Since August is Women’s Month, it’s the perfect time to reflect on what women have achieved in the local transport industry
With one profession after another opening up to female participation, it was only a matter of time before the fleet world started producing its first women leaders. Ernita van Dalen is one of these pioneers. She is shaking things up, not just by being one of the first women in the job, but also by introducing new ways of doing things.
As national office manager at Essential Foods, the grain division of Pioneer Foods, she is responsible for, among other things, the administration of the company’s total fleet of trucks and forklifts. “It was tough in the beginning,” she says. “You could see people weren’t all that comfortable with a woman coming in and questioning things.”
She pioneered the use of Standard Bank’s Managed Maintenance service in the company. Through this, the servicing and maintenance of each vehicle is tracked and managed by a centre of experts, who ensure that mechanical workshops don’t overcharge or carry out unnecessary work.
Transaction authorisation was another service that she introduced to the company when she moved the fleet to Standard Bank’s Fleet Management Card system. It automatically vets fleet card transactions and declines those that exceed certain parameters.
Another trailblazer in the world of transport is Wilna Steyn, chief financial officer, Africa, at the Babcock International Group. “I have been involved in the transport industry for nearly five years now. Prejudices against women still exist in the workplace, but far less so than a few years back. After all, women make up more than half of our population, so excluding them from the transport industry would result in it being less evolved than others,” she says.
“We currently have three women apprentices within the Babcock apprentice school, something we did not have five years ago. In addition, the company develops talent by sending employees on an MBA programme at the Strathclyde University in Scotland. The first intake of two employees included a female employee, who was recognised as a future business leader.
“Management is actively working to increase the role of women within Babcock on a daily basis. Women have the power to shape and change the transport industry. Our greatest power lies within our ability to create room for everyone to contribute, make things happen and build a team that can bring about change and achieve goals together,” Steyn adds.
Valentia Hobbs has been general manager for marketing communication at Volvo & Renault Trucks South Africa for the past two-and-a-half years. She has been in the commercial vehicle and automotive industry for over ten years, though, even tackling the petroleum industry, at Total South Africa.
“Initially I thought that you have to be really tough to be in this industry, but later realised that all you need is to strike a balance and that you are able to be tough and still maintain your femininity. There is a place for women in all industries in order for a business to be successful,” Hobbs says.
“Businesses and companies are evolving, I have seen a major transformation over the years where women are included in key decision-making and play active roles within organisations.”
In line with this, Hobbs describes the many initiatives that the Volvo Group has in place to promote diversity and inclusion, which are aimed at developing a culture and working environment where everyone can do their best work.
“Apart from the obvious ones such as women in senior management roles and development programmes
for women, Volvo has an apprenticeship programme for diesel mechanics where women are encouraged to apply. We have two women on our current programme and three who have completed the programme already and are qualified diesel mechanics.”
Her advice to aspiring women: “With all the opportunities available, you can make your mark and be challenged. You just have to be bold enough to take the step!”
Women in other transport sectors are also aiming to break the mould, to inspire a new generation and improve diversity. The third annual Women in Maritime Conference took place on July 30 and 31, at the Monkey Valley Resort in Noordhoek, Cape Town. The conference discussed women’s involvement in the business base that underlies port operations.
Similarly, the second annual Women in Rail and Logistics Conference will be held on August 20 and 21, at the Amabhubesi Conference Centre in Randburg, Johannesburg.