Air this! The power of women to make a positive impact on industry
19 August 2020 | Web Article Number: ME202020210
WENDY Buffa-Pace is Vice President and Managing Director of Atlas Copco Group SA; while Kim Coetzee is General Manager of its subsidiary, Rand-Air. As such, they are both testament to the growing influence of women within senior positions, in what are typically considered male-dominated sectors of industry.
While each woman has risen to her present position via a different route, there are many synergies when it comes to business practices.
Buffa-Pace believes that throughout her career, by viewing every challenge as an opportunity, she was able to ‘read’ the business landscape and keep an eye open for opportunities.
“I see most situations as an opportunity to learn something new and in which to find creative ways to add something different to the mix. I think having a sound mind and balanced outlook has afforded me the chance to not only see but take opportunities as they were presented,” she said.
Coetzee echoed this sentiment and said that a positive attitude and looking beyond her role - with a holistic overview - had helped her reach her present position. “I really believe that being positive and passionate within your role opens doors to extensive opportunities. Therefore, I am not limited by a title.”
Both are relatively new to their roles, encountering similar environments when they were appointed. Coetzee said her new role created excitement and enthusiasm and she was eager to embrace it: “As a go-getter, I was eager to take on the responsibilities - when, three months in, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in South Africa and everything basically ground to a halt.”
Buffa-Pace agreed. “As a well-known quote goes, it was a case of ‘the best laid plans of mice and men’ going awry. No sooner was I set to shoulder the role and make a positive impact, than COVID-19 arrived. That said, this is where the ability to draw on the resources of an agile team came to the fore,” she said.
To this point, both women see close collaboration with their respective teams as crucial to developing an agile mind set and getting through a challenging period such as 2020, with work teams able to ‘pivot’ at short notice, adapting as needed and yet remaining simultaneously cohesive.
Nevertheless, both women emphasise that being an example to their teams is vital to coping with the changing landscape. Coetzee said, “While people have skills, you cannot teach intangibles like passion and this is where my team shines.
“All my experience has led to where I am right now: I am exactly where I want to be.”
Both women recognise that while there have been times that their individual journey has not been a direct route - and that there have been occasions where a different decision could have been made - there is absolutely no room for regret.
“While we all make mistakes now and again, ultimately, any decision I have made has served as part of the journey and led me to where I am now. As you gain acumen, you increase sound judgment and may make different decisions in the same circumstance the next time it occurs — if it does,” Buffa-Pace said.
While the perception is that there are few women in senior roles in their sectors, both women report that the landscape is definitely changing in this regard.
“Rand-Air has always been female-dominated, even though the industry has traditionally been male-dominated. However, over the past decade, I am encouraged to see some change has occurred in the wider industry,” Coetzee said.
Buffa-Pace concured, adding, “I can say that I am privileged to be part of a progressive, global organisation which focuses on diversity across the board. It is not good enough to simply have women making up numbers, but to have women progressing in their careers and achieving in senior positions.”
Both feel that mostly – while there are always exceptions – women tend to be more realistic but are not always as confident as their male counterparts in ‘selling’ themselves in the work environment. “We need to change this outlook and this mindset; we need to uplift each other - and ourselves - and gain confidence in our skills and self-worth,” Coetzee said.
Both leaders believe that businesses generally could adopt strategies which create opportunities for women to venture into areas that would have traditionally been outside of their scope of knowledge or interest.
Buffa-Pace said, “In my case, Atlas Copco created opportunities for me to learn how the business functions. I had the chance to be exposed to all areas of the company; and, over time, to gain the deep understanding thereof, which has helped me to attain my current position.”
Coetzee observed that the presence of women in senior roles creates a sense of desire within fellow women and a drive to achieve something similar; adding that, while women want to see other women succeed, within industry overall, the possibility of male inclusion within female-orientated forums could educate men to develop a more holistic understanding of women in the workplace - and in so doing, eradicate some gender bias.
Buffa-Pace said that while she acknowledges that men need to be educated about women, it also behoves society to educate girls and women about the qualities they place importance on in male role models - to prepare the ground for, and assess, what they are prepared to accept in terms of societal roles and behaviours later in life.
“Men and women need leadership skills, and women bring diversity to the table,” Buffa-Pace said.