Women in South Africa’s power sector: Bertha Dlamini

Bertha Dlami­ni, Pres­i­dent of AWEaP (© IASS)

Bertha Dlami­ni is the Found­ing Pres­i­dent of African Women in Ener­gy and Pow­er (AWEaP), a non-prof­it com­pa­ny work­ing to accel­er­ate African women entre­pre­neurs’ par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ener­gy sec­tor. After study­ing Mar­ket­ing, she start­ed her career in con­sult­ing and in 2006 found­ed her own mar­ket­ing com­pa­ny Rito Con­sult­ing Services.

Dri­ven by a need to grow and diver­si­fy her busi­ness inter­est, she accept­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to part­ner with EON Con­sult­ing, an engi­neer­ing con­sult­ing firm. When Bertha first start­ed work­ing at EON Con­sult­ing, only very few women lead­ers were employed in the ener­gy sec­tor. In fact, dur­ing her first three years, Bertha was often the only female, the only black per­son, and often the youngest in many indus­try forums. While she was the first black female part­ner at the engi­neer­ing con­sult­ing firm. But she did not expe­ri­ence this as a neg­a­tive: “I was a nov­el­ty, and a wel­come one.” Bertha says she brought gen­tle­ness, a dif­fer­ent way of inter­act­ing with employ­ees. That being said, she also describes her­self as a con­fi­dent and goal-ori­ent­ed per­son who wasn’t both­ered by oth­er people’s opin­ion of her. What mat­tered to her was that she got respect from her team and the board based on the pos­i­tive and tan­gi­ble con­tri­bu­tion she brought to the com­pa­ny and the industry.

Bertha describes that the hook for her inter­est in ener­gy stems from the oppor­tu­ni­ties and dig­ni­ty that it allows peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties: “Access to elec­tric­i­ty enables access to infor­ma­tion, to qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion, to health care, and an over­all bet­ter qual­i­ty of life.” With a cur­rent elec­tri­fi­ca­tion rate of 85% [1], many peo­ple in the coun­try are still exclud­ed from these ben­e­fits, and the rate is much low­er in the rest of Sub-Saha­ran Africa.

Mak­ing a busi­ness case for women

Bertha soon realised that there was no body of knowl­edge on women work­ing in the ener­gy sec­tor glob­al­ly, espe­cial­ly women in the nexus of entre­pre­neur­ship, ener­gy and infra­struc­ture devel­op­ment. In South Africa, 35% of South African women are unem­ployed [2], and the sit­u­a­tion is even worse for black women (41%) [3]. AWEaP is work­ing to make a dif­fer­ence to that num­ber by intro­duc­ing women to the val­ue chains that dri­ve elec­tric­i­ty pro­duc­tion and help­ing them iden­ti­fy entre­pre­neur­ial entry points. AWEaP deliv­ers ener­gy sec­tor ori­en­ta­tion webi­na­rs and oth­er tar­get­ed inter­ven­tions that aim to inte­grate women owned and led com­pa­nies to local and glob­al sup­ply chains in the ener­gy and pow­er sec­tor. This includes access to finance, net­works and cred­i­ble mar­ket information.

What does it take to employ more women in the pow­er sec­tor? There are prac­ti­cal aspects that need to be con­sid­ered to make women feel com­fort­able and safe work­ing on-site, such as pro­tec­tive gear, gloves and shoes in women’s sizes, gen­der-seg­re­gat­ed bath­rooms, and breast­feed­ing sta­tions. But the real chal­lenge lies in over­com­ing the less-vis­i­ble bar­ri­ers for women in a male-dom­i­nat­ed sec­tor. “Patri­archy is deeply embed­ded in the core of our soci­ety. But you can­not force change in men­tal mod­els. You need to make a busi­ness case for women”, says Bertha. In oth­er words: men in pow­er need to see the ben­e­fits of employ­ing and work­ing togeth­er with women in order to change their views. “The coun­try is trans­form­ing. It is a good time to make a pos­i­tive change for women in the pow­er sector.”


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This arti­cle is the sum­ma­ry of an inter­view, con­duct­ed in the course of our research on oppor­tu­ni­ties and bar­ri­ers for women in the pow­er sec­tor in South Africa.