Breaking new ground: it’s girl power all the way for Grundfos women

Women bring a “fresh perspective in design” to an industry that used to be dominated by men. The new generation of young women should be “fearless and confident” in making their own mark in the industry – and “we need to eliminate the ingrained stereotype of male scientist, data scientist or engineer”.

These are just a few of the thoughts of some of Grundfos South Africa’s inspirational women, working in positions ranging from technical sales and service to marketing and project coordination.

As we mark South African Women’s Month this August, we’re shining the spotlight on seven female superstars central to our success. Read on to find out why the sky’s the limit for these Grundfos heroes ...

Camilla Govender: ‘growing expertise and changing mindsets’

“I think the engineering field is becoming more attractive to women as it is a specialist industry that offers great opportunity for growth,” says technical sales representative Camilla Govender. “Women bring a fresh perspective in design and engineering in an industry that used to be male dominated.”

Durban-born Camilla, now based in Johannesburg, is a qualified chemical engineer who worked at a textile water-treatment plant for a year before enrolling in Grundfos’s graduate programme. She then worked at a mining company for five years before returning to the Grundfos family to work as a technical sales representative.

Water security and safety are key global issues, so Govender’s role is vital: “I’m in water treatment, so there is always a new product or a new concept. It’s exhilarating to learn about these and offer them to our customers knowing we’re improving water quality where it is needed the most,” she says.

Passionate about the empowerment of women in her sector, she believes things have definitely changed in the past 10 years, with more women in leading roles in the industry.

As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, she has still had to work to gain knowledge to help customers and eventually “change mindsets” to ensure both genders are viewed equally, and to become her customers’ ‘go-to’ contact.

Still, more opportunities need to be made available to women, Camilla says, but at Grundfos the number of women in the company has been gradually increasing over the years. “The company also offers graduate training opportunities both to men and women and the best performers are recruited, regardless of gender.”

She sees herself continuing to grow. “I want to move into product specialisation with an internal focus, so that our levels of knowledge continue to grow steadily, amid continuous change.”

Like almost everyone, she has had to learn to balance work and home life since the end of March when the Covid-19 lockdown started, multitasking “between home-schooling two kids and a full day’s work” and “learning to appreciate school teachers”.

Music drives and motivates her. “The great thing is that there are different types for every mood – rock, classical, gospel, contemporary, instrumental. It helps me concentrate when I need to, as well as relax.”

She also loves reading – almost all genres. “There’s nothing better than opening a new book, with a big cup of hot chocolate!”

Kerri Morris: ‘anything is possible if you set your mind to it’

Growing up with only brothers as siblings and role models, service administrator Kerri Morris was “trained” from a young age to hang out with boys – so working in an industry still seen by some as male dominated has not stopped her from grabbing the opportunities and challenges with both hands.

She joined the company three years ago “to be part of innovation”, she says. “I’m the reliable back-up and one of the gears that works within Grundfos Service.”

Kerri has learnt everything she knows from working in different industries – from importing forklifts and working for manufacturers of PVC fabrics and adhesive labels, to working in the recruitment industry. “When I joined Grundfos, I was ready for more challenges, and Grundfos Service has delivered.”

A lot has changed since the days her grandmother started working. “My generation of young women are lucky ... In this day and age, there are fewer narrow-minded people.

“Grundfos has a good amount of girl power going on; we have a fair number of women in high-ranking positions who are leading the way and setting the example as good role models for the younger ladies,” she says.

The way to overcome obstacles is through patience and persistence, as women have much to offer to the engineering and construction industries. “We need to eliminate the ingrained stereotype of male scientist, data scientist or engineer. At school, more girls need to be encouraged by their teachers to take subjects like Maths and Science …

“Having more women in the sector will lead to more women training as engineers, and hiring more women will lead to more female CTOs, CIOs and CEOs.”

When she does bump into “a more old-school thinker”, there’s always a way forward – it simply takes “a little longer to build the bridge to get over it”.

Being a good person is what motivates her. “Part of this is trading in the currency of honesty, which has opened many doors.

“My daily to-do list is the most exciting and exhilarating part of my job,” she says. With new tasks and challenges coming her way every day, there’s always something new to learn – and she wants to continue gaining more experience in different departments, ideally even at another division in a different country.

Over the past months, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown Kerri that “anything is possible if you set your mind to it”, and has pushed her to “start thinking outside the box to get things done”.

When off duty, this energetic music and festival lover likes to “kick back with friends and family, with a good soundtrack playing in the background and a good glass of red wine in hand”.

Rika Gouvea: ‘never too old to learn something new’

“I feel proud of what I have achieved in life, especially in the pump industry. I think we women can be a threat to some men, but I believe if you are a strong woman you should not be afraid to prove them wrong – you will still succeed.”

There is never a dull moment in SSA Service, says Grundfos service manager Rika Gouvea. Dealing with the everyday challenges of the job drives her – “serving our customers and offering solutions to their site problems”.

After cutting her teeth in the pump industry at Xylem, where she quickly worked her way from workshop administrator to service and administration manager, Rika got the opportunity to become part of Grundfos seven years ago. It was “a dream come true”.

She’s driven by the success that comes from hard work and perseverance, and by working well with her team. “Leading them to success and seeing them grow in their roles – and what we achieve together as a team – add to my daily motivation.”

There are still some people – mostly from the older generation – who believe “a woman doesn’t belong in a man’s world”. But even if, on occasion, she gets a surprised reaction when introducing herself as the service manager, Grundfos’s “focused on people” value drives her.

“We’re all treated with respect and handled the same, no matter who we are or what gender we are. If you have respect and support from your team and colleagues, you can overcome any obstacle – it doesn’t matter how difficult it is.”

Rika enjoys mentoring and encouraging the younger women in her department. She believes engineering is “an incredibly appealing profession” – “technology continues to rapidly transform the way we live, and we should empower more young women to take an active role in that transformation.

“The new generation of young women should be fearless and confident – they must look past any fear of entering a male-dominant field with the aim of making their own mark in the industry.”

You’re never too old to learn something new, she says. Even the pandemic has made her a stronger person, showing her that it is possible to work remotely and still have a successful operation.

“Moods went on a roller-coaster in the beginning … we didn’t know what to expect and what challenges we would be facing. As time went by, we have learned how to adapt, and new, improved systems were put in place to ensure we could still serve our customers in the best possible ways and offer good solutions,” she reflects.

She works hard, but also cherishes her downtime. Married 29 years to her “soulmate and best friend”, her big, happy family – including six grandchildren – is a big part of her life. And if she’s not spending quality time with her family, she enjoys watching Netflix while nibbling on a chocolate!

Katrina Zlobich: ‘we need to inspire others by our example’

With a background in mechanical engineering and a specialisation in water treatment, additional studies in project management and management practice, and currently working towards a master’s degree in business administration, Katrina Zlobich is more than qualified for her job as Grundfos SSA marketing director.

Finding solutions and seeing results are among the most exciting things about her job, she says, describing herself as a “forever student”, who likes to continuously learn and study. “I love complex tasks and challenges.”

Originally from Belarus, Katrina moved to South Africa straight after finishing university, fell in love with the country and – 11 years later – still finds herself here.

Having worked for other consulting and water-treatment companies in the past, the idea of a more strategic role appealed to her. “I joined Grundfos as business development manager and then was promoted to the marketing director role.”

The technical field – especially water treatment – is her passion. “My technical background helps me to understand the specifics of the industry and customer needs.” Aspects of her job that others might see as challenging are some of the best parts of her job: visiting sites and travelling around the continent.

At Grundfos, 55 employees out of 150 are women, Katrina points out, and half the SSA leadership team is made up of women. She has always been supported and encouraged by her Grundfos managers.

Still, she’d like to see more talented women in the team and looks forward to “a time when no industry will be associated with a specific gender”.

Women need to follow their passion, support each other and mentor younger colleagues. “We need to tell our stories and inspire others by our example … I have a lot of talented female colleagues around me in the industry with unique, amazing stories! And ladies have definitely proved that they contribute so much to the sector.”

The rewards of entering the engineering and construction industry? “Great challenges, fast-moving technology and innovative space,” says Katrina.

The Covid-19 lockdown has meant more family time, but it’s had its fair share of challenges. “As much as we’ve adapted to digital marketing and the online space, I miss gatherings and conferences and catching up with industry colleagues and my network face to face.”

As for letting off steam, she says, “My favourite way of relaxation is running. Just take a deep breath, put on your favourite music and run as fast as you can. I haven’t found any better stress release or re-energising activity than that.”

Irna Combrinck: ‘daily learning makes it interesting’

Irna Combrinck has a quality that would stand her in good stead in any industry: she never gives up.

“If I battle with something at work, especially the technical side of the industry, I try my best to learn more about the product by asking questions and I do what I must to make it a success,” says this determined Grundfos DBS/CBS sales representative.

Born in Port Elizabeth, she moved to Gauteng as a two-year-old and, already as a young girl, discovered the value of hard work. Tertiary studies were not an option because of financial constraints, so after a stint as a waitress, she joined a warehouse in an admin and sales position – a stepping stone to her current career with Grundfos.

It’s her customers and the challenges of the job that drive her, says Irna – and while there may still be some who are “threatened” by women entering the field, her male colleagues treats her as an equal.

“I want people to see me as a good salesperson, whether I’m a woman or not. Grundfos treats us all equally.”

While the technical aspects of the pumps can be challenging, she learns more daily – “but that is what makes it interesting”. She is determined to continue to grow within Grundfos. “I’m motivated enough to make it work and to do what I have to do to get even better.”

Remote working in the time of Covid-19 has had its challenges, “especially with online training, as I have distractions at home with my toddler”. But she has done her best to deliver and to keep her work up to date.

Sadly, the lockdown has put one of her favourite pastimes on hold: training in the gym. “For now, I just run in the mornings,” she says, adding that she also keeps herself busy with cooking, baking and house chores.

“With a toddler, there’s no time to relax as she keeps me busy all the time!”




Phumzile Ntshabele: ‘united, women can push for change’

“Women must stand up, unite and push for positive change in the industry. Management must also drive change as it cannot be achieved when driven from the bottom only.”

Grundfos project coordinator Phumzile Ntshabele says while the total number of women in Grundfos and in leadership roles is increasing, black women are still not adequately represented, and males still dominate in roles such as external sales.

She believes younger women must be “encouraged to venture into engineering and construction” and be educated on the advantages of choosing a career in the sector – united, they can push for change.

With qualifications in bookkeeping and sales and marketing, Phumzile joined Grundfos in 2017 after working at Voith Turbo South Africa for six years, and Sulzer for two. Her goal is “to take up more challenging responsibilities at Grundfos in the future”.

One of the things she enjoys about her job is interacting with people from different parts of the continent “with varying perspectives and views on life generally”. The challenges? “Dealing with negative people.”

The smiles on her children’s faces and keeping them happy drive her, and Covid-19 has taught her to appreciate life and the people around her more, even though her workdays have become longer (though this is “self-imposed”) since the beginning of the lockdown – “probably because of an increase in demand for our products and solutions”.

Remote working means “there is no more driving to work and enjoying music in my car, on my own”, she states. “I’m also a self-made teacher for my daughter in Grade 4 and son in Grade 9.”

Outside working hours there are always other chores, but she does enjoy some “me time” when she gets the chance, and her faith in God is very important.

“A glass of wine would be nice, if only I had any,” she laughs.

Sanett Nel: ‘we’ve come a long way’

“I think our senior management team in Africa is an example of the change in our industry – currently, 50% of the team are women,” says supply chain director Sanett Nel.

Born and bred in Joburg and living in Bedfordview, just five minutes from the Grundfos office, Sanett says she has seen the “mindset in the industry” change over the years.

While women often have to do much more “to prove that we can do a ‘man’s job’”, the industry has come a long way. “I remember when I started in internal sales, men would phone and ask to speak to a male as they did not believe I could assist them with their technical queries ...

“I had to insist on helping them and prove to them that I could help – it did, however, boost my confidence after they were proved wrong!”

In the 14 years since she joined Grundfos in 2006 as an internal sales consultant, Sanett has completed numerous short courses – ranging from technical content to leadership classes – and moved steadily up the ranks. Past roles include an internal position as the CSU/export manager, where she managed parts of inbound stock handling, outbound shipping and stock-take responsibilities.

“In 2015 I applied for the supply chain manager role, and in 2016 I was promoted to supply chain director.”

She has continued to learn and study. “I did several short courses in line with my focus areas and then completed a Diploma in Business Management through Unisa in 2012. This year, I completed my MSc in Logistics, Procurement and Supply Chain through Salford University in the UK.”

She is motivated by “working towards a goal and achieving what I have set out to achieve for myself and my department”. Job satisfaction comes from streamlining processes and procedures, “finding solutions to challenging situations” and “exceeding customer expectations”.

At Grundfos, hiring new employees “is not based on gender, but on getting the right person for the job”, states Sanett. The annual intern programme sees selected women candidates employed within the company or industry after completion of the course.

“In life, there will always be pros and cons,” she reflects. “I think it’s important to stay focused on your goals and on what you are able to change in order to improve and move forward. Not having a technical background was a challenge when I worked in sales, but hard work and making the time to learn about our products helped me to overcome this obstacle.”

In future, she would like to become a senior manager within Grundfos at a group level, and change is already afoot ... “I received a job offer from Grundfos America and trust that once the Covid-19 pandemic is over, I’ll be able to make the move.”

Covid-19 has taught Sanett that she doesn’t have control over everything in her life. “We can get along with much less than what we think. I’ve learnt that I can get a lot more done when working from home with fewer distractions; however, I do miss people.”

When there’s time to relax, Sanett loves to read, and enjoys running to clear her head. And there’s always time for a glass of red wine with her husband or a friend.