LAVERNE VAN WYK: Director at Hansens Engineering

#AutomotiveAllies: Laverne van Wyk, nominated by Shivani Singh, is a Director at Hansens Engineering, a Port Elizabeth based company situated in the traditional heart of the automotive sector in South Africa.

Hansens Engineering,, has been supplying aluminium machined components to the automotive industry since 1956. Hansens Engineering is a multiple award-winning and trusted supplier of machined suspension and fluid connector components to customers, located locally and in Asia, Central and Western Europe, and North and South America. The company has increasing volumes from shipping over 10 million components in 2012, to approximately 22 million components annually.

Growing up in the Northern areas (Gelvandale and Schauderville), Laverne has learned to work hard and not to get caught up in the negativity which the area presented to young women. She is actively involved in the Salem Moravian Church and, at age 10, started playing the trumpet. This is where she built her confidence as a young woman and developed a desire to travel and see the world. She was able to secure a bursary to study at Nelson Mandela University and graduated with a BTech Degree in Industrial Engineering.

In her 10 years at Hansens Engineering, van Wyk started out as a student completing her in-service training, and worked her way up to Junior Project Manager, to Senior Project Manager and finally becoming a Director at the young age of 31 – thanks to her passion for Lean Manufacturing, particularly with regard to using IT to facilitate Lean Systems. During her first 5 months at Hansens, van Wyk landed a project worth half a million. It was during this time, her superiors saw Laverne’s potential and started mentoring her. Laverne took confidence from small accomplishments. Each time she faced failure, she learned from these experiences and made sure not to fall victim to the same mistake again. From slowly building her confidence, to being comfortable and proud of the woman she has become, this is what makes Laverne the extraordinary leader she is today.

When she is not hard at work, she maintains fulfilment as a wife and mother, to her 2-year old son. She is still an active band member and a Board Member of the Brass Band Union of South Africa and Unity in Africa Foundation. She is passionate about upliftment and mentorship, and maintains an active role on many industry associations, including WELA (Women in Engineering Leadership Association) as a guest speaker at their events, and mentoring students through the iGEMs program.

In her words:

Engineering is mostly a male-dominated field in STEM, but I have been extremely privileged to have amazing mentors. My advice to any women looking to start their careers in a male-dominated environment, as well as #ThingsIWishIKnew:

  1. The Automotive Industry is one of the toughest industries, watch your attitude: Some women can be overly aggressive as if to prove that they are just as worthy/ qualified as their male co-workers. If you are smart and confident let your work speak for itself.
  2. Find a mentor: Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone in a senior position for guidance. I met Erik Hansen, Managing Director of Hansens Engineering, when I was an Industrial Engineering student, completing my second practical semester. He later became my Business Partner and mentor. To this day, we still work very closely together, developing business strategies. Erik is still my “go-to person” for advice and guidance.
  3. Don’t give up: Gender discrimination can happen in any workplace, how you deal with it will determine your future success.

When I hear the phrase #FutureisFemale, I see this as an important reminder that women need to stand together and build each other up. Women who are currently in leading roles have a duty to educate, mentor and nurture relationships with the younger generation. It is important to encourage young women to enter into the STEM fields and then support them in the early stages of their working careers. Females have a very powerful tool. Our outlook on life and the way we build relationships around us are unique to us and that is what will set us apart. It may seem cliché, but it remains true – Believe in yourself, work hard and you can achieve your dreams.