Why Toyz founder, Petra Rees who was also  part of the profound discussion

30 August 2021 | 15H07

The Poor Representation of Women in Leadership webinar was a fire starter as speakers in critical leadership positions exchanged views on what could be done to promote female leadership in the country. At a time where women are making economic strides in South Africa, one would think only good commentary would arise from the female demographic. However, women still feel there is a significant gap that they must fill in redefining success and re-modelling a work ethic that accommodates working women who are at most times mothers. The Group Head of Legal at LogiDist, a 100% black-owned company, Nomfundo Zindela, said for a long time the office environment has been operating according to previously set standards by males who didn’t have family responsibility obligations as women. She said this needed to be changed. “Men need to be more open-minded and willing to dismantle the walls created by patriarch paradigms of how the workplace is structured, how the workplace should function, how the hierarchy is designed and how success in the workplace should be attained.” She continued to add that “Women should not be put be in a position where they should do things the same way men do them in order to be considered to be adequate, competent and worthy of promotion.” Zindel closed by saying, “Women should do things the women way,” which was a central point in the discussion.

Firm believer in Conscious Capitalism and Executive Director of SAS Cares, Marcina Majid, said that women have been singing the same tune for far too long. She said the challenges women face in the workplace are not foreign, and therefore there must be a mindset change to fuel new movements which would foster women lead industries. “Talking about the same thing every single year is futile, it’s getting us nowhere. We’ve been fighting for a seat on the table, and if no one is giving us that opportunity, why aren’t we creating the table that we want – a table that is in our terms and conditions”. She summed up her talk by saying that more emphasis must be placed on SMME’s to change the economic landscape collectively.

Award-winning edutech startup owner Petra Rees, who has had significant international exposure, highly expressed the need to focus on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) sectors where there is a substantial gap for women. She said more women must be encouraged to occupy these sectors from a young age by parents intentionally making decisions to expose their young girls to Science labs more often while on the other plane exposing their sons to art for a change. She said doing this eradicates gender stereotypes from a young age, and children can become whatever they want instead of what is dictated by society. She said, “We need to apply affirmative action by constantly reminding people to promote women”. She made practical examples in which she said actions such as asking your friends over the dinner table how many women they have in senior positions in their company is the way to start instead of addressing these questions on media platforms. She continued to conscientize parents to consider stereotypical gifts at birthday parties that imbue gender stereotypes. Rees’ final remarks were that female leadership starts from how parents raise their children.

GIBB Power Chairperson with over 20 years experience as a dynamic leader in multiple management levels, Kiren Maharaj alluded to the absence of female mentorship and female networks, which creates a gap in her Engineering industry. She said some women lack business acumen and do not know how to run a business due to not having a mentor to guide the way. She said senior female leaders should seek to empower young females in their industries; however, it must also come from the individuals to pursue growth by professing the hunger and willingness to learn. She closed her segment by saying that there must be more informal platforms for women to meet as that’s where individuals genuinely engage.

South African Institute of Learning (SAIL) Managing Director, Vimala Ariyan said when women venture into business, they do so to have more time for their families and because they’re genuinely good at what they do, but their lack of financial knowledge and business sense puts them at a disadvantage. Therefore, they must seek good mentors to assist them in their business journey. She said men already have networks that make it easier to succeed, and women should adopt the same mindset. “Men have established networks, and they meet on the golf course, but women don’t.  Women must form their own networks to expose each other to opportunities”, she said. Vimala made it clear that if women continue at their pace, it will take a century to achieve more female leadership; therefore, women need to seek business knowledge speedily. Again Variyan said women need to come out of their zones and stop leaving financial expertise to their husbands alone as having this information is critical in sustaining a business.

Seasoned Independent Newspaper journalist with a corporate background, Xolile Bhengu, touched on several points. She spoke on how the office environment doesn’t accommodate the different roles women have to play and the practical challenges women face daily, which don’t encourage them to start a business even when they’re afforded the opportunity. “Yes, you want to work hard, but you have to juggle different roles. You find that as a woman, you’re someone’s girlfriend, a mother, and you have other crucial responsibilities that affect your work ethic.” She also made an example of how she had to cut her time breastfeeding her child so that she could rapidly return to work to provide for her family. “The environments that we work in don’t accommodate the roles we play outside of the office,” she said. She added that building networks with other women could make a massive difference in instilling the hunger to enter specific fields as women cannot hunger for something they don’t know.

Darjyo owner, Jyothika Persadh exclaimed, “Aiming towards higher places puts us in a sore spot when it comes to gender because those in power think certain leadership areas may be more relative to males as opposed to females. This weighs in heavily from an emotional intelligence point of view which could risk the judgment from an emotional point of view.” She said that women had been outlined to be emotional decision-makers as opposed to males; however, she added that the emotional intelligence of women is not all bad and can be used positively in creating new measures of success. Such efforts include investing in communities by mentoring young girls based on the African proverb, “You educate a woman you educate a nation.” In doing this, more women will be inspired to lead and will be taught how to manage their careers from a young age. She also mentioned that women have occupied critical leadership positions that can be seen with the cabinet reshuffle. It shouldn’t be a matter of males and females fighting over leadership but that each gender should acknowledge the other and share responsibilities. Darjyo is an internationally acclaimed company with several awards, including one of the most innovative South African Artificial Intelligence companies.

Eastern Cape Entrepreneur and owner of AET Africa, which provides water-heating mechanisms, Sandiswa Qayi, said that women have always been at the forefront of innovation and have proven to be innovators. She added that women can lead. However, they have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to prove stereotypes. When she entered the male-dominated plumbing industry, she would have to sit in lengthy boardroom meetings to prove she knows what she is talking about. She agreed that it could be discouraging for women to prove themselves constantly; however, it is an interesting challenge that can prepare individuals to excel in their work. At the end of it all, she said, “It’s up to us as women to catch up where we need to and be assertive enough to say we are here to stay.” She concluded that everyone is a leader in whichever space they work as each contributes to their field, so women must learn not to undermine their ideas and understand that they are influential in all they do.

In essence, the webinar was mind-opening and made women realise that though they face many challenges in their careers, they have made many strides and should recognise small wins that contribute to the bigger pool of success. With this being said, women still want equality with their male counterparts. Though they are faced with family responsibilities and stereotypes, they have it in them to successfully manage their various roles, adapt to their problems, and use challenges as a springboard of success.

You can watch the discussion here >> https://www.facebook.com/darshan.rangai/videos/328495025690302

                                                    Lots of Love, Phindy