BBD Women In Steel- Taking women empowerment to the next level

BBD Women In Steel- Taking women empowerment to the next level

Women Empowerment has been deemed vital for the emancipation of women from cultural and social barriers. Women have traditionally been sidelined in male dominated industries such as the steel industry, which meant being excluded from important decision-making industries affecting economies.

The Steel industry is a key sector that offers large-scale employment opportunities as well as a major impact on infrastructural development around the world, but the role of women at ownership level as well as at employee levels has traditionally been limited.

BBD Steel has defied the stereotypes by venturing into a sector that was traditionally a male sector. BBD Steel is a 100% Women owned company managed by Gwendolyn Mahuma and Monika Pretorius. Both ladies have other business interests other than BBD Steel.

Gwen is the Managing Director of Mahuma Investment Holdings, an investment company with interests in the materials supply sector. She entered the steel industry in 2005 when she bought equity into a mining roofbolt manufacturing business. Since then she has ventured into ready mix concrete, structural steel products, Sheet Metal fabrication as well as water treatment solutions. Gwen is an avid entrepreneur with a passion for women empowerment. Her directorships include Rocbolt Technologies; a manufacturer of resin and roofbolts for the mines, Remkor Manufacturing, a sheet metal Fabrication Company, David Brown Gear Industries SA; a manufacturer of Gear Systems.

Her counterpart Monika is the Managing Director of BBD Steel Suppliers (Pty) Ltd. She entered the steel industry in 2007 as the Company Secretary of a JSE listed steel company. At the time, as a result of her passion for the industry she assumed a full time directorship in BBD Steel and has since focused full time on building BBD Steel into a sustainable business concern. Monika is a passionate entrepreneur with directorships and investments in a group of plumbing supply companies in Gauteng, the Northern Province and the Northern Cape. Monika is zealous about opportunities for women in the steel industry and aspires to grow BBD with this purpose in mind.

These two great minds have taken the steel industry in South Africa to the next level. BBD Steel (Basadi Ba Ditshipi – Tswana for Women of Steel) came into being after the realization of the vast opportunities made available because of women empowerment. In an interview, BBD Steel Director Gwen Mahuma revealed that BBD Steel is the largest empowered women owned steel merchant in South Africa.

“We are the largest empowered women-owned steel merchant in South Africa. The company was formed to promote gender empowerment and to enable women to become major role players in the steel industry. We believe that women have a unique and vital contribution to make in the steel industry. The women in BBD Steel are passionate about women empowerment and believe that women have a dynamic role to play in all areas of the steel industry,” she said.

According to Monika, BBD Steel has managed to stay on its feet due to its lean structure, which has enabled them to stay flexible in how they handle challenges.

“We are able to address issues as soon as they arise which has enabled our business operations to stay vibrant.

“At the moment we are working in a competitive environment where there is also a commodity slump. There has been a decline in construction and mining activities, which has had a negative impact on the demand of steel generally despite volumes and margins under pressure. We are grateful that we have managed to keep our staff and feed families despite all these challenges.

Another issue that has made us stay vibrant in the business is that as women we deal with issues differently as compared to our male counterparts. Due to our inclusive nature women have a way of working together in a way that can only assist in keeping the business competitive whilst taking care of our stakeholders,” she said.

As women and also as business partners Monika and Gwen have found a way to complement each other that has created oneness in the partnership and has enabled them to achieve relative success in their line of business.

“We celebrate our commonalities and embrace our differences. We have also grown a lot in terms of knowledge. Our line of business has exposed us to new knowledge. We have also found a way to complement each other rather than compete with each other as we have different cultures and come from different backgrounds. This is a key partnership that we believe will last and endure the test of time,” stated Gwen.

Monika reiterated saying that,” We are honest with each other and we speak our minds instead of brooding over issues. We acknowledge our differences in character; we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to deal with them. Our country can learn a lot from our partnership,” she said.

Asked why they opted for the steel business and not catering or any other traditionally “feminine” business Gwen highlighted that they wanted something different.

“We wanted to play in a space where we could take advantage of our gender and the empowerment opportunities made available. But most importantly we both had experience in the steel industry and the opportunities were glaring in our faces.

“We both believe strongly in the empowerment of other women.  BBD Steel ladies are always on the lookout for opportunities to empower women whether as employees or as sub-contractors. We have amongst our women owned suppliers identified a woman-owned transport company that we outsource some of our logistics to. We have committed to help them grow as we grow”, said Gwen.

“For Social development we have a number of initiatives for example we have awarded part bursaries to two black girls towards their tertiary education. We have also adopted a group of previously unemployed elderly ladies from Eersterus by assisting them to set up a business called “Garland of Grace” .We have given them office space for free as well as bought them sewing machines and materials to operate their blanket project. Our focus on social responsibility is on women because we believe that if you empower a woman you are empowering families.

Policies have been put in place to promote women empowerment however what we find lacking is the commitment to the implementation thereof.

“Government has put the right policies in place in order to create a level playing field these policies need checks and balances to ensure that the implementation takes place. Women must not see themselves as inferior,” highlighted Gwen. “We hope that with our story we will encourage other women to break barriers in other sectors and not to limit themselves.

“Always be on top of your game and empower yourself with knowledge.” said Monika. “For women to achieve in this competitive and male dominated environment, they need to believe in themselves. Stand your ground and be knowledgeable about your industry.”

The ladies also stressed that one should venture into a business that one is passionate about.  “Stay true to being yourself. Don’t lose your feminine side because this world needs more female entrepreneurs”.