With 15 years of experience in the construction sector under her belt, having started off as an employee of a quantity surveying firm, Okuhle Project Management founder and CEO Andiswa Xozwa is quite the accomplished businesswoman. Her intention is to leave a footprint in the construction industry by creating opportunities for employment and skills development for other young black female professionals.
Ultimately, she wants women to have a similar footing in the industry still regarded as male dominated. Through her work she has demonstrated that a foundation in the dusty streets of Daveyton is not a limitation. In her business she employs more than 60% of women and youth. Our writer Bianca Mashao catches up with the construction mogul.
Ignited Woman Magazine (IWM): Please briefly tell us about yourself and where you are from.
Andiswa Xozwa (AX): I am originally from the township of Daveyton in the City of Ekurhuleni. I am a qualified quantity surveyor and project manager with broad technical experience and I possess 15 years of experience in the building and civil construction industry which I gained through my involvement in high profile commercial, infrastructure and power generation projects across South Africa.
IWM: Tell us about your business?
AX: Okuhle Project Management is a 100% black woman owned emerging infrastructure development company that was formed in 2012, with the aim of offering a range of integrated business support services within the construction industry. Our company comprises of a team of professionals mostly youth who have expertise in their field of knowledge to add value to the company’s range of competencies.
We provide opportunities for capacity building and skills development and we are a catalyst for change that enables previously disadvantaged societies, especially the women and youth, increased participation, and empowerment.
Our company structure embeds values of gender equality while our policies are gender-sensitive with a corporate culture that advances equality and inclusion.
IWM: Why construction?
AX: Initially I wanted to be a lawyer, but I was inspired by Ms. Nyami Mandindi who was one of the first few black women in the country to become a Quantity Surveyor, I then ventured into construction.
IWM: What has inspired your entrepreneurial journey?
AX: My journey began in 2008 as a young black woman who had recently graduated as Quantity Surveyor, which is rare vocation for women. I started my career at Norval Wentzel Steinberg Quantity Surveyors and to my surprise, I was one of three black women. This to me was a clear indication that as a young black woman within the construction industry I needed to take up space and lead from the front.
At that point in time there were still not enough black owned firms, particularly black women owned. The industry was dominated by white males and black women constantly faced two main challenges: That of being black and that of being female. As I gained more technical experience and knowledge within the industry, I then saw an opportunity to start my own company which would not only be owned by a black female but would also create opportunities for employment and skills development for other young black female professionals.
IWM: What are some of the challenges you have faced since you started your business?
AX: One of the biggest challenges as young black women in the construction industry is access to business opportunities. We are constantly being undermined and our capacity to deliver is almost always under scrutiny. We must work twice as hard, just to earn respect and recognition. The construction industry which has been defined as “man’s world’ due to its requirement of physical labour, has been very slow in the implementation of transformation and black women remain in the back foot.
IWM: What does it mean to you being a young woman in business and construction?
AX: Being a young businesswoman in the construction industry means a world of opportunities but most importantly it means transformation and empowerment of many other women who have a desire to build a career or even start a business in this industry.
IWM: What kind of impact would you like to make through your company or business?
AX: The modern workplace recognizes the importance of investing in training and development and appreciates its valuables and benefits. Being skilled and educated makes the workforce more effective, efficient, and productive.
We are committed to building a sustainable future and to improving the social, economic and environmental well-being of the community. As an emerging contractor we recognise that improve-ments can be continually made.
IWM: What has been the highlight since you started your business?
AX: Every opportunity to empower women has been a highlight. In our most recent project at Zandspruit where we were involved in the delivery of Bulk Civil Engineering Services, we got the opportunity to empower more women in the construction industry. The project was driven by a woman who is passionate about the empowerment of women. The Project Manager, the Site Engineer, the Foreman for Water and Sanitation, the Safety officer and the Quality Technician were all women. Within the project operations in the Zandspruit community, we also had the opportunity to empower local SMME’s that are women- owned and in particular local subcontractors and suppliers.
IWM: What does it mean to you being a young woman in leadership?
AX: Being a young woman in leadership means being a catalyst for transformative change. It means fostering a safe and inclusive environment where individuals feel heard, respected, and valued, ultimately leading to increased productivity and overall success. What makes you effective as a leader is not the title you hold, it’s demonstrating an unrelenting focus on helping others succeed.
IWM: What advice do you have for fellow aspiring young women who want to start a business?
AX: Don’t be afraid to take up space and lead from the front. There will always be challenges in the process of starting and building a company, remain resilient and remember why you started. Many people, in particular many men, will be intimidated by you but remember you are not intimidating but rather they are intimidated, and your presence has challenged their comfort zone.
What drives me is that this is not just about me. This is about the lives of many other young women who need someone to open the door of opportunity for them.