The technical side of the live events industry is predominantly male - dominated, you can’t deny that, but that is not an obstacle for women not to thrive. Clea Zolotow says that “obstacles are opportunities in disguise”. Currently, we see a lot of women taking up space and cementing themselves in roles and workspaces that were male dominated. We come a long way as women, and therefore, we need to celebrate the success and contributions that we are making in the technical space.
We sat down with pioneering women of Gearhouse to find out their experiences of working in a male - dominated industry and how they’ve positioned themselves for their various roles.
Jessica Green – Building from one’s strength
Jessica Green is the senior administrator at LEDVision; she’s been in the theatre & technical industry for over 21 years. She says that she believes in the integrity of the company she works for, and the people around her. When asked about her experience working in a male dominated industry, Jessica said, “I am in a privileged position to have mostly been surrounded by supportive and encouraging men, that is what has made a huge difference in my career and is what we should encourage the men of newer generations to do for the young ladies aspiring to make their place in this industry. Each person, male or female, brings individual strengths and benefits to any particular event or job”.
Furthermore, for the ladies that want to pursue a career in the live events industry, “Find what you are good at and build from there. We can’t all be big and strong and carry heavy boxes. Some are good at planning, drawing, finances, etcetera, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you cannot do something just because you are a woman, and always surround yourself with supportive, respectful and encouraging people. Believe in your capabilities, but simultaneously, admit when you are out of your depth, and accept help when offered”.
Noluvuyo Solakhe - Do not compete
Working in a male dominated industry also means fewer women in managerial/leadership positions. However, Noluvuyo Solakhe (Project Manager) at Gearhouse is proof that nothing is impossible and that through hard work, passion and engagement, you can still thrive while working with men. Nolu has diverse experience in the technical space with a theatre background. She has done just about anything that has to do with performing arts, from lighting, audio, stage management, props master, technical and project management. She says that she finds working in a male dominated industry easy if you don’t compete, play your role and be comfortable in it. It can be very frustrating sometimes when they don’t allow you to do “manly” tasks because they feel like it’s too much for you, not knowing it limiting your capabilities.
Nolu reiterates, “I have always found the importance of taking what you can handle. You are as good as your last show. Don’t be a superman, do what you can and go an extra mile where you see fit. Delegate and be a team player. No one knows enough. The more heads, the better to finding solutions.”
The only downside Nolu reckons as a project manager is that you don’t get to enjoy the glitz and glam of the show, as soon as the show is running you are planning load out, so hard work is not an option but the only option. Aspiring project managers need to love what they do; otherwise, they’ll break as they need to be strong, patient and grow a thick skin.
Adeline Uamuce – Creating a platform for more women
Adeline Uamuce (junior draught person) at SDS enjoys the constant learning and growth that she has been exposed to from working with her team. She reckons there are a gap and a need for more women to occupy draughting role. She believes one must be hard working, independent and know how to stand their ground while being polite to survive in the industry. Her journey began when she joined the Kentse Mphahlwa academy doing live event setup, and her eagerness to know more and contribute to designing concepts led her into draugting after she realized how her skills (analytic, drawing capabilities and hand-eye coordination) could add value to SDS.
Prashna Parsoot – Enhance each other’s strength
Prashna Parsoot started her career 12 years ago as an administrator at Systems Solutions. She now fulfils the role of a Project Manager. She finds working in a male dominated industry challenging yet insightful. Meghan Markle says,” Women don’t need to find their voices, they need to be empowered to use it, and people need to be urged to listen”. The same can be said for Prashna; it took her a long time to grow both in her career and personal life. She had to learn to be tough yet gentle, independent, confident and to stand her ground and let her voice be heard.
“I believe in overcoming the challenges we face as women in technical; we need to enhance each other’s strengths, celebrate our wins together and share our stories to empower others”. Although we may not have the muscle power that men do, we were given the gift to multitask, knowing we are all unique individuals with unique strengths and capabilities and that working together as a team we can achieve our goals is what builds a company.
Prashna has positioned herself through dedication, loyalty, perseverance and committing fully to her work. She advises aspiring females to work hard every day especially when they’re new to the job, do it so well that no one will question their abilities; stand up for what you believe in and take responsibility for their actions.
Chenoa Brenkman – Work hard and be open-minded
Chenoa Anne Brenkman is a second-year student at Kentse Mpahlwa Academy; she fulfils the role of a Junior Lighting Technician with Gearhouse ‘s Splitbeam. Chenoa finds working in a male dominated industry challenging, especially the long hours, and hard work (lifting of heavy equipment). Chenoa is open-minded to learning new methods of improving her craft and experimenting with new lighting technology. As a Junior Technician, you should be willing to work at least three times as hard as your male counterparts to prove yourself and earn respect for your well executed job. Chenoa appreciates the support she’s getting from her fellow technicians, she is motivated by seeing the setup put together, and enjoys seeing the delegate's positive reaction to what she has had a hand in.
Mayenziwe Zuma – Love what you do and do what you love
Mayenziwe Zuma is a Production Manager at Splitbeam, before that, she was a Venue Technical Manager for IVTM (part of the Gearhouse Group). Working in a male-dominated industry motivates Maye to work even harder. However, it has been a challenging journey, especially when she started in the industry, she had to work on building her confidence, asserting herself and aiming for the front row.
Maye holds a qualification in drama and productions studies from the Durban University of Technology, immediately after graduating, she landed an internship at the Artscape Theatre Centre where she first got an opportunity to work for Splitbeam as they provided technical solutions to various shows that were received by the theatre. She went on to work as a production assistant, stage manager, and held various other positions in the live event and theatre industry. Her expertise lied in lighting and stage management; however, she exposed herself to other various roles within the industry. Maye is indeed a true resemblance of hard work, resilience and a go-getter. She was also the first black female to be appointed as a Venue Technical Manager (VTM) at IVTM – Taj Hotel. After a year as a VTM, she landed a permanent position at Splitbeam as a Production Manager.” It helps that I love what I do for a living and that constantly motivates me to grow and learn as much as I can. Technology is constantly evolving and there are always newer, better models of equipment, I suppose the nature of the industry itself is highly motivating.
“We need more women to take up space in the industry. Reach out to people who are in positions that you want to pursue and find out how they got to where they are. Work hard, have confidence and don’t ever stop learning. Don’t forget respect also goes a long way. Respect for what you do and respect for the people you work with.”
Ladies lets change the gears as it is possible for women to make it in a male-dominated industry. Doing something new and different requires a level of drive and passion that is hard to fake - Cultivate your love for what you do and do what you love. We need to recognize and embrace our uniqueness and capabilities; we have a unique voice and strength and we must embrace it.
Written by Maria Matjomane
Feb 18, 2020