As part of the company’s philosophy of embracing diversity, consulting engineering and infrastructure advisory firm Zutari respects the value of contrasting voices, alternative perspectives and insights into different cultures. It is only by sharing these unique stories and insights that a sense of community is formed in the spirit of inclusivity.

Following the occasion of International Women’s Day last week on 8 March, under the theme of #EmbraceEquity, this article will examine the careers of five trailblazing women at Zutari about the impact it has on local communities and how this reflects the broader values of diversity and inclusion within the company.

Andile Maphumulo, senior consultant, Communication and Stakeholder Engagement (Management & Sustainability)

 Maphumulo describes herself as a jack of all trades when it comes to communication, stakeholder engagement, community development, socioeconomic development and enterprise development. She is often the interface between the client and the community, which many companies use as a branding space. “We are involved with the community at a grassroots level. It is fascinating to see the actual impact we make on a day-to-day basis, and with each and every single project we undertake.”

The culture at Zutari is diverse and inclusive and supports its employees in everything they do. “It is a blessing to be part of that big vision because we have a real impact that affects people’s lives. It is close to my heart that the company co-creates mechanisms to leave a lasting impact and legacy.”

Herself hailing from a small village environment, Maphumulo says this experience gives her a unique insight. “I have established relationships that are beneficial to the company to bring its expertise to bear, while being mindful and respectful of the local community’s customs/traditions and expectations. That all goes back to the brand and its values.”

Andile Maphumulo, senior consultant, Communication and Stakeholder Engagement (Management & Sustainability). Image credit: Zutari

Andile Maphumulo, senior consultant, Communication and Stakeholder Engagement (Management & Sustainability). Image credit: Zutari

Betsey Mathew, Senior People business partner

Mathew oversees the HR function in the Middle East, managing the lifecycle of about 200 employees. The region is the work-winning engine for the company, which then gets transferred to the Global Design Centre in Cape Town. She says the company is defined by its culture, and that culture is underpinned by the Zutari Codes.

“It is something I am very passionate about as it embeds what we stand for in the form of simple aphorisms like ‘we are one’, ‘show grit’, ‘foster trust’, ‘own it’ and ‘get things done’. These simple catchphrases go a long way,” says Mathew, as they allow for dialogue and a consistent message throughout the company.

Commenting on the IWD 2023 theme of #EmbraceEquity, Mathew says the theme itself reflects how International Women’s Day has evolved. “It is an interesting theme this year. Equity is not only to ensure gender equality or equal opportunities. We have come a long way. Now it is about equal metrics where I am measured against the same targets as another person would be. As a woman, and especially as a woman of colour, I do not expect softer or harsher targets because of who I am. I wear my colour with pride.”

Betsey Mathew, Senior People business partner. Image credit: Zutari

Betsey Mathew, Senior People business partner. Image credit: Zutari

Mercy Kariu, Structural Revit technician in the Built Environment Unit

Kariu’s role is more commonly referred to as a BIM coordinator. “I am fortunate enough to work in an environment that allows multidisciplinary engineering,” she says. She manages and coordinates the benefits of BIM for the entire team and manages the information produced and how it is shared. “It is very exciting to be at the cutting edge of everything that is changing in terms of technology.”

Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Kariu says her role has been profoundly facilitated by advancing technology. “I get to work with people in South Africa and elsewhere. It is a dream come true because I get to learn about how people work in other countries and their different policies, regulations, codes and standards.”

Kariu’s interpretation of #EmbraceEquity is that there is no longer any need for her to be considered differently from her male counterparts or not afforded the same opportunities. “When that is achieved, I am able to prove myself as I am in an environment where different standards are not set according to my gender, colour or background. It is a fair and level playing field in terms of opportunity and career development.”

Mercy Kariu, Structural Revit technician in the Built Environment Unit. Image credit: Zutari

Mercy Kariu, Structural Revit technician in the Built Environment Unit. Image credit: Zutari

Selicia Pillay, structural engineer in the Global Design Centre (Built Environment)

As a Structural Engineer, most of Pillay’s projects are Australia based. “I am lucky to have been exposed to world-class projects, which you would not get in any other company, and that is exciting. It opens up your mind to different technical skills and ways of work.

However, it all comes down to having a good technical foundation, as it does not matter in what country you work in.” Pillay says there is a social aspect as well due to the exposure to different cultures.

On certain projects she communicates directly with various stakeholders in different time zones. “Having that exposure and liaising with stakeholders is a great experience, as it shows how resilient and adaptable the company culture is.”

This has been a mindset change accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. “We were compelled to stay at home and make it work. We were literally working on exceptional projects which seemed almost surreal considering we were working from home.”

Having started at Zutari immediately upon graduating, one of Pillay’s first projects was the iconic 16 on Bree high-rise residential building in Cape Town. Given she has only been with the company five years, she is grateful for the extensive experience she has garnered to date, including being able to go to site on local projects, and being exposed to a range of digital tools that allow the company to deliver projects ‘virtually’ anywhere in the world.

“I do not think there is anything like seeing something you have designed come to life, which for me is one of my highlights. I am amazed at what I have accomplished thus far, and thankful for Zutari showing me what I am capable of achieving,” says Pillay.

#EmbraceEquity simply means being on a similar footing to her peers. “I have worked hard to be where I am and do not want to be granted concessions only because I am a woman. However, there are still systemic barriers and glass ceilings in place.” Yet in the early stage of her career, Pillay says she has already observed a marked difference.

“I would still like to see an equal number of women in leadership positions, which is a glass ceiling that needs to be broken. I think we are headed in the right direction, but we must work to break those barriers,” says Pillay. Another obstacle is unconscious bias, which the company culture actively mitigates by equipping all with an equal voice.

Selicia Pillay, structural engineer in the Global Design Centre (Built Environment). Image credit: Zutari

Selicia Pillay, structural engineer in the Global Design Centre (Built Environment). Image credit: Zutari

Blanché Hanstein-Kaber, country manager: Namibia

Hanstein-Kaber began her career at the company as a Structural Technician. Persuaded to continue her studies, she achieved her BTech in 2009, laying the foundation for her largely technical role. However, in 2018 she was approached to apply for the position of country manager of the Namibia office.

“I was completely taken aback as it was so unexpected. I was in a technical field and had no managerial experience. However, company management said they saw potential and that it was not about experience,” says Hanstein-Kaber. She took them up the offer, starting what she describes as an incredible journey.

Hanstein-Kaber attended the Women in Leadership Roles programme in Cape Town, which she says went a long way to instilling confidence in herself. In April she graduates from the 18-month Adaptive Leadership Course. She says the leadership training offered by the company has been exemplary, benefiting her in her management role and in her personal life.

Hanstein-Kaber concurs that #EmbraceEquity means equal opportunities for all. “I myself have walked that journey and observed that the company is open to that. The opportunities are there. It is just a matter of grabbing hold of them. I am passionate about the Zutari Code stating that ‘we are one’. It does not matter who we are, we are all treated the same and are all connected together, which is how we embrace equity,” concludes Hanstein-Kaber.

Blanché Hanstein-Kaber, country manager: Namibia. Image credit: Zutari

Blanché Hanstein-Kaber, country manager: Namibia. Image credit: Zutari