Every year, in August, South Africa marks Women’s Month, when tribute is paid to the more than 20,000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. The National Women’s Month programme is based on the ongoing interventions across the work of government, civil society and the private sector within the context of the national priorities outlined by government. It is hard to believe that in the 21st century, we still grapple with issues of gender equality in the workplace. Statistics prove time and again that in leadership positions, there is a prevailing bias in favour of men. Quite fittingly, with the local National Women’s Month programme, the campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2023 is #BreakTheBias. Whether it is deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead in their careers and even personal lives. Only knowing that bias exists isn’t enough. Rather, action is needed to level the playing field. This issue of African Cleaning Review introduces two exceptional female cleaning industry executives that defied bias and smashed the glass ceiling by persistently climbing the leadership ladder. Hereunder follows their respective responses to the questions posed.

Introducing Janine Tuck – National Director of Operations at Tsebo Cleaning & Hygiene Solutions, a division of Tsebo Solutions Group

Janine Tuck was part of the team that started Tsebo’s Cleaning Services division 25 years ago. She entered her career path by studying Catering Management at the Hotel School. She later completed her BCom degree in Entrepreneurship and recently completed a Women in Leadership programme through the University of Stellenbosch’s Business School.

Tuck joined the Tsebo Solutions Group in 1998 in the healthcare segment and became passionate about environmental cleaning in healthcare facilities. The methodologies used to prevent the spreading of harmful organisms in the healthcare segment is still close to her heart and Tsebo incorporated these principles in their business model across different sectors. She has been key to growing the Cleaning and Hygiene Division to one of the largest of its kind in South Africa.

Family time is precious to Tuck and she enjoys travelling with her family. She believes in keeping the balance between work and family life. Her family supports her in her journey as a mom, wife and career woman. Currently, Janine Tuck is part of the EXCO team of Tsebo Cleaning & Hygiene Solutions and is proud to be part of a team that provides innovative, fit for purpose cleaning solutions to their clients nationally.

1. Describe the company, its origins and activity in the market.
With over 25 years of experience, Tsebo Cleaning & Hygiene Solutions prides itself on delivering exceptional cleaning services that go beyond the obvious. The team of highly trained professionals, totalling more than 10,500 employees nationally, is equipped with precise methodologies, verified chemicals, and advanced technology in equipment and tools to create safe and hygienically clean environments. Ours is a quality-driven business model that includes continuous staff training and innovation that aligns with our reputation.
Since our first cleaning contract in 1998, our growth has been significant, leading to the establishment of Tsebo Cleaning Solutions as a standalone division in 2012. In 2020, we further expanded our offering by merging with Hygiene Solutions, enabling us to provide comprehensive solutions that align with the increased emphasis on health, hygiene, and cleanliness in work, retail, and social environments. We remain steadfast in our commitment to surpass our clients’ expectations by delivering tailored cleaning and hygiene solutions in demanding environments. Our impressive track record of contract retention, averaging 10 to 12 years, attests to our dedication to excellence. Our commitment to excellence has been recognised through multiple industry awards in sectors such as healthcare, education, finance, industry, and commerce. Our solutions include contract cleaning, specialised cleaning, hygiene and pest control solutions.

2. What inspired you to join this company?
I joined the Catering Division of Tsebo Solutions Group 25 years ago as the leading and largest contract catering company in the industry at the time. The business offered amazing opportunities to employees who aspired to develop. I have been fortunate to be one of those employees. Tsebo Solutions Group remains a leading industry player who has greatly evolved and offers fully integrated workplace management solutions.

3. How does the presence of women in this sector compare to that of men?
The professional cleaning industry has many incredibly talented professionals. Women dominate the cleaning and hygiene sector in lower and middle management levels. On senior levels, the industry has shown great progress in transforming and there are many women appointed as leaders in senior roles across the industry. Much has been done in the industry to boost women into executive roles and good progress has already been made.

4. What more can be done to encourage women to pursue a career in the cleaning industry and broadly speaking, the facilities management sector?
The industry has delivered amazing women of strength in leadership roles over the last few decades. Opportunities for women in this industry have been greater at companies and groups that promote equal opportunity, diversity and have extensive development programmes. It is important for women to see themselves in the roles that they aspire to and aim to achieve these. Women need to believe in their own abilities and guard against the “sticky feet syndrome”. These are self-limiting beliefs and assumptions that undermine their own ability. As leaders, we should invest in our employees by coaching, developing, and promoting internally.

5. As a woman in this niche sector, what has been some of your challenges and successes?
During the 25 years that I have spent in the cleaning industry, I have been privileged to have had amazing leaders that influenced my career and encouraged and believed in my abilities. Being a woman has never been an obstacle. I look back at my career with fond memories. In recent years, there has been a significant shift in cleaning requirements, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitating the need for continuous innovation of new technologies and the scientific knowledge that underpins them. Staying ahead in a very competitive industry has require defining clear differentiating factors to continue growing the business. Success to me, is winning new business. Success is a satisfied client and business partner who is retained for an extended period.
Success is happy and empowered employees who are recognised for going the extra mile, a team member proud of their own personal achievement, a leader who passionately embraces new processes and innovation and makes us proud every day. We are only as successful as our people.

6. What do you regard to be some of the most innovative trends to look out for in the next 3-5 years?
Robotics is a very exciting trend but is, however, perceived as expensive for the South African economy. Sustainability is another important trend that will receive focus as clients are increasingly demanding sustainable solutions as part of their own strategies. Ergonomics is also receiving more attention in our industry. Information systems and data analytics, including electronic applications can assist us and our clients with decision-making going forward.

7. Your top five tips as to how companies operating in this sector can become more sustainable.
For a company to become sustainable, it needs to consider all three aspects of sustainability – environment, social and governance. When considering the environment, cleaning organisations would need to consider using “greener” products and solutions that will meet the current needs of the clients and secure the needs of future generations.
Examples could include:
• Using environmentally friendly chemicals that are certified by recognised bodies.
• Considering the packaging and the transport of products.
• Reducing electricity consumption by using energy-efficient equipment.
• Reducing water by using water-saving technology like microfibre products.
• Considering solutions that will reduce waste to landfill. To start, as an example, a cleaning company could select to use a stronger, longer lasting cleaning cloth that will reduce waste instead of using cloths that are replaced at more frequent intervals.
Companies could further consider cloths derived from plant fibres and natural components that are completely biodegradable.
Social aspects of sustainability would consider important aspects of our people experience, sustainable client relationships, a commitment to sustainable partnerships when it comes to supplier and enterprise development as well as a company’s responsibility to invest in social initiatives. Governance aspects of sustainability would consider compliance matters, for example, health and safety and a focus on ethics including antibribery and corruption measures.
8. Additional comments regarding the specific challenges faced by women in this industry?
Work-life-balance is often a challenge for women in the cleaning industry, especially where there is no support structure. Balancing family responsibilities and demanding work schedules can be particularly challenging for women and a lack of support networks specifically tailored to women can make it difficult to address and overcome the challenges they face.
Women from marginal groups, such as women with disabilities, may also face additional intersectional challenges. I believe the cleaning industry is large enough and there is a place for everyone to contribute. When driving diversity, we will undergo continuous learning and innovation, ultimately strengthening our brand identity.

Introducing Nikki Gabisa, National Operations Director at Servest’s Cleaning Business Unit

Being an operations director is exactly what you think it’s like, according to Nikki Gabisa. She describes herself as that colleague at work that everyone wants to know but no one wants to be. First to arrive and last to leave, but fortunately she is obsessed with what she does. Operations in soft services is her life. With 17 years’ experience in this field, she has never experienced a dull moment. Gabisa finds her passion in dealing with different clients daily, offering diverse insights that lead to thought-provoking conversations. For her, what brings genuine gratification is to witness business strategy come to life.

1. Describe the company, its origins and activity in the market.
Servest was founded in 1997 by Kenton Fine and Dennis Zietsman, two entrepreneurs who were driven by their passion to build a service business. Today the company has evolved into one of South Africa’s leading facilities management companies. This entrepreneurial drive remains at the heart of our company culture. The company employs 19,000 colleagues, and has a presence at 11,100 sites across eight countries in Africa – Botswana, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.

2. What inspired you to join this company?
Since 2003, I have been immersed in the world of facilities management, specialising specifically in soft services. However, in 2019, I unexpectedly received a call inquiring about my availability for employment. Although I wasn’t actively seeking new opportunities then, I decided to attend the interview out of curiosity and with nothing to lose.
Upon arriving at the reception area, I was warmly greeted by a lady who instantly made me feel like we had known each other for years. The interview itself turned out to be the pinnacle of my career, as it went exceptionally well. I left the interview feeling cheerful and content.
To my surprise, as l said goodbye to the receptionist, she asked me with a smile when I would be starting. This simple gesture reflected the warm, friendly, and supportive environment that permeated throughout the company. Clearly, this was a place where I would thrive, surrounded by likeminded individuals.

3. How does the presence of women in this sector compare to that of men?
Cleaning or facilities management companies, as many are known because of their multiple service portfolios, are still very much male-dominated. In many companies, men are generally given preference over women in matters of leadership, power, facilities, and promotions. This gender disparity has often resulted in women encountering what is commonly called a “glass ceiling” – an invisible barrier hindering their advancement to the highest management ranks.
However, there have been some strides towards progress in addressing this issue. It is increasingly recognised that achieving gender balance within companies is a matter of fairness and holds significant benefits for businesses. The growing presence of women in the labour market acts as a vital catalyst for global growth and competitiveness. Breaking down the barriers and biases that hinder women’s progress is essential to harnessing the full potential of talent and fostering a thriving and diverse workforce.

4. What more can be done to encourage women to pursue a career in the cleaning industry and broadly speaking, the facilities management sector?
The majority of our colleagues in the cleaning environment are females, our mothers, sisters, aunties, and our daughters – who better understands female than another female? A gender analysis study that was conducted observed that there is a difference between men and women’s knowledge, behaviour, preferences, and access to resources. The same difference and uniqueness can largely benefit the industry. Facilities management is one of those industries you stumble into; you don’t leave school at 18 thinking, “I want a career in facilities management”. I’m sure many people have a similar story to mine, starting from the bottom and working their way up. You rarely hear of recruits entering the profession with a Facilities Management degree, but many obtain professional qualifications such as a degree or postgraduate diploma to enhance their skills.
We need to make the industry more appealing to young talent. First and foremost, there should be a greater understanding of the facilities management profession in schools and colleges, so raising awareness is crucial. Students need to be aware that it’s a viable field that offers a diverse and rewarding career.

5. As a woman in this niche sector, what has been some of your challenges and successes?
I strongly believe in selecting the correct person for the job, irrespective of gender. As an employer, my priority is to hire the most qualified candidate, and I would never make my decision based on gender. One of the major challenges I encountered was joining a wellestablished team where the majority of employees were male. Being the sole female regional manager across the country, there was a prevalent expectation from my colleagues that I would assume the role of a designated note-taker in meetings solely because of my gender.
I consider myself fortunate to be a part of an organisation that has successfully made significant progress in attracting more women to the industry. Employers must acknowledge and foster this accomplishment by providing unwavering support and encouragement to help women to reach their full potential.
To ensure equality, there are several immediate actions that can yield positive results. Offering equal opportunities and career paths for women, addressing gender pay gaps, and ensuring unbiased performance evaluations are crucial steps. It is equally important to foster a workplace culture that supports and promotes equality while actively addressing any form of discrimination. Implementing mentorship programmes that connect women with senior leaders who can provide guidance, advice, and support can play an important role in shaping successful career paths.
By taking these proactive measures, organisations can create an inclusive environment that values and empowers all employees, regardless of gender, ultimately contributing to the success and growth of the entire team.

6. What do you regard to be some of the most innovative trends to look out for in the next 3-5 years?
We need to improve our cleaning efficiency with new technology. Smart tools hold great potential for cleaning businesses, as they can reduce the time needed to complete processes, simplify operations, and free up employees’ time for more important tasks that need manual care. Cleaning business productivity will be boosted with software tools. There are several tools that are built to handle our current responsibilities with significantly less effort required for progress tracking, lead generation, and client billing.
The industry will move fully towards green cleaning. Eco-friendly cleaning is embedded in the requirements for LEED certification of buildings, as well as other administrative standards.

7. Your top five tips on how companies operating in this sector can become more sustainable?
• Sustainability has become a required practice for businesses in the cleaning industry. The path to net zero will require many improvements, even from companies that have already started deploying best practices for sustainability.
• As everyone has an interest in maintaining a healthy environment, businesses should utilise specialised cleaning teams that use eco-friendly
products and processes in order to reduce environmental damage and
carbon footprints.
• Clean workspaces improve the productivity of employees. From reducing illnesses to having numerous benefits on a person’s mental health, a workspace should be cleaned thoroughly daily, and this includes industrial spaces.
• Implementing sustainable emerging technologies such as pulse mops and microfiber cloths reduces detergent use, thus minimising waste and cutting costs.
• Alternatively, companies can use no-touch cleaning systems and environmentally friendly solvents in place of less sustainable products, allowing them to transition to sustainable development cleaning at their own pace and within their budget.

8. Any additional comments regarding the specific challenges faced by women in this industry and how such challenges can be resolved?
Employers can take numerous actionable steps immediately to drive positive change, attract top talent, and ensure retention. First and foremost, organisations should focus on establishing policies and practices that champion gender equality and inclusivity.
This entails implementing fair hiring processes, providing equal opportunities for career growth and advancement, and addressing any existing gender disparities in pay and promotions. It is also crucial to foster a supportive and inclusive work culture where women can voice their opinions, contribute their unique perspectives, and participate in decision-making processes.
Providing access to leadership development programmes and training initiatives helps women enhance their skills and competencies, equipping them for senior roles. Furthermore, organisations should actively promote work-life balance and flexibility, acknowledging the diverse responsibilities and commitments that women often juggle.