Being a Woman in Business

Featured in South Africa Deluxe magazine

When I was born, in 1959, the world was a very different place, Barbie was born in the same year. During this time women were limited in their career choices, and most were conditioned to careers in teaching, nursing or typing. Fortunately, this is no longer the status quo with more women in the workplace than ever before. We have seen women becoming scientists, presidents and flying to space. I was thrilled to read about Lego’s recent launch of female scientist toys. The prospect of this progressive thinking excites me. Female scientist toys may not sound particularly profound, but they assist in combatting some of the subtle ways in which society signals to girls that they shouldn't be interested in the technology, science, engineering and mathematical fields. It would appear, in some countries that our priming from a young age is shifting. This is vital to making female empowerment front and centre in 2015 and beyond as more companies, communities and countries invest in women’s entrepreneurship. Over the past twenty five years of owning my own business, it is evident that hard work is the foundation of all success. However, being a woman in business hasn't always been easy and everyone’s journey is different. As a passionate advocate for women empowerment and gender equality, it is my mission to help women in South Africa realise their potential and overcome the gender barriers. On this subject, I would like to share with you some sentiments gathered from my experience, to encourage you and hopefully aid your journey as a woman in business today.

Self-belief and Confidence 

Most women struggle with the ability to self-promote and systematically underestimate their abilities. Confidence can be a determining factor between the woman who is able to realise her dreams and the one who is not. In 1588, Queen Elizabeth I demonstrated her confidence as she spoke to the troops at Tilbury in preparation of repelling the expected invasion by the Spanish Armada, “I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.” Her confidence and iron will earned the respect of those troops. The former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was also famous for her refusal to perform a "U-turn" in response to opposition to her liberalisation of the economy. “The lady’s not for turning” became a “Thatcherite” motto, strongly associated with her boldness and confidence to make decisions and stick to them. A lack of confidence is a killer to success for women. In order to advance your career, you need to be comfortable seeing yourself as a qualified leader. You need to ask for the promotion. You need to negotiate for yourselves. Coupled with this, make sure you are a woman of your word and that you can deliver on your mandate (there is a lot of lip service in this world).

Persistence and Passion

I was born an only child to a patriarchal once abused father and a disinterested, depressive mother. From the age of seven it was compulsory for me to train six days a week for an average of four hours every day, in swimming and athletics. The victim mentality was an easy hat to don. However, my upbringing fundamentally facilitated the moulding of me into the person that I am today. It taught me the meaning of discipline and persistence and how these traits can serve one to achieve what most do not. Critique the life of successful entrepreneurs, such as Oprah Winfrey, Coco Chanel or Estee Lauder. You will observe that it is more often than not circumstance which compelled them to want more and instilled in them a passion and determination which could not be weakened by anything. Don’t let your past be an obstacle to your success. Allow your pain to fuel your fire to succeed. Let your story ignite your passion. Turn the bitter to the sweet.

Effective Role Models

“It seems to me that the fact that I am a woman is a bigger issue than the fact that I'm from the East. For me it isn't really important. I've only ever known myself as a woman” says German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the woman to lead Germany for a third term to become the fourth largest economy in the world. Angela, of whom I am an avid admirer, is not fazed by her gender or the stereotypes that the “female” tag brings with it. She decisively refuses to partake in the glamour stakes, she is a hard-working, egoless, selfless, non-political leader and one from whom all of us can learn a great deal. Role models have always been a source of inspiration for me. If I was witness to something extraordinary when I was younger, I would think to myself, “That’s what I need to do” and then I would crack on and do it. Find yourself a few good role models, study them and pick which traits you would like to emulate in your own life.

Go Beyond Your Comfort Zone

If you don’t push your boundaries, you risk living in the veil of an unclaimed self. I recently wrote an article for my blog entitled, “Twenty things I wish I knew in my twenties”. Here I encouraged women to take up public speaking. This is something that frightens most people, however, few realise that by breaking their comfort zones and engaging their fear, the benefits will far outweigh the initial feelings of vulnerability and anxiety. Public speaking is a great way to transcend fear and it is an opportunity for personal growth and empowerment, as you redefine how great you are. By facing your fears, you are instantly released from the weight of them and propelled further into your journey of wholeness as a woman. Marianne Williamson in her book A Return to Love, conveys the message so succinctly, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.”

You Can Only Ride One Horse at a Time

Managing a business alongside raising a family is challenging. If you are married and both partners are working, it is essential that you make your partner a real partner. With this, there needs to be equal division of family responsibility. I have been able to grow my business, alongside raising three children by mastering the art of delegation and sharing parental tasks with my husband. If you are career focused and a single mom, make sure you build yourself a strong support structure at home. Professional success and personal fulfillment is not a pipe dream, it is achievable, and you just need a plan.

Mentoring At All Levels

Nothing gives me greater joy than seeing other women soar to new heights in their careers. Mentoring is just one of many methods of giving back to society, and it is one which has given me great personal fulfillment over many years. I chose to mentor a number of women, from various backgrounds, industries and religions because they bothered to ask the question, “Will you be my mentor?” You need to put yourself out there if you want to be mentored by someone. We can positively influence lives or have our lives changed through mentoring. Don’t let your own self-doubt preclude you from sharing your wisdom with others. Vice versa, don’t let your age deter you from being mentored, there is always an opportunity to learn from others.

Lastly, always remember that the people and attitudes you surround yourself with, and the message you pass on to others have the power to contribute to a culture of female achievement that will take us all soaring into the future.

 

Comments

1 comment

Hayley

Hayley

Beautiful, inspirational and inspiring! Thank you Jenna for being such an amazing part of our country and our hearts!

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