While studying for her first degree, Geralda Wildshutt was awarded a teaching scholarship and used this as a way to enter the field. She spent five years as a teacher before resigning to complete her master’s in educational and community psychology.
She followed this up a few years later with an MBA in strategic, financial, project and operations management from the Business School Netherlands. Wildschutt worked as a community psychologist on the Cape Flats. Based in Manenberg, where gang violence is pervasive, she spent most of her time helping young girls who were survivors of gender-based violence and providing support for boys caught in hostilities.
After eight years, Wildschutt took the skills she learnt through her experiences as a psychologist and transferred them to the mining industry. Here, she continued to advise on community management, specialising in ESG (environmental, social and governance) and sustainability management. She says the heart of her work is helping mining companies through community development.
“In mining, before you can take the stuff out of the ground, you’ve got to manage the situation above ground.”
According to Wildschutt, being a woman in the mining industry is something one has to get used to. From worker level up to management executive level, the mining industry is by its nature populated mostly by men. “You’ve got to become used to being the only woman in a room full of men.” As a woman, you have to work twice as hard, be twice as competent, know twice as much and have a very tough skin.
Wildschutt perseveres because, as she says, when she gets it right, it is the most rewarding work. “I want mining companies to do right by the communities. People greatly underestimate or are not aware of how much the mining industry does for social development in South Africa.”
All of Wildschutt’s projects are important to her, however, food security is particularly close to her heart. She enjoys working on subsistence farmer support programmes, school vegetable gardens and educational programmes. One partnership she advised on is WEZA, an NGO that works with schools on gardening, but links the garden work to the CAPS curriculum. “Often the person who thinks you are not capable is yourself.”
Wildschutt has had people inspire and guide her throughout her career, but it is her “network of women” that has been her support for the past 16 years. “Having a support group of career women is very helpful,” she says. “If we don’t have peers who understand and support us, the road is much harder.”
Wildschutt says she is never going to retire. She is tapping into psychology skills again as she grows her mentoring work, offering individual and group mentoring programmes for young women. She sits on three NGO boards and will continue her advisory work and volunteering within the this sector.
Geralda Wildshutt has always wanted to work in the field of social change and knew early on she wanted to become a psychologist.