Time for women to “step up to the plate"

The South African government asked the women of this country to “step up to the plate”

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The South African government asked the women of this country to “step up to the plate” and take their rightful place in the South African Economy, especially in the male dominated logistics and oil and gas sectors

One such standout, Pria Hassan, Executive Director of Durban based Women of Africa (WOA) Fuels & Oils and Managing Director of Women of Africa Investments, is at the forefront of BEE achievers in the greater logistics industry.

Women of Africa Investments are a Women-owned, Women-managed, Black Economic Empowerment Investment holding company focused on meeting the above challenge.

Please tell us a bit of your background and rise to the top.

I was an ordinary young woman who wanted to fulfil her vision of being a “Broadway star”. It became clear that in the South African market this would not be achievable so I settled into studying the laws of our country determined that this would someday help me create a better future for my generation of women.

I actually don’t feel like I am at the top. Our journey for perfection, for on-going empowerment of both women and children, sharing of our knowledge motivating and encouraging others to follow their dreams is NEVER ENDING. I have not quiet reached the top of my sectors yet every day I feel like I have a lot more to do and learn.

“We shall someday be heeded; everybody will think it was always so, just exactly as many young people believe that all the privileges, all the freedom, all the enjoyments which woman now possesses always were hers. They have no idea of how every single inch of ground that she stands upon today has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women of the past an appropriate quote by” Susan B Anthony”. Our young generation of women must never forget the sacrifices us older women have made and continue to make against all odds.

What are some of the challenges facing women in the oil & gas, logistics and bio-fuels sectors?

Access to sustainable supply of various products. We are still non refining wholesalers that are entirely dependent on the oil majors to grant us allocation of product to service the needs of our customers. We therefore remain in a queue awaiting competitive pricing and quantity of supply.

Increased cash flow for the purchasing of product: The South African fuel pricing has seen extraordinary increases and this has placed significant pressure on the company’s cash flows. We obviously need more finance to buy the same quantity of fuel each month in order to keep our customers’ needs met.

Weighted average cost of capital and funding. Our industry still needs traditionally funding and lenders are not able to get adequate security against the funding required. We are somehow still locked out of any funding mechanisms or organisations that could support our business growth potential and ideas. It is a serious challenge as we are paying exorbitantly high interest costs on a business whose margins are consistently low.

Increased skills transfer and diversity: The logistics sector is still largely controlled by men and there is a perception that women are not capable of rendering a service which is unique or sustainable. We are still unable to access the skills, intelligence and network to expand the business of women in logistics. It is my dream to have trucking manufacturers also modify and adapt their vehicle specification to best suit women transporters and truckers. We should have a way in which manufacturers contribute to the expansion of women, actively incentivising more purchases together with the Department of Trade and Industry.

Support of Blue Chip clients: We are having huge challenges getting blue chip clients even though there is policy and legislation which incentivises and supports the development of women owned logistics companies. Even if we are offered work it is not supported with any long term contract, it is ad hoc and we are still required to carry all the risks of securing the trucks and assuring them of an outstanding service.

Competitive rates: We are still locked out of the sector of business which has rates that market related and industry wide recognised. We are forced to reduce our rates in order to start securing work and increases are typically based on the road freight association percentages related to increased labour, fuel etc

How do you break down the barriers in these typically male sectors?

I wish I had an answer to this which was fool proof. Every day we women try harder to be more do more change what we can. The world however needs to understand we are human and we are incapable of breaking down the barriers overnight. I ensure that we don’t expect just to enter a market without a sound plan, sector experience, proper research and development, collaboration with our network and most importantly patience.

Although many women have succeeded in breaking the barrier of prejudice and exercise professions considered to be typically male in nature, they still face many difficulties and this constant challenge seems to be the incentive that drives most women to prove that yes, they are able to exercise any occupation. Women are the greatest consumers on the globe; they actually drive the buying power of not just working environments but their personal spaces. The world is beginning to recognise this power and it is one factor that has also helped me break down barriers is to consolidate the power of our vision of women and collectively work together to drive opportunities in the male sectors.

In terms of women in logistics, what percentage of female drivers is there in SA and how are you promoting more female drivers?

I promote women in all sectors of the logistics business by firstly trying to make them feel safe, secure and comfortable. This is a rough game and it has endless hours non-stop phone calls or call outs, we had to create a working environment which supported the domestic needs of the women in the workplace. We also see to their medical needs, nutrition exercise and mental well-being. This game places significant pressure on the mind, we are constantly multi-tasking so I also demand play time for all of us, we come together share our fears, pain, joys, successes and acknowledge our failures. I tell them our success is measured by our number of failures .I am not a perfect leader or women but I try every day to be engaging, I ask them not to judge ourselves harshly.

What are some of the developments in the bio-fuel manufacturing and legislation of minimal levels?

This is a highly regulated and specialised sector. It took me sometime to devise a plan on how WOA can play in this space responsibly. The fear that any manufacturing of bio fuel may impact on increased the food costs in South Africa is a reasonable one, however we cannot continue to hide behind these concerns. We need to get ahead understand that there is a lot of waste in our country in the affluent market specifically on food, we are exploring this option and our research and development team are finding an innovative solution to permit WOA to participate.

What support do you have from government in promoting women in the fields you represent?

Government offers huge support legislatively for women in business however the impact of these policies has not yet been measured to verify the effectiveness thereof. So we still remain on a back foot in respect of accessing equal opportunities. We are constantly engaging in dialogue with institutions of government however most of the women’s institutions that I support still are begging for private sector funding. These are non -profit organisations and women’s groups who are active in the empowerment and acceleration of women in South Africa. Even organisations like the Jes Foord Foundation which is so influential on ensuring that awareness is created on gender violence specifically rape, assault has no government funding or support that is consistent. I am constantly asking all organisations to be more cognisant of allocating percentages of their profits to institutes like Jes Foord, Women in Energy South Africa and so forth to support their programmes and events which are directed at empowering more young women.

How do the fluctuating costs in SA in terms of rand value and fuel affect the logistics industry?

The fuel pricing places serious pressure on the cash flow of the logistics business, it impacts the greater economy as every single commodity, service or good increases proportionate to the cost of logistics. South African market is still driven by serious importation of goods and products, fluctuating currency levels ever increasing transport costs due to fuel has a direct impact on the consumer. This country has got to understand that unless we manage logistics in a solid seamless manner the drive for cost containment will never materialise due to multiple handling and lack of ability to hedge the currency beyond a certain value.

The logistics market is also facing massive shutdowns and slow growth due to closures of so many businesses that cannot rise above these economically turbulent times. This is why existing customers must be retained and adequately managed, supply chain management needs on-going review and revision, and technological support should be included in our business to streamline efficiencies.

Who have some of the shining stars in your programme and some of the highlights?

It is unfair to identify a few women when there are thousands that have come through the programme. Each and every one of these women are always paying it forward we have doctors, lawyers, educators, scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, musicians gosh a host of youngsters that have come through the development programmes. Most of them ensure that once they are financially stable they give the same opportunity to a deserving youngster in their community. This programme is not about financial enrichment it’s about society realising that government alone is not responsible for the education and inspiration of the new generation of women, its society at large working tirelessly through actions big or small.The highlights have always been about seeing the end result, watching the domino effect created and more about the fact that we know we were part of this rich history of beating the struggles we have faced as women, young or old, poor or rich, alone or together we picked each other up and carried the message of hope forward.

What different skills do women bring to the table that men might not necessarily have in abundance?

We are thoughtful, nurturing, strategic, protective and proactive warriors in business…

Self-reflection is a powerful tool, and as Women’s month draws to a close ask yourself if what you “say” and “do” is enriching or impoverishing the lives you touch. Can you look past superficial differences, acknowledge the greatness of others, say a kind word, and show gratitude. Our actions every day can unlock our—and others—full potential. South Africa requires women and men who are strong, resilient, passionate and have the courage to stand up for what’s right. We need a society of critical thinkers and innovators, with a hunger for knowledge and excellence, for future generations to succeed!

Women bring this and much more to the table we always think of others first our instinct is to protect to heal, nurture and guide. This has helped us collaborate and grow our business however like our homes are volatile and ever changing we accept changes in business. So we utilise our senses to also review and revise the strategic objectives of our business and profession making us agile and proactive.

In terms of transformation, what else can be done to get better representation?

So my hope is that, we embrace inclusivity and transformation and make it work, that leadership in this country demonstrates delivery of their promises, that we improve communication we increase collaboration, we take risks and bold decisions and realise it’s our collective ownership to take responsibility of the future of this country. We should be able to say in 10 years, that we defied the norm. We stopped looking at the railroad on the ground, we got onto the citizen centric well-being train and instead of going straight, we had the guts to look up, and reach for the sky.

Greg Simpson

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