In line with global trends to open more doors for women entrepreneurs and eliminate gender-related biases, the Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA) is focusing on developing women-led small businesses to encourage their participation in the mainstream economy, particularly within the chemicals sector.
According to the 2020 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE)*, women are making progress in South Africa, but challenges persist, and only 19.4% of business owners in South Africa are women.
CHIETA’s women-focused projects include the CHIETA 12-month Small Business Programme, which upskills women entrepreneurs in business development. The comprehensive programme catered for 49 delegates in Tshwane and Ekurhuleni in 2020, at an investment of over R1.4 million.
Yershen Pillay, CHIETA CEO, says the response to the programme, the uptake by the delegates, and the impact on individual businesses was extremely encouraging.
“We face severe skills shortages in engineering sectors in this country, which can hinder economic growth. To bridge this gap, we need to see a change in attitudes towards women in engineering – both how they are perceived in the industry, and how they themselves view engineering,” he explains.
“This course is proving to be a firm steppingstone to business growth in our vibrant chemical engineering sector,” he said.
Koketso Mashishi, owner of Haimish skin care products, says she has benefited from several CHIETA support initiatives, “I was part of the University of Johannesburg CHIETA group in 2020 and passed my Small Business Enrichment Programme.”
“CHIETA also enabled me to complete my N2 in Chemical Manufacturing, to achieve my certificate in the SEDA Quality Management Systems course and to attend digital marketing training,” she said.
Mashishi emphasises that many opportunities have opened for her since joining CHIETA. Looking ahead, she believes that women manufacturers and formulation developers need to provide a platform to train other women interested in participating in the industry.
Dichaba Kubayi, owner of Hygriene cleaning products and services, gives CHIETA credit for the valuable training she’s received, and for networking opportunities.
She has experienced the misconception that women are not as capable as men at owning and running a business in the chemical sector.
She says, “What people need to understand is that it is in a woman’s nature to grow and enhance anything we set our minds to – from raising children to building businesses. I do see it as my task to educate people and dispel such misconceptions.”
Kubayi believes that women’s participation in the chemical industry can be strengthened by bringing more women onto the boards of policymakers and industry leaders, and to generate exposure of the successful women in the sector to the export market, which will create industry growth.
Sesomo Molapo of Randfontein-based Baroeng Trading Projects, which produces cleaning chemicals, says she benefited from the CHIETA UJ Small Business Enrichment Programme and participation in the SA Chemical Technology Incubator, Chemin.
“I learned a lot about managing my business effectively and how to use technology to market it,” says Molapo.
Kurhula Mkansi, director of VKM Dynamix, which manufactures detergents and provides cleaning services in Johannesburg and Tzaneen in Limpopo, attended a business management course through CHIETA, which has had a positive impact on her business.
She encourages women considering a career in chemical engineering to take the step, “Run your race, and remember that small steps in the right direction can turn out to be the biggest step of your life.”
Pillay has congratulated all the CHIETA Small Business Programme graduates and encouraged the industry to make a point of supporting women-owned businesses in the chemical sector.
“The fact is, according to a UN Global Compact article, businesses that invest into the importance of gender equality, experience higher productivity, higher return on investment, and higher consumer satisfaction. It’s worth it,” concludes Pillay.