Shelley Galliver, Eva-Last’s marketing director, has more than two decades experience in the building materials industry and says the relatively specialised nature of the industry has worked in her favour. “Building materials is a niche market, so if you can grow your profile and credentials in the industry, there are opportunities out there.”
Galliver obtained a degree in marketing and started her career in various positions at PG Bison before becoming a brand manager. “That was where I found my lane – I just loved my job because it required a deep understanding of all aspects of the product, including technical and production, to better market the offering. I was soon overseeing most of the company’s brand portfolio.”
Moving to Alpha Cement, as a marketing manager, she expanded her responsibilities from brand management to full marketing management; first in a division and ultimately across the whole business; and then to the Dawn Group – as marketing director for brands such as Cobra taps and mixers and other strategic marketing director roles in the group. Galliver then took a brief sidestep into explosives with Maxam. “By that stage I had developed a real love and passion for building materials, so when Eva-Last came calling I was ready to move back into the industry.”
Throughout her career Galliver has worked in male-dominated workplaces, and she believes some companies can make the mistake of reinforcing perceptions about the gender divide even when they set out to address workplace equality. “By hiring men for technical positions and women for less hands-on work, barriers can remain in place. It’s really about what you can do in the role. I can honestly say that, given the opportunities I was given, if you are competent, confident and can demonstrate that you’re there to add value, you are treated equally.”
Working in marketing has provided a double barrier to being taken seriously. “A lot of people don’t understand the strategic role of marketing. Once they see that you understand all aspects of the business and can help drive strategy, you quickly gain their respect. Anyone in a technical field – even in marketing – has to understand the various routes to market and the different requirements of the channels to be able to market their products or brands effectively. This is what I find exciting about the industry – it is so diversified, you are marketing your brand to people who are often not your direct customers, but whose needs must be understood for your brand to be the product of choice,” says Galliver.
Nikita Norman, Eva-Last’s Durban branch manager, says from high school to her family’s technical leanings – even including completing a welding course during her studies – made her aspire to study engineering or architecture. A qualification in architectural draughting got her into the company in its early days. “I was one of the first women here and we all had to fill many roles at once. I was draughting for project installations while also working up new decking board profiles and clips, while also being involved in sales. I’d also pick up phones and handle walk-in customers, which made me work on parts of my personality to become better at sales.”
Like Galliver, Norman loved being at the centre of the business. “From architecture to sales is quite a move, but it meant I had to understand the business and our products intimately. I needed to be able to answer any questions a customer might have. Many people think women are not technically inclined, but my sister is an engineer and I believe women should not allow themselves to be steered by the attitudes of others. It can be challenging to work in this industry, but we have an all-female team of three here in Durban and for the most part our contractors and customers simply want someone who is technically minded and can solve their problems.”
Norman says a passion for the products she works with goes a long way. “The company is vibrant and has a lot of momentum and innovative sparkle. The industry in general is also evolving very quickly in terms of the products being developed and how architects are putting them to use. To be at the forefront of technical developments in the industry is exciting and would hate to have missed that opportunity by taking a ‘safer’ route in my career.”
Caitlynne Collender, a research and design product manager at Eva-Last, also took the draughting route into the industry and has remained on the technical development side rather than sales. “I started helping to draw up new products, which became my main focus rather than project designs. I worked directly with the research and development team, bringing in new technologies, and we have been changing the industry with our patents, which is very exciting.”
Intimately involved in the development of Eva-Last’s Hulk fasteners range, Collender says she also benefited from a family used to designing and building things. “My dad is very hands-on. I grew up around yachts and boats, fixing and building things. I was also friends with many people who worked in technical trades, and draughting is one of my core passions. The company lets me do just that and provides the tools for me to do it, so I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve also worked with many men who have daughters, so they’ve always been comfortable around women.”
It hasn’t always been that way. “When I showed up to register for a technical college course, the man who would go on to be my teacher asked me if I was there to register my husband. That stank. Then I was also overlooked at graduation where all my male peers who received fewer distinctions than I did were celebrated. I think the industry is catching up and making things right, and we are seeing fewer women pigeon-holed into roles. The women at Eva-Last are raring to take opportunities and run with them,” Collender says.
Advice from the Eva-Last team is to not take a backseat. “Be willing to get involved and understand all the technical aspects of the business and product. That’s the baseline for being able to work with highly technical people in engineering teams. You need to speak their language,” says Galliver.
“Never give up. If you have a passion for a technical field, just forge ahead. You need to take chances because this is a rewarding and interesting field,” says Norman.
“Don’t listen to anyone else – if you get a gap, take it and do what you need to do. You can learn many things online and upskill yourself without depending on others who might slow you down. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I have been given, but remember to speak up for yourself,” Collender adds.