Edited by Eamonn Ryan

Phophi Nematangari, SARACCA National Executive Committee member as well as vice chair, is charged with raising awareness of HVAC&R among South Africa’s female population.

New SARACCA NEC member Phophi Nematangari. Image credit: © Eamonn Ryan/RACA Journal

New SARACCA NEC member Phophi Nematangari. Image credit: © Eamonn Ryan/RACA Journal

Nematangari (also known as Nematangale due to a bungle at the Department of Home Affairs)  is the owner and managing director of Mumy & Sons Projects and Construction, a fully black female owned business established in 2009. The company has experience in HVAC&R, facilities management and project management. Some of its clients include the Department of Public Works (Pretoria regional office) and City of Joburg Property Company.

Over 15 million people are employed worldwide in the refrigeration industry, which means that almost five out of 1 000 people have a job linked to the manufacturing, installation, maintenance and servicing of refrigeration equipment. According to the international report Women in Cooling, a survey of 810 women from all continents, found at only 6% of the membership of national refrigeration associations, organisations and institutions women “are highly under-represented”.

As the need for Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heat Pump professionals continues to grow, the potential of the sector can best be unleashed by encouraging women to pursue education and job opportunities in this sector.

Notwithstanding the low female representation, fewer still are in the maintenance sector of HVAC&R (8%) while 22% are in design and/or R&D, 15% in sales and marketing and 13% in academic and teaching roles.

Also read ther personality profile RACA Journal did in March 2023

The report found that promotion prospects for women were limited: 20% of respondents had been promoted twice in the past 10 years and 24% had never been promoted. On the other hand, only 10% reported being excessively under-paid, and 55.4% felt they were fairly paid in relation to their job compared to their male counterparts in similar positions.

Women identified the top five challenges that they experience the most in their workday as:

  • Difficulties in managing a healthy work-life balance
  • Lack of career advancement opportunities
  • Stereotypes or prejudice about women from clients or customers
  • No other female colleagues in their organisation
  • Limited training opportunities to further develop their skills

Women’s motivations for entering the sector were varied. The report found that women were mostly motivated by the environmental impact of a career in HVAC&R; the feeling of carrying out work that is useful to society; the fact that it is an interesting subject area; the diversity of roles available; and the job security associated with the sector.

“Interestingly, earning the respect of their colleagues represented the proudest career achievement for many women. Previous studies have shown that support from co-workers, namely male colleagues, is crucial to maintaining women in engineering positions and furthering their careers,” the report noted.

Half of the women had no role model. Those who had a role model had been influenced by either someone working in the HVAC&R sector, a teacher or a family member. The top three factors that had influenced their decision to pursue an HVAC&R career were (1) someone already working in the sector; (2) individual initiative through reading and research; and (3) school.

Register for free to gain access the digital library for RACA Journal publications

Furthermore, when asked about their involvement in activities to inspire other women or young people to join HVAC&R, 53% of respondents were directly involved in activities such as training, workshops, mentoring or recruitment.

It found that 65.7% of women valued the environmental dimension of their work in the HVAC&R sector. Respondents indicated that their work involved topics such as energy efficiency, technology selection, compliance with environmental regulations and refrigerant choice.

In order to draw in more women and young girls, training programmes could focus on environmental and sustainability-related courses, through either an experiential exposure or informational awareness of the link between sustainability themes and the profession.

Adding a South African perspective to these findings, Nematangari says: “HVAC&R is not seen as natural for women – for instance, for a long time people thought me choosing this path was something of a fad that would pass and I would become a nurse. Only when they saw my determination to qualify did they change their mind – but none of my fellow women learners felt the same inclination for technical work.

“I believe in time interest will grow, because the sector gives women opportunities and when women get opportunities we excel, ending in supervisor and management positions. What SARACCA offers to members is a 50% discount on training when one is in the workplace. My role at SARACCA will be to encourage more training for more people to get qualified.

“Companies that are not members of SARACCA are often not aware of the training benefits they get from membership. Apart from the work I will do to encourage greater training in HVAC&R, I believe that women will be motivated to greater heights just by seeing me elevated to this high position within SARACCA.

“Among many women in the trades – whether plumbing, electrical or others – many do not remain in the same trade. Once they complete NQF 6 they are sometimes not motivated to go on and complete their trade test and wander off to other fields or the informal market. But in HVAC&R, even before they complete their training they are in great demand as artisans and consequently are more motivated.” The Women in Cooling report reinforced this by presenting a high retention rate of 47% of women having remained in the sector for over 10 years.

Register for free to gain access the digital library for RACA Journal publications

“Once trained in HVAC&R it is easy for an individual to start their own business – as I did. The NQF training teaches one all the skills necessary to manage projects, spec a job, do the bills of quantity and business skills.

“But women, and men for that matter, are simply not aware of this – and my goal is to raise their awareness of HVAC&R and learn for themselves the opportunity that exists in HVAC&R. You don’t have to look for a job – it looks for you. One further obstacle in South Africa is that there are few training facilities for HVAC&R – in my home province of Limpopo there isn’t a single college and it is consequently one of my goals to remedy that. My love of HVAC&R is so great that I am researching the establishment of an HVAC&R training centre – a process that takes about five years for accreditation,” says Nematangari.

“TVETs do not do HVAC&R training, and therefore the trade is almost invisible to youngsters. Few enough of them choose a trade, never mind HVAC&R.

“To raise the profile of HVAC&R I propose to first take my case to the Department of Education for permission to visit the high school network. I will then start close to home with the school I went to and then other schools in Limpopo – and branch out from there, also attending career guidance events.

“Unfortunately, construction and HVAC&R companies do not take the lead in advancing gender equality, whether in the workplace, the market or community. They still believe women don’t have the necessary physical strength to install the outdoor HVAC&R unit or carry the compressors. Nor are men helping women to break into the trade – they see it as a closed shop for men. The only reason the private sector does anything is to meet gender equality rules. It is mostly the three layers of government that take the lead. Where there are women training to be artisans or are qualified it is mostly the initiative of municipalities,” says Nematangari.

The International Network of Women in Cooling (INWIC) is a networking, educational and mentoring platform to promote the role of women in the refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pump industry. This recently launched initiative aims to connect women currently working in the sector, empowering them to progress in their career and to become visible role models, changing outdated perceptions and influencing the next generation of women engineers. INWIC is a joint initiative of UNEP OzonAction and WRD in cooperation with founding partners representing key professional HVAC&R associations from all regions. By bringing together women from all continents, INWIC enables the sharing of experiences and successful local policies and career opportunities, which would not be available otherwise. It provides an opportunity to learn from each other, understand how to bring positive change in each cultural context and promote the environmental aspect of the HVAC&R profession.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • There is a need to capture the challenges and issues of women working in the servicing and occupational areas of HVAC&R. Local or regional associations can better reach out to them through dedicated similar surveys that can even be designed in local languages as needed.
  • Corporates and firms are encouraged to establish or update their social and HR policies to tackle many of the issues identified by women in HVAC&R, under this survey, such as work-life balance, training and career advancement opportunities as well as equal pay for work of equal value.
  • With high attention of women to environmental and sustainability issues, as shown by the survey, there is a need to capitalise on such enthusiasm by bringing women in HVAC&R in the forefront of related programmes and activities.
  • Focused campaigns should be organised to attract young people, including women, to enrol in educational and vocational training disciplines related to HVAC&R as well as facilitating their joining the HVAC&R workforce.
  • Encourage and promote enrolment and engagement with INWIC that is offering multi-track opportunities for women in HVAC&R including, but not limited to, networking, mentoring, role-models, and internships.
Register for free to gain access the digital library for RACA Journal publications