I remember in my fifth year pursuing my mechanical engineering studies woke up one day and pondered over my career path after school which looked acutely bleak in the face of mounting economic challenges in Zimbabwe. I realised that I had to do the extra-ordinary to make and create employment. I thought about which business I could do and a lot of ideas came. I started by buying shoes in Durban and selling them here. However, due to the economic meltdown the business was not sustainable enough and I started selling the much prized Brazilian hair.

“I did the business for two years then the US dollar (United States of America dollar) became scarce in the market and the business was shaken. I dropped the business and I became ‘money changer’ it is funny now but yes I was tucked in that trade for five months,” she said.

Then the renewable energy idea came and Chassis Solar started to be in picture. But what motivated her to venture into the solar industry?

“I had a friend who was working at a solar company which admired cognisant that it was a male domain but I had to break jinx. In terms of other players in the field, I just told myself I am a woman with goals and would be a game changer too. I did my research and using competitive pricing strategy and by God, I penetrate the market.

“What kept me focused was the vision I had for the company. I struggled the first year but I didn’t look back I kept focusing because I want to provide renewable energy to people giving people a better solution,” she said.

Sibanda said her major challenge was having some asking her if could climb on roof tops to install the solars. But this did not sway her away from her focus.

“Be a goal oriented person and whenever you want to start any business do a research, know your competitors. No capital is small, Rome was never built in one day give yourself time to grow,” she said.

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