International Women’s Day 2024 | Celebrating the trailblazing women of Zutari

Given the historical male dominance in the STEM industries, Zutari chose to celebrate IWD by highlighting female pioneers from various fields and profiles in Zutari. We asked them to share their experiences, talk about their careers and teams, and ultimately tell us what #InspireInclusion means to them as women leading the way for others. 

The International Women’s Day (IWD) has announced the campaign theme ‘#InspireInclusion’ for 2024. This theme aims to celebrate the power and achievements of women who have paved the way for others while promoting their empowerment. It also seeks to draw attention to the discrimination, biases, and stereotypes that still exist in society. IWD believes that by working together, we can achieve women’s equality, which aligns with the values of Zutari.   

Given the historical male dominance in the STEM industries, Zutari chose to celebrate IWD by highlighting female pioneers from various fields and profiles in Zutari. We asked them to share their experiences, talk about their careers and teams, and ultimately tell us what #InspireInclusion means to them as women leading the way for others.  

Isabelle Meyburgh, Revit Modeller |Built Environment, Zutari

“In my experience, it should not matter If you are male or female. If you love something and are good at it, you should have the opportunity to prove that to the world,” says Isabelle, a Revit Modeller in the Built Environment, Bloemfontein office team. Her role is to model all structural components for projects and compile all construction drawings.

While only at Zutari for a year, Isabelle is already involved in ongoing projects. “The highlight for me is to complete my drawings, have my name cited as the author, and then see those drawings come alive at sites. It makes me so proud to be doing what I am,” says Isabelle, adding it is a journey that has made her much more confident in herself and her skills.

What keeps you passionate and excited about what you do, especially as a woman?

Passion and enthusiasm for one’s profession can create a solid foundation for perseverance, particularly for women in male-dominated industries. It enables them to pursue their careers as their genuine selves, with a sense of pride in being a woman. The collective drive to influence their respective fields of expertise is what inspires the women at Zutari to seek learning opportunities and contribute to change. This sets the stage for future female leaders in the various fields that make up Zutari. 

Diane Myers, Head of Talent Management, is passionate about being a thought leader, which drives her to positively impact lives.

Her tumultuous career fuelled her passion for advocating for women and individuals from diverse backgrounds to “have access to opportunities and to be seen as equals to their peers when decisions are made, challenging the status quo when decisions are made and putting guard rails in place to ensure consistency or fairness.”  

The women of Zutari find excitement in facing challenges, overcoming obstacles, especially those deemed too difficult for women. They do this not only to disprove biases, but to also demonstrate that women are just as capable as men. “I enjoy a challenge and find immense joy in overcoming obstacles.

My passion for sustainability drives me to actively seek projects with sustainability components. As a woman in civil engineering, I relish bringing a unique and diverse perspective to the profession, fostering a dynamic and inclusive environment” declares Civil Engineer, Hirna Bhikha. 

What have been some of your career highlights so far?

Career challenges are intricately linked to career highlights.  Milestones come with wisdom which fuels the passion driving the women of Zutari.  

For Mechatronics Engineer, Carike Anker, her proudest moment was completing her master’s degree in mechatronics engineering, and the success of her first solo project as the main engineer, with minimal support from senior engineers.

She adds that “as a young woman managing a construction project, it was quite a challenge, but an extremely rewarding experience.”  

Project Administrator, Tetswane Sethoha’s desire to learn and grow as an employee and contribute to the organisation as much as she can led her to her highlight.

She began working at an early age while in college and raising her son, “from being a receptionist to being a person working directly with projects, to me, is an achievement in my career.” Proving that as a woman, however different your foundation is in your field, it is a stepping stone built on the small daily success leading you to where you dream to be.  

Tell us about your transformation journey.

The journey of working in a field that is considered challenging for women can lead to transformation. It can reveal parts of oneself that were previously unknown, and the women featured here are no strangers to this transformation.  

Petronella Taljaard, a Technical Specialist in the Water market, found her transformation in embracing motherhood despite her career’s difficulties. “Throughout my career, I have made choices related to my chosen role as a wife and mother.

My career story might have looked different if I were faced with different circumstances and made different choices, but my journey has brought me joy and satisfaction,” she graciously shares.  

“I applaud Zutari’s various initiatives like its bursary programme, partnering with Protec, and its leadership development courses like Ascend, aimed to develop female leadership. Zutari is being deliberate about making changes to advance women at all levels. I think all sectors in the engineering industry can do more to create awareness and support for youth, especially girls, to join the industry,” comments Petronella.

She is a professionally registered civil engineer in the East London office, forming part of the water team. At present she focuses on project controls, design reviews and management and assists in delivering water projects for government clients.

“An important consideration that keeps me motivated is the belief that my contribution matters and has value, and having this belief validated by my team. I love that I am constantly exposed to new challenges and that no two days at work are ever the same. The wealth of knowledge, expertise and resources within Zutari excites me. I feel privileged to be able to share this knowledge with others,” says Petronella.

Each phase of her career has had its own highlights and challenges. She had a stint on a construction site as a NEC-3 construction supervisor in the Port of East London to refurbish a sheet pile quay wall. “This was an exciting, one-of-a-kind type project and a beautiful outdoor work environment that I remember fondly,” adds Petronella.

During her time as a line manager, she really enjoyed the opportunity to support and mentor others in their careers. “It is definitely still a work in progress – by no means have I arrived at the end of my journey!” she points out.

Though her journey has just begun, Process Engineer, Meaghan van der Velden, has learnt to recognise her skills and talents and to only be intimidated by knowledge and experience.

“I have been in meetings and on-site as the only woman present and I have learnt to not let anyone intimidate me based on my gender.” 

Electrical Technologist, Lwandisiwe Solundwana’s transformation came as a second option. Having initially intended to become a doctor, her desire to improve her community drew her to electrical engineering. “I am from a rural area and know the struggle of not having electricity. I wanted to better my community and could envision a rural area that was lit up everywhere.”

She later discovered her passion for lighting design, and by incorporating various electrical components, she can safely and proudly share that, “I am bettering my community while inspiring young rural girls that they too can be in the electrical engineering world.” 

“Society and the workplace need to remember that our differences make us stronger and give companies an added advantage over their competitors,” argues Lwandisiwe. “Inspiring inclusion should not be a once-off trend but a continuous task, and it begins with you! Are you inspiring inclusion where you are?” she questions.

Lwandisiwe’s original intention was to be a doctor. However, she was drawn to electrical engineering as she hails from a rural area and knew well the struggle of not having electricity. “I wanted to better my community and could envision a rural area lit up everywhere.” She later discovered a passion for lighting design, which incorporates all the different electrical engineering components. “I can safely say I am bettering my community while inspiring young rural girls that they, too, can be in the electrical engineering world.”

As an Electrical Technologist, Lwandisiwe is mostly involved in the project management and electrical designs of buildings, infrastructure, sports fields, and street lighting. What keeps her passionate about her role revolves around several factors. Firstly, Zutari designs to bring change to local communities. Secondly, it designs not only for the present but for future generations. Thirdly, it designs in consideration of the environment. Thus, it strives for sustainable designs with minimal carbon footprint.

“Lastly, it is always nice when you can physically see a project finally completed, as it makes you strive to do more and do it better. As a woman, it feels good to bring the feminine aspect to designs, as you see things differently from men,” says Lwandisiwe.

Career highlights include designing a multipurpose hall using 3D modelling, working with architects, structural, civil, mechanical, stage, sound, and even acoustic engineers. “All these engineers were in different parts of the world, and yet we could all communicate and work well together through virtual platforms and deliver exemplary work to the client,” says Lwandisiwe.

The IWD 2024 theme of #InspireInclusion is important because it means all inputs, opinions, and feedback are valid for consideration. “It means my voice, opinions, skills and capabilities are not diminished because I am perceived as a woman. It means my femininity as a woman is not used against me but embraced and used to grow society at large,” concludes Lwandisiwe.

Lead: Digital Design Technologies Erika Tredoux’s 30-year transformation journey started her off as one of the few women in technical roles at a time when women were only classified as receptionists. Her passion for the technical field grounded her in Zutari through multiple mergers. She credits her present team for their unrelenting support and her pillar of strength.

In 2022, she conquered her battle with cancer and rose above to continue conquering her field. “On a personal note – In the past 18 months, the company has given me incredible support and understanding. Without this, I would not be in the good financial, emotional, or healthy state I am in now.” 

What does the 2024 IWD theme of #InspireInclusion mean to you personally?

Inspiring inclusion in male-dominated spaces creates an opportunity for growth, challenging biases and amplifying marginalised voices.

“The theme ‘Inspire Inclusion’ speaks to encouraging and promoting inclusive environments that recognise, value, and incorporate the contributions and perspectives of women,” shares Electrical Engineer, Majd Mohammed. 

Mechatronics Engineer, Ayesha Jacobs opens up about the historical exclusion of women in the engineering and renewable energy sector and how encouraging the active involvement of women is essential for fostering diversity and innovation within the sector. “I would love to be able to inspire young girls and young women in STEM.

The enormous talents and perspectives of women not only contribute to a more inclusive and equitable industry but also enhance the sector’s ability to address complex challenges and drive sustainable solutions,” Jacobs adds. 

Associate Engineer, Vera Mpofu expresses that the theme has a deep meaning for her and women like her can relate, “being a black woman, I have often felt excluded in many spaces, especially in the male-dominated engineering industry.

The idea of not having to fight to be included is a breath of fresh air.” 

Women have firsthand experience of exclusion and having to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to prove their qualifications and experience. The #InspireInclusion challenges the status quo by encouraging corporations to assess their beliefs and make positive changes. 

Technical Director of Business Communication, Lize Brand voiced that the theme means “…celebrating the uniqueness and individual contributions that each person brings to the table and recognising that diversity is a strength. I believe this theme is also linked to recognising and challenging personal biases which is a critical step in promoting inclusion.” 

“It brings me immense pride to have played a role in creating a new team that adds value to Zutari’s services,” says Lize. What is even more gratifying, she adds, is that Zutari has embraced the idea of building a communication team amid the traditionally engineering-centric environment.

This not only underscores the importance of effective communication in its projects, but also highlights Zutari’s commitment to adapting and evolving to meet the diverse needs of its clients and stakeholders.

The Business Communication team is one of a few advisory teams in the Management and Sustainability Market in Zutari. At its core, it drives a human-centred approach to support project impact. “We blend the old with the new and have moved beyond traditional ways of communication and work collaboratively to integrate technical and creative thinking,” comments Lize.

A team of strategic and visual communication experts uses best practice methodologies to support project implementation and ensure buy-in to change. Zutari, unlike most other engineering consultancies, pairs technical experts with communication specialists to maximise the value of its projects with impacted stakeholders.

“Our work allows us to play in both the creative, human capital and strategic aspects of projects,” says Lize. This means developing smart solutions for key project and business risks linked to people that also push the boundaries of what people are used to. “It is challenging, but also rewarding, as the impact can be seen, felt and heard through stories.”

For her, the IWD 2024 theme of #InspireInclusion implies an ongoing process of self-reflection, education and a commitment to creating environments where diversity is not only acknowledged, but actively valued.

It means celebrating the uniqueness and individual contributions that each person brings to the table and recognising that diversity is a strength. The theme is also linked to recognising and challenging personal biases, a critical step to promote inclusion.

What changes would you like to see in society and in the workplace to make the 2024 theme a lived reality? 

“Change”, which is often regarded as a frightening concept, is crucial to the development of both the workplace and society. To turn this idea into a positive force must be accompanied by action. Recently, the women of Zutari shared their insights on how we can become agents of change and put this theme into practice. 

Digital Discipline Coordinator, Andea Muller shared with us her desire to see more women involved in important discussions, “I would like to see women’s voices and opinions continuing to be heard and respected as much as anybody else’s.

Adding to this, Samantha Duncan, Digital Lead of Digital Collaboration envisions a workplace with equal opportunities for men, women, and non-binary individuals. “I believe in treating everyone at work with fairness and kindness, regardless of race, gender, religion, or political beliefs. It’s crucial to consider all viewpointsensuring fair pay and opportunities for leadership roles. More flexible work options can help everyone balance their professional and personal lives. 

The individuals highlighted in this article have stressed the significance of having an open-minded approach towards creating a work environment that truly encourages and supports inclusivity. They strongly believe that providing opportunities for women is crucial for progress, considering the significant advancements women have made in industries that were previously male-dominated. 

What is your advice to young women just starting careers, especially in traditionally male-dominated industries?

It is no secret that women have been historically underrepresented in various industries, particularly those that have been traditionally male-dominated. However, times are changing, and more women are breaking through these barriers and forging successful careers.   

For young women in the initial stages of their careers, Civil Engineer, Hirna Bhikha offers essential advice; “find a mentor for guidance, be confident in your unique contributions, and take initiative in shaping your career path. Embrace your authenticity; you don’t have to change who you are to make a powerful and lasting impact.” Petronella Taljaard encourages young women to celebrate who they are and their stories because  having different experiences to others is just as inspiring.

Isabella Meyburgh says: “Go for it! Nobody gets to tell you what you can and cannot do; prove them all wrong. Being a woman working mainly in a male-dominated industry is hard, but keeping your head up and being your best gives you a sense of pride. I am proud of my hard work, where I am today, and where I am going,” asserts Isabelle.

Ultimately, having a dedicated support system in and out of the industry is key to staying grounded in one’s roots and passion. It is easy to get swayed or lose sight of your goals but when you dominate authentically, you will find it less intimidating.  

Zutari’s dedication to promoting diversity and inclusion inspires an ever-evolving channel of learning and exhibiting the change we wish to see. We recognise that in so doing, we enable Zutaris to not shy away from existing in workspaces as their authentic selves.  

“At Zutari, we are committed to fostering diversity and inclusion, recognising the invaluable contributions that individuals from diverse backgrounds bring to our organisation,” comments Senzekile Mdluli, Head: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & CSI at Zutari. “We are actively pursuing increased representation of women by setting targets, demonstrating our commitment to inclusivity and gender diversity.”

She adds: “As we continue to refine our overall strategy, we reflect on our dedication to creating a workplace that values and champions diversity at every level.” The leading consulting engineering and infrastructure advisory practice showcases four women taking great strides at the company.

At Zutari, we believe in co-creating an engineered impact enable environments, communities and economies to thrive.

Zutari is an infrastructure advisory, design, and engineering consultancy. In the past 90 years, we’ve formed a deep-rooted relationship with Africa, the Middle East, and its people. Staying in business for almost a century is a testament to our agility and resilience.

Our broad collective of in-house, industry-recognised engineering consultants and trusted advisors provide seamless and integrated delivery of infrastructure projects. These solutionists combine their technical mastery, creative intelligence, and digital smarts to reframe traditional engineering for a new world.

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