By Benjamin Brits
After the successful delivery of the women in the built environment (WIBE) networking event earlier this year, this second event grew in both promotion and participation.
On this occasion, the drivers to deliver and expand the concept of Fourways Group in partnership with Samsung South Africa gained further traction by support from Co-Arc International Architects, 1st Thursday Property Club, Impact Manpower, and Turner & Townsend.
This event seeks to provide an opportunity to promote the built environment as an inclusive profession that supports, values and celebrates the contributions of women engineers, architects, developers, designers, surveyors, HVAC professionals, and the likes thereof.
The event was held at the Samsung Bespoke Centre at the Design Quarter in Fourways and approximately 100 women were in attendance from various sectors within the built environment.
Charmaine Pieters – national key accounts manager at Samsung (Digital Air Solutions), managed the formal proceedings and started them off by commenting on the excellent positive energy of the group and further offered thanks to all of the people involved in the organising and delivery of the event.
She moved on to highlight the impressive cutting edge technology that Samsung offers holistically and went into some detail about three air conditioning products in particular – namely WindFree technology and its various benefits and functions to deliver draft-free cooling and managing indoor air quality that she stated “can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air,” their 360 cassette unit, and then their multi-split FJM range where the ability to connect a single outdoor condensing unit to multiple indoor units is becoming important for developments to avoid the typical “outdoor unit clusters seen from the past.” “With the rising energy costs in South Africa, Samsung strives to make its appliances more energy efficient. For example, the WindFree air conditioners feature digital inverter boost technology that minimises the unit’s energy consumption by up to 77% compared to conventional fixed-speed air conditioners,” she added.
Pieters then introduced Catharine Atkins – director, and Malika Walele – professional architect from Co-Arc International Architects that shared some of their work over the last few years and stressed the “importance of diversification in teams that lead to creation of different experiences.” They included three impressive sites – the first was the Leonardo in Sandton, now known as the tallest building in Africa (at 57 floors) and where the project team comprised a 90% female contingent. Interestingly it was noted that the Leonardo is the first high rise building to be built of this scale in a CBD since the 1970s. Another 6-Star Green Rated re-development for a client that wanted to remain anonymous was presented. At this particular site 80% of all material from demolition was re-purposed into the new building. The third project, from Ghana, was shared for the World Bank that was driven by an understanding of culture, heritage, social and environment relevance, and where the centre courtyard remained the host for an old neem tree of great importance to the community.
Jay Dax, co-founder of the 1st Thursday Property Development Club shared some insight next into the rationale and establishment of the club that mimics the workings of a successful strategy she helped establish in the mining sector to get women to “rub shoulders with the big male role players in the industry” in a social setting. The club has grown to around 2500 members already by word of mouth, demonstrating the success of such networking forums.
Mpumi Sishi – managing director at Impact Manpower discussed the role of her business as a female owned entity specialising as a community relations consulting firm that provides services to the property construction environment. Essentially her business fulfils a dual role being the assistance to developers in terms of community engagement and on the other hand, assisting the communities on educating themselves on how to embrace opportunities, how to present themselves, and how to qualify themselves to gain access to opportunities. Sadly, she noted that what happens today is that many aspects of business have become a tick box exercise, lacking tangible good outcomes and it is also clear that “a disjointed approach towards the implementation of community engagement is very unlikely to provide any benefit to all stakeholders.” She touched on the intricacies involved in community ecosystems and the increasing pressure for businesses to report on their environment, social and governance (ESG) aspects. The strategy to focus on social and governance aspects adds value to the industry by identifying talent that is not being easily discovered. Through collaboration, she noted that “bridging the gap becomes possible.”
Pieters took the opportunity between speakers to share something close to her own heart – being, “giving back.” Each female coming into the working environment needs the handing down of advice and each lady should share and give back to the younger generation through sharing and nurturing she commented.
The final speaker at the event was Wendy Cerutti – director and head of cost management at Turner & Townsend who delivered her personal perspective as a woman. She recalled her time entering the built environment that was highly male-dominated and was only hired at her first job because of sibling relationship. She stressed that is not the way women want to be recognised though and added that “women want to be hired and treated based on merit.” She continued to share her experience in that women already have a seat at the table but their views and opinions must be heard, they are already empowered with education, business acumen, leadership, and are great in business and shouldn’t accept “being tolerated” because many more opportunities are out there. She echoed the sentiments and great importance around mentorship for women while “male counterparts are twice as likely to receive mentorship opportunities and be placed in top management positions.” She added that women can achieve this too by changing the dynamics in these sectors and engaging in mentorship programmes. “We need to all be a mentor, a role model to young women that can break the biases in the work environment.” She noted additionally by making changes and working together, women will bring out the best there is to offer and ensure a future with values. She concluded with #loveachallenge, #strongertogether, and #bringoutthebest.
The proceedings were concluded with a short Q&A where attendees offered some comments and had the opportunity to ask the speakers some questions. Afterwards, guests were invited to share in some eats and refreshments and continue networking engagements.
Some comments from the attendees included that “it’s always great to have the support of other females in the industry”, “I felt informed today”, “Having a forum like this feels like a safe space to share”, “the relationships and experience shared today really inspired us to know that as women we can do it too!”, and, “getting to know other people in the industry and the networking opportunities are awesome.”
Concluding the event, the organising team offered much thanks for the support and participation from the different professionals and varying sectors of the built environment that came together in one room to celebrate being a woman in the built environment, amazing talents and contributions to South Africa. “We are very pleased and believe this was another excellent turnout and possibly will consider a bigger conference-type setting for the next event. It is clear that this sort of networking and support platform is essential to ensure the mentorship and nurturing that was spoken about today continues to be available for the next generations of women that have excellent creative ideas and are able to bring those ideas to life through the various disciplines of the sector. We envision taking this platform further to include all women in the built environment from the professional to sales, and even marketing roles as each have a different perspective, different impact and different experience others can learn from. We look forward to the next bigger and better delivery.”
Two lucky draws took place during the proceedings with the winners receiving a 27-inch Samsung Smart Monitor each.