International Women’s Day 2021 – Choose to challenge with Marta Macanda

International Women’s Day 2021 is focused on choosing to challenge, making it the perfect day to shine the staff spotlight on Marta Macanda, SafeLane’s Office and Finance Manager in Mozambique.

International Women’s Day 2021 is focused on choosing to challenge, making it the perfect day to shine the staff spotlight on Marta Macanda, SafeLane’s Office and Finance Manager in Mozambique.

Marta has worked with SafeLane Global since 2007, and during her time in mine action she has faced many gender-related obstacles in her career – all of which she has chosen to challenge with positivity and resilience.

Marketing Manager Mary Pipikakis meets Marta Macanda

Marta has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and is currently undertaking a second degree in Human Resources.  She is doing this while working full time and raising a family, a balancing act that deserves to be celebrated!

We caught up with Marta to find out a little bit more about how her role has evolved since joining the company 14 years ago, how she has coped with gender discrimination, and the positive impact she’s made in Mozambique.

A second degree, full time work, and home life is a busy mix! How do you balance it all?

I admit, it IS a very difficult process, but it’s not impossible. I have created a system that helps me to have all the 3 (work, studies and home) running together effectively, treating each of them with importance and due diligence. 

I must say, for the past year with the Covid situation, the extra time at home has certainly made things easier!

So, what was your initial role when joining SafeLane Global?

Well, I first joined SafeLane Mozambique LDA in 2007 as an Administrative Assistant and Procurement Officer.

However, just a few months after I started, in January 2008 we signed a contract for Technical Survey and Demining Services in Cabo Delgado Province, on the Rovuma LNG Park (for facilities to process gas from the biggest gas field in the world). This was a large project and it resulted in my role expanding quite a bit.

I was responsible for collecting, organizing and submitting financial information to the UK office and the local accountant.  I was also responsible for handling quotes and buying and delivering spare parts, equipment and many other materials required for the job.

Due to the size of the project we had to hire a large number of staff…this was my first major challenge, finding the right team!   I had never worked in demining before or been asked to hire that many people, I needed to find 300 experts to deliver SafeLane’s high standards of operations.

To support me in this challenge, SafeLane ensured I had assistants to support this mission and my other responsibilities.  With my team in place, I began recruiting. 

This process included producing contracts for all employees, collecting all relevant information from all new staff for tax purposes, and processing work visas for the expat Technical Managers.  I’m not one to shy away from a challenge and achieving all this this gave me such a sense of accomplishment!

The next challenge focused on financial oversight. 

In the early days we didn’t have any type of cash book or excel sheet to control all the entries and expenditures on projects and at HQ.  In order to have better control of all financial transactions locally, I established a new excel-based system to better control what was being spent, and I reconciled with the information received from the local accountant.

Does working in demining in Mozambique challenge gender expectations?

Yes!

This activity is known as a man’s work, so when people see a woman working in a demining company their first thought is ‘she definitely is not Mozambican, she must be an expat.’ When they realise this subconscious bias is incorrect, they find another argument against including women in this work.  They do not want to accept that a woman can work in a demining company. 

I’ve lost count of how many times people have asked me ‘Do you go to the fields? Are you not afraid that you miss a mine and die?’ or ‘Are women allowed to work in demining?’ So, as Office Manager it goes without saying I’ve had so many conflicts with men not wanting to accept what I’m asking them to do.

How do you deal with these conflicts?

To overcome all those situations, I had to really maintain my composure and keep myself calm.

Our Country Manager has received many emails from deminers and supervisors asking him to let me go, because they weren’t happy that a woman younger than they were was giving them direction.  People wanted me to lose my job because it was ‘not acceptable’ that a young lady could be in my position!

When men have confronted me with these opinions, I have never argued with them.  I actually just addressed the situation by being incredibly polite.  I knew in order to change these ingrained prejudices, I had to figure some ways of creating rapport so we could work together successfully.  It took time, but because of my composure and professionalism I was able to turn the tide of these opinions and make some really positive working relationships. 

Now those people who may not have initially wanted me here regularly pick up the phone to check in on me and see how I am!  

You can’t always change opinions by arguing, it may be a cliché, but sometimes our actions truly speak louder than our words.

Massive respect to you for keeping calm and focused on your work.  How has your role evolved since joining?

Thanks to SafeLane’s confidence in me, I was promoted to Office and Finance Manager.

I am now the focal point for all financial activities in the Mozambican business. This role includes the review and submission of monthly management reports, tax compliance, project financial controls, and payment of salaries, taxes and local purchases.  I also liaise directly with the UK Head Office.

What is your greatest achievement at SafeLane?

My greatest achievement has been to change the mindset of local suppliers. During projects the most challenging issue we encounter is the fact that many suppliers do not issue valid invoices and receipts. Without these receipts we are liable for fines from the Mozambican Tax Authorities for ‘’non-documented expenses or non-valid invoices.”  

I advised our management staff that we needed to tell suppliers that if they don’t provide valid receipts we wouldn’t be able to use them.  To take this further, I decided to contact the local authorities and started lobbying to persuade local companies to use valid invoices.

As a result, we have seen a wave of change in the number of local suppliers who now automatically produce valid invoices during the the project in Cabo Delgado and Inhambane.  Due to the lobbying, the tax authorities started visiting them to inspect their sales books information!

What is your favourite part about working for SafeLane Global?

I enjoy working for SafeLane Global Mozambique because I see that demining and clearance works are very important for our country’s development. Being a part of that makes me proud, I see that I have done something very important for the communities in my country. 

Over the years, I have learned a lot from and exchanged skills with many SafeLane workers from other countries.   This wisdom sharing has been great for my work experience.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learnt from working at SafeLane?

Definitely everything I’ve learnt about the process of demining itself.  I used to hear about mines on radios and see some on the news on TV but I had never had any direct contact with explosive ordnance before I started to work here.  It’s been incredibly rewarding to learn about and know that we are making a positive difference.

What advice would you give to women who may consider a career in mine action?

Just go for it, don’t be afraid of a man’s judgment!  Do your work as if you were working in a place where there wasn’t this kind of judgement.  Focus on doing your job to the best of your ability and even if it takes time you will earn their respect.

International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity to congratulate Marta and thank her for all the hard work she has put in.  Sometimes, the best way to challenge someone’s biases is to rise above it and prove them wrong through your actions. 

SafeLane’s Marketing team would like to say a huge thank you to Marta for her time and for being so inspirational.