Zizile Lushaba charts path to empower women in steel industry

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Zizile is an unwavering advocate for women's advancement in the steel manufacturing sector.

Zizile Lushaba is a firm believer in creating opportunities for women in the steel manufacturing industry and is of the opinion that learning a trade can open many doors for young people, especially women.

Zizile is the human capital and skills development executive at Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA), a national federation representing 18 independent employer associations in the metal and engineering industries, with a membership of an estimated 1,200 companies representing 170,000 employees.

“Being an African female who has close to 10 years’ experience working in the steel manufacturing industry, which is predominantly male-dominated, I can definitely vouch that the issue of gender inequality alongside the very slow move towards transformation is still an obstacle for women,” she notes.

Her focus, she says, is not only at organisational level, but rather national. “I am fortunate to be part of legislative discussion where issues of gender equality and transformation are concerned. These are the platforms I look forward to utilising to ensure women are not only heard, but that the issue of women development is actioned.”

She adds that the federation has established a bursary scheme aimed at supporting and facilitating the development, availability and retention of skilled human capital directly related to the steel and engineering sector’s activities.

“For women aspiring to join the steel and engineering industry, they need to be aware that it is a male-dominated industry and there are certain skills one needs to navigate through the industry and grow in their career. Through the bursary scheme we promote balance and diversity by encouraging historically disadvantaged individuals seeking assistance – including females – to apply.”

She notes that over and above her qualifications, the greatest professional strength which has helped her thrive is confidence: “This strength has allowed me to gain trust and confidence amongst many professionals.”

Humble beginnings

Born and bred in the small town of Kriel in Mpumalanga, Zizile always had big aspirations. She is one of eight siblings and says it is her parents’ teachings that encouraged her to be where she is today.

“My parents taught my siblings and me the importance of hard work and education. This is why I always work hard for everything I want in life. I pride myself on my work ethic, which is based on positivity and on the notion of if you take care of the little things (do the little things right), the big things will take care of themselves.”

After completing her high school in Mpumalanga, she braved the City of Gold and enrolled to study for an undergraduate and BCom Honours (Industrial Psychology) at the University of Johannesburg. “I was fortunate to get an HR internship at one of the large employers in the steel manufacturing sector – Scaw Metals – and it was during this time that I was later awarded a bursary to pursue a postgraduate diploma in business management (PGDBM) at MANCOSA.” This was her introduction to HR in the steel industry and she hasn't looked back since.

From an internship at Scaw Metals in 2014, she steadily climbed up the ranks to HR business partner, working in various business units including grinding media, rolled products, distribution network as well as wire and strand.

In 2022, SEIFSA came knocking and she moved from working for an employer organisation to an employer federation, which operates differently. “My adaptability skills assisted me, because I have experience working for an employer organisation in the same ,which made it easier to adjust.”

Passing it forward

Zizile says although development opportunities for women do exist in the steel and
engineering industry, there are still a number of obstacles women need to navigate, and can do so through gaining professional experience and fighting through unconscious bias.

“Our strategy is channelled through creating a culture of psychological safety, which is a sense of security and trust, particularly for women, as well as a shared belief that employees are working in an environment where all ideas and opinions are valued, respected and heard. This encourages employees to speak up and give room for employees to exercise innovation.”

She adds that apart from this, there is a mentorship programme in place. “Our federation also runs an internship programme where we accommodate TVET college students. As part of the internship programme, learners are allocated a mentor in their field of study whom they report to for the duration of their internship. This internship programme affords students a professional learning experience in their field of study. Some of SEIFSA’s female staff were absorbed as permanent employees after they completed their internship.”

She concludes that women need to take up space in the industry: “Being assertive and having emotional intelligence are key skills. Never sell yourself short, have or build your confidence and believe in yourself and your capabilities. Most importantly – do not forget to support other women within the industry.”

 

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