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Dinah Tsebe – breaking gender barriers in chemical manufacturing.

In an environment where change is the only constant, the key to success is transformational leadership – a style that empowers and helps teams to build a sense of community and trust. One company that is putting emphasis on this leadership style to accelerate the strategic imperative to bring inclusivity, defeminisation of the workplace and having more women in leadership positions is AECI Mining.

A perfect example is Dinah Tsebe, plant manager at AECI Mining Chemicals. Responsible for the company’s Pretoria branch, her core function is to manage operations, including production, technical, maintenance as well as occupational health and safety of personnel and equipment on site.

Tsebe is equipped with a BTech in Chemical Engineering from Vaal University of Technology, and a post graduate diploma in management from Northwest University. She is currently pursuing her MBA with the Northwest University, and has been in the chemical manufacturing industry for over two decades.

Having started her career as an engineering technician at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), her passion for the manufacturing industry started when she took up a role as a plant operator at Dow Agrosciences. After qualifying for her BTech, she was afforded an opportunity to manage a newly-built plant at Senmin, now known as AECI Mining Chemicals. She later joined Sasol, where she managed the company’s water and effluent sites, working closely with the Department of Water and Sanitation.  

Driven by her passion for manufacturing, she returned to AECI Mining Chemicals and took up her current role as plant manager, in an industry that she believes is still very much male-dominated. She owes her success to resilience and determination to prevail against the odds. She believes that her growth in the chemical manufacturing industry is proof that women can break down barriers to flourish in any career field of their choice, “provided they are passionate and love what they do”.

“I am passionate about manufacturing and seeing my ideas turning into something tangible. It has traditionally been difficult for women to progress in this industry. There are still many barriers that women face, mainly the general belief that they don’t possess the necessary skills and passion to thrive in such a male-dominated industry. Some still believe that women belong in the kitchen, or are meant to take care of families. It is, however, encouraging to see that there has been a mind-set shift in the industry, with the number of women increasing, although at a gradual pace,” says Tsebe.

The push for more women in the industry isn’t just an equality argument; it’s a necessity. While the ratio of women in the sector is nowhere near where it should be, Tsebe believes that organisations such as AECI Mining are striving to make a bigger impact. Women empowerment is a full-force movement with a loud voice within the AECI Group. The company has always taken a multi-faceted approach that considers the different ways women create value within the organisation and communities in which it operates. The group approaches its women empowerment programmes as an opportunity to infuse its values throughout its business operations.

“AECI was voted Employer of the Year in 2020 for its efforts in, among others, advancing inclusivity at the workplace. The company continues to offer great opportunities for development of women in different functions of the business,” she says.

Tsebe commends AECI Group’s partnership with the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), a highly-recommended business school, to offer employees the opportunity to sharpen their business leadership skills.

She is thankful for the opportunities of growth afforded to women and young people in general within the company. “For example, I am currently part of AECI’s Millennial Council of 2021, an initiative that seeks to give the company’s young professionals an opportunity to shadow and experience aspects of leadership. The council’s mandate is to ensure that the business strategy is not an executives’ document, but something that’s understood by all employees,” says Tsebe, adding that such leadership is critical to providing staff with a frame of reference for what a company stands for.

Her advice to other young women and professionals in general seeking to find their grip in the corporate world is that one needs to equip oneself with a solid foundation through education, and be willing to do the hard yards by gaining experience, moving through various positions and deployments. “I started out my career as a plant operator and rose through the ranks. I had to study and work hard to progress. The major highlight of my career is being able to develop, grow and inspire my colleagues and other people in general to do their best,” concludes Tsebe.

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