"What our matriarchs did was a catalyst for change in society. Contrary to popular belief, we are still protesting, albeit in a more passive way. But, before religion, race, creed and culture, I am and always will be a woman. And I am proud of that fact. Women's month is a time to remember who we are, how we got here and celebrate our achievements," Alisha says.
Alisha began applying for holiday internships when she was a first-year civil engineering student at the University of Johannesburg. "My first interview was with a man who took one look at me and said, ‘You won't be able to work or survive on site.’”
She recalls: "I was crushed. He hadn't even heard me speak yet. Even though I felt somewhat dejected, I kept actively applying for positions at consulting firms and sporadically in construction. At the end of my first year of study, I received a full bursary from a construction company, can you believe it? And that's where it started. I have worked in construction for the past 10 years. This included working for one medium-sized privately-owned construction company and two of the previous ‘Big 5’ construction companies in South Africa."
Having started her career as a site engineer, Alisha went on to become site manager. All the projects and roles she has fulfilled have provided her with a wide range of experiences, enabling her to become the highly versatile person she is today.
After joining Enel Green Power RSA in mid-2019, Alisha spent the first two months shadowing one of the senior managers and eventually became site manager of the Oyster Bay Wind Farm, where she currently works.
"I believe 100% that I am currently in the best position to build my experience in renewable plants and in the diverse and dynamic world of EGP RSA. Of all my experiences and roles, working for Enel has challenged me in a completely different way, largely due to its broad and holistic approach to business," she says.
As site manager at EGP RSA, Alisha has to wear “a different 'hat' every day. Site managers have to have an eye for health and safety. They need to have technical knowledge. They must be emotionally intelligent, and know how to engage with different stakeholders. They also have to be able to inspire and lead people of different cultural, generational and socio-economic backgrounds."
She adds that site managers also have to build, grow and support their teams along with constructing a power generation facility. And they have to be able to function under immense stress and pressure: “They are the faces and voices on site. And while we are celebrating Women's Month, let me just say: It's even harder to do this as a woman.”
Alisha goes on to say that "Although South Africa and the world have made great strides in terms of bridging the equality gap, we are a far cry from where we should be. Construction is still a predominantly male environment and, from first-hand experience, I can tell you that, as a woman, we have to work 10 times as hard to cement our place in the industry. All site managers are required to be multifaceted, but female site managers are true diamonds."
Alisha loves EGP's values and being part of a company that actively tries to make the world a better place. "On the rare occasions that I visit the head office, I love looking around and seeing my female colleagues as senior managers, heads of departments and just plain boss-babes. I'm so proud of them and the fact that I work for a company which nurtures and cultivates our progression."
Alisha believes EGP RSA has afforded her the opportunity to prove herself and helped her function at her best. "I used to listen to men describe other men in the industry and they always used the term ‘competent’ when someone excelled. I started believing that being called competent is a compliment, but Enel has taught me that competence is merely the starting point. You have to be encouraging, facilitating, ambitious, versatile and do it all with finesse. Women here are celebrated, promoted and allowed to shine.”
In her personal capacity, Alisha says she will continue to help other women reach their full potential. "I will keep encouraging young girls to follow STEM careers. I hope that at the end of my lifetime, I will have inspired many other women to achieve their dreams.”
Women's month should be about real dialogue
Senior Sustainability Analyst Sentle Nell has a pragmatic view of Women's Month and sees it as a time to conduct real dialogues in work places, churches and recreational venues about the issues that plague women every day in South Africa.
Sentle says that "Women's Month is the one month when women are placed in the precarious position of being ‘seen.’ This is problematic, considering the statistics around gender-based violence and the scourge of patriarchy that riddles South Africa."
With a background in development financing in Africa, Sentle worked for institutions in that field before joining EGP RSA. During this time, she was exposed to various industries including mining, steel/metals, healthcare and manufacturing. She also dabbled in radio production and hosted a slot on campus radio during her time as a student at Wits University.
Sentle joined EGP RSA in 2015 as a community relations officer: "Since then, both my role and the department have evolved and become more embedded in EGP's strategy. The department became the Sustainability Unit and since then our work has focused on entrenching the ‘Creating Shared Value’ model in South Africa and its impact in our host communities through compliance and collaboration.”
She adds: "In my current role as the senior sustainability analyst, I have the privilege of co-developing SED and ED projects with communities, representing EGP RSA in industry bodies and organizations and, ultimately, supporting the team holistically from project inception right through to operations."
EGP RSA has exposed her to a host of new challenges that have allowed her to gain knowledge of the energy sector at a granular level as a result of interacting with international financiers and policy makers.
"This, alongside the support of my manager, Lizeka Dlepu, has brought on new responsibilities and resulted in me being selected to be part of the 'Energy Sector Youth Council', which is championed by the Department of Minerals and Energy. I believe that the insight I have gained has positioned me to make an impact in the industry."
Sentle loves the collaborative aspect of EGP RSA: "I enjoy the fact that everyone shares the same vision and is dedicated to the same mission. I also like the autonomy I have because my manager allows me to innovate and share different ideas and strategies around sustainability matters.”