07 August 2019
Women's Month Feature: Susanne Laido
AT HOME I AM STILL A LADY
“At home I am still a lady,” says Susanne Laido, aged 38, a senior process controller at the George Municipality water purification works. “When you work shifts inside a plant in the middle of the night, getting dressed up and putting on make-up feel like a bit of a waste, but it is just my work that requires practical attire, it does not define me.”
The 38-year-old mom from Parkdene qualified in personnel management after school but could not get work right away. A George Municipality job advertisement requiring matric with maths caught her eye. “I had no idea what a process controller was, but I was willing to learn and it sounded interesting.”
Susanne was first woman in the section when she started at the water treatment plants at Pacaltsdorp and Gwaing River in 2002. “The supervisor wasn’t hostile, but he made it clear that he wasn’t going to treat me like porcelain – I was going to have to do anything a man would do. I grew up in a house with four brothers, so that was just fine by me.”
However, the location of the water treatment plants – one near an informal settlement and the other relatively remote – weren’t fenced then and not ideal for a woman on her own at night, but it was the only available position at the time and she needed the work. “I was afraid sometimes but I tried not to think about it and got on with my work. It turned out to be very interesting and varied work – from testing water samples and mixing chemicals to administration and mechanics.”
Susanne was transferred to the main water treatment works above Denneoord in 2005, where the experienced, male-dominant team treated her like a little sister and were quite happy to share their knowledge and experience with a very keen junior. “It was safer and less lonely at the main plant, and the people were so friendly and supportive.”
Life became more complicated when she had her son, Luther, in 2008. “Working shifts (6am-2pm, 2pm-10pm and 10pm-6am) meant that I missed out on many milestones in my son’s life, which for me is the only downside to this job. I would come home and my mom, who looks after him, would tell me Luther had said his first word or taken his first step. I would be sad that I wasn’t there, but I was also proud that because I had a good job I would be able to pay for a good education and create an environment in which he can prosper.
“I have been doing this for 17 years and I can’t imagine working in a traditional office with normal office hours. I still look forward to every workday and my favourite part of the job is water quality testing in the laboratory.
“I want women to know they shouldn’t be afraid to do work that may have been done only by men in the past, or work that may be outside their field of knowledge. Your attitude is important – if you are willing to learn, work hard and are trustworthy, the opportunities are out there,” says Susanne.
- Profile by Athane Scholtz, Communications Officer, George Municipality