Thulisile Gama: I get paid to play with sand

“I remember when I had just started as a junior metallurgist, I had to give an operational instruction to one of the teams. A man from the team told me that he will not take an instruction from a woman. I was shocked!”- says ‘Mining Powerhouse’, Thulisile Gama, who is making a name for herself in the Mining and Metals sector.

Thulisile holds a BSc Metallurgical Engineering degree from the University of the Witwatersrand and is a Senior Metallurgist at Tronox KZN Sands.  She has served as chairperson of Tronox Women’s Network, a global network aimed at supporting the professional development of women in engineering. She is a mentor to young girls, particularly those from the rural areas.

Dressed in stuffy, hot overalls with big safety boots on, climbing high staircases of tall metal equipment, with temperatures higher than 1000oC, her work environment is not an easy one at all!. “I get paid to play with sand!”, she says playfully.

What made you choose your field of work and what has made you stay in it so far?

Mining is the backbone of South Africa’s economy. I joined this industry because I am passionate about natural resources and I wanted to be part of the bigger picture. There is never a dull moment.  From supply-demand dynamics of different commodities, advancement in technology, or the status of the global economy, each day brings something new.

All these changes affect the industry and as engineers, we are forced to implement more innovative solutions to ensure the survival of companies. I enjoy the variety of work and the daily challenges that my job provides.

Confidence, self-esteem, and assertiveness are key aspects for women to be heard. Click To Tweet

Take us through what you do on a typical day at work. 

There is never a ‘typical’ day at work and that’s what I like about my job. One day I find myself sitting in long strategic meetings, and the next day I am offering solutions to process issues at the plant. Each morning I review the production of the previous day and ensure that the quantity and quality are within specification. Initiating and identifying continuous improvement ideas that will save cost is also something that I incorporate into my daily decision-making and thinking.

I constantly remind myself that as women, we have the same thinking ability as men. Click To Tweet

How do you manage to get your opinions heard in a room full of male engineering experts?

If I’m invited to a meeting, I believe that my technical skills and opinions are needed and I deserve to be there. One thing that I constantly remind myself of is that as women, we have the same thinking ability as men. When voicing my opinion, I make sure that I do not allow myself to be interrupted in the process. Confidence, self-esteem, and assertiveness are key aspects of being heard as women.

Some studies have found that women tend to leave their engineering careers after some time. Why do you think this is the case?

 A lack of female role models in mining is a major contributor to female engineers leaving the industry. Having role models who are the same gender as you, who have walked the same path can go a long way. For us women to influence the world of mining, we need to to be more accommodating of females and build a network of solidarity. It is important for women to support other women and serve as mentors to young girls.

In South Africa, mining companies have been driving to up their female employee numbers by offering women bursaries. Sometimes, women study engineering only because they are offered a bursary. I’ve seen this happening especially to African people from disadvantaged communities who cannot afford to fund their own studies.  Some realize only when they start work that engineering is not for them and quit.

For us women to influence the world of Mining, we need to build a network of solidarity. Click To Tweet

How can young women interested in the mining industry better prepare themselves for a career as a metallurgist?

For young females who are interested in pursuing metallurgy as a career, I would say ‘go for it!’ It is a challenging environment but with lots of opportunities.

When I started work, I didn’t want to acknowledge the gender barrier but I have come to see my gender as a strength and I now focus on leveraging it. Invest time in researching about this field. Enter this industry because of passion, not money, and find yourself a mentor or role model.

Having an engineering degree doesn’t mean that you are not going to crawl and get dirty. You need to work your way up the ranks, starting at the bottom. It’s also important to be teachable. Be keen to learn and take the initiative to do so. Focus on building strong fundamentals when you start as a junior, you’ll need those as you progress in your career.



How do you let your hair down after a long week of solving complex engineering problems and ‘playing with sand’?

I spend time with my awesome son and read a lot when I’m not at work. I enjoy the outdoor life, exploring new places and different cultures. Running also liberates me. Also, I have a passion for fashion and I’m planning to start my own clothing line in the near future!

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Ethel Marfo: We have to prepare boys to fully complement empowered girls

Ethel Marfo
Ethel Marfo: No matter how empowered a girl is, she'll need a responsible man when she decides to get married Click To Tweet

Ethel Adjorlolo Marfo is a social entrepreneur who is passionately Africa’s first Male Child Development Activist. She is the founder & CEO of Junior Shapers Africa, a social enterprise that provides grooming and mentoring for boys between 6-16 years. Junior Shapers Africa aspires boys to become responsible men and solid supporters of the modern African woman.

Other enterprises founded by Ethel include Salon Cuties, a niche salon for children and Ghana Mompreneurs Club, a business support network for moms combining business and early years of motherhood. She has also worked as a Public Relations and Marketing Professional in various organizations.

As mother of 3 daughters, Ethel is a firm believer of devoting time and preparing the boy child to fully complement the girl child we are tirelessly empowering today.

Why choose to focus on male child empowerment?

First of all, I am motivated by the future of my daughters. I have three beautiful daughters and my husband and I are giving them the best of nurturing and training they will need to survive as independent women. But it dawned on me that no matter how empowered or educated a girl is, she will need a responsible man or husband to co-manage her future home when she decides to get married. It’s important that children are raised in a holistic way by both mother and father.

I was also concerned about the (social, emotional, spiritual) needs of the boy child who no one is paying attention to. This leads to a lot of dysfunctional men in our society frustrating hardworking women.

Again, I was challenged by the fatherhood crisis that is on the increase. There are a lot of fathers shirking their responsibilities towards their children. Though a mother can teach children to be responsible and can also instill good character traits in them, a mother cannot role model for a boy on how to be a responsible man. A boy needs to see his father handle responsibilities of a man, husband, and a father to become one himself.

To solve this challenge, I find good men to groom, mentor and nurture young boys to uphold high standards of integrity with strong family values and be responsible for himself and his community.

Junior Shapers Africa

Share with us the operation of Junior Shapers Africa? Is it a series of one-time courses or it’s a continuous learning up until graduation?

It’s a continuous learning up till graduation. The Junior Boys Mentoring Clinic (JBMC) is the flagship program that oversees the mentoring and grooming of boys. There are basically three(3) levels with this program;

The foundation level focuses on boys discovering and understanding who they are and appreciating themselves. Topics like temperaments, values, self-worth and essential life skills are treated at this level. The second is the Intermediate level where boys are groomed with the necessary leadership skills to lead themselves, colleagues and the outside world. Topics covered include team work, basic entrepreneurship skills, being a responsible and patriotic citizen among others. Boys at this level identify a need in their communities and provide a solution to it in our community project month.

The Maturity level focuses on building sound and positive relationships with the opposite sex, parents, friends and family. Boys are mentored and nurtured on topics such as, understanding the role of a man, the synergy between men and women, communication and networking skills and personal branding. The objective is for boys to develop relationship building skills.

Each level runs on a 12 month duration after which boys will graduate and move to the next level depending on our assessment of the boy’s development. Our monthly clinics are held on the last Sunday of every month plus an intensive man up boot camp during summer holidays at a fee.

There is also the JSA Social Projects (Communities and Slums) which we devote during public holidays to address issues of boys in danger prone or less productive communities. We held an impactful mentoring clinic for boys in Jamestown, Accra on Easter Monday and preparing now towards the Liberia Refugee Camp for a similar clinic on AU holiday.

Junior Shapers Africa

How are you able to ensure this grooming doesn’t wear out once these boys get into the university?

Boys will serve as JSA life-mentors after completing the final level or the matured class. They will be assigned mentees to inspire and mentor.

They will be sharing their personal life stories when they were being mentored and the impact mentoring had on their personal and social life.

What are some of the marketing tools you use to publicize your services and attract people to sign up?

My greatest marketing tool has been social media (Facebook, the website, WhatsApp, Instagram, and LinkedIn), Radio and TV interviews.

Secondly, by recommendation. Parents and subscribers recommend the program to their friends after they have enrolled their boys and have seen some positive attitudinal or behavioral change in their boys.

@Juniorshapersafrica we believe it’s easier to build strong boys than repair broken men Click To Tweet

Tell us some of the challenges running Junior Shapers Africa and how you are tackling them?

My first challenge is funding. Since it’s a non-profit organization, I mostly have to invest my personal money in our social projects and other programs we run. We sometimes depend on the benevolence of companies and individuals who have the vision of seeing boys empowered.

Secondly, it’s a challenge finding more dedicated, responsible and well-mannered mentors for the boys. Some men do not see the need to groom and mentor these boys at the foundational ages of their lives. They come up with excuses when they are invited to come and inspire these boys on their journey to responsible manhood. Some say, that the boys are too young to receive such nurturing.

Again, we lack the necessary infrastructure for our programs. I envision a facility with auditoriums for our mentoring sessions, a cinema, a playground, a walk-in library for boys, men and fathers to provide solutions on issues about men. A place to provide information (the man’s approach).

Junior Shapers Africa

What are your future plans for JSA?

To set up an efficient board of trusted men as we prepare to enter other countries on the continent aside Ghana.

To have our own facility named “Men & Boys Resource Centre”.

To have a JSA institution from the basic to the tertiary only for boys empowerment.

If you were not championing male-child empowerment, what else would you have done?

I operate a niche salon for children and that’s where it all started from. I would have been there permanently to supervise my workers but I needed to step out of my comfort zone and solve a problem in society which nobody is passionately attending to.

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