It was working underground at one of Anglo American’s gold mines outside Johannesburg that gave Flora Jika her first real operations management experience.

“I was the first female to work underground and there were no ablution facilities,” Flora recalls. “We would work shifts of between nine and twelve hours, which made it pretty awkward in an all-male team! We introduced a lot of changes while I was there to make it more comfortable for women – such as improving the change room facilities and putting ablutions in underground.”

Those workplace changes enabled more women to follow in her footsteps.

Ten years later she remains passionate about using operational management to improve productivity and efficiency in her role as logistics services manager at Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA).

“I guess you could say Coke happened to me, and I happened to Coke,” she laughs.

After giving birth to her daughter, Flora moved off the mine back to Johannesburg for more family support. In her ten years at CCBSA, Flora has been instrumental in spearheading several projects, including putting tail lifts onto delivery trucks to improve efficiencies; introducing hand-held invoicing devices to improve the customer experience; and aligning human resources to activities on site to improve productivity.

“My job is basically to see how other people are doing things and improve on it.”

Flora is constantly on the lookout for new ideas. Either trawling the internet after hours or out in the real world. On a recent holiday to Miami she came across a giant forklift moving yachts from a stacking garage and wondered how could be used to transform the beverage delivery process.

It’s a far cry from the dusty streets of Soweto outside Johannesburg where Flora grew up. Born to a teenage mum, the family often struggled, but demonstrating her smarts in primary school got her a bursary for high school and later for university. Out of her engineering class of about 40 graduates, just four were women. “I was the first in my family to get a degree, and the first to buy a car,” she adds.

Flora says it took her a long time to realise that she’s a work addict and she’s happiest when she’s working and providing. She also believes that keeping a home life which includes a hobby is grounding and helps her to focus. Flora’s hobby is running – and this year she completed her first Comrades marathon.

“I do think that involving women in the work place brings an entirely new dynamic and way of thinking,” says Flora. “Women also tend to be good planners – while men may finish their 14-hour day and go home to have a meal, women work the same hours but have to go home and prepare it.”

Flora is passionate about helping women grow in the CCBSA business. She feels it’s vital to put structures in place to keep women engaged as they become more senior. This includes allocating mentors to female employees, encouraging conversations between women, and sharing ideas about how to manage family and work commitments.

“The big thing is to give women a chance. Make them comfortable in the work environment and you’ll see magic happen.