Earlier this year I received an invite from Judy Dlamini to be part of a panel discussion for the launch of her book, Equal But Different: Women Leaders’ Life Stories – Overcoming Race, Gender and Social Class.
Sis Judy, as she is fondly known to many of us, wrote the book as a consequence of her thesis research for her doctorate in business leadership.
Her chosen theme was “The impact of the intersection of race, gender and social class on women leaders’ work experience and career progression”.
I was nervous about speaking on gender transformation, mainly because I know nothing about the subject. With my unconventional mind and big mouth, I feared I would end up saying something politically incorrect and embarrass my host.
So, I decided to do what I always do when confronted with a subject I know nothing about: read. So I read the book. Twice.
Two things stood out for me
The first was the role played by many of the women’s fathers in their upbringing and how it directly contributed to their outlook of the world. The second was the role of male business leaders in sponsoring their business careers.
Some men often feel uncomfortable discussing the topic of women empowerment – almost as uncomfortable as some white people when talking about racial transformation.
Men struggle to understand their own gender privilege in the business world. As a result, they start believing that women empowerment is a women’s issue – much like how some white people think BEE is a black issue.
One of the women Sis Judy interviewed was Coco Cachalia, an entrepreneur and CEO of Grounded Media. She spoke about how Indian culture was “discriminatory towards women”.
She said: “For example, medical schools are full of Indian girls who do well and qualify. Do you know that when they get married they tend to stop practising as doctors? Often this is because their husbands want them to be housewives.”
This speaks to the need for men to break free of the stereotypes that are passed on to us by our often none-the-wiser parents. In most cultures, it is the men who have the leverage to end these primitive practices.
National Empowerment Fund CEO Philisiwe Mthethwa spoke about the role her father played in shaping her views.
“Whenever I had fights with my brothers, which often ended in crying, my father was very protective of me. But he taught me from an early age that he was not always going to be there; that I had to learn to survive under all circumstances. He pointed out that I shouldn’t cry, but state my point with conviction,” said Mthethwa.
Sis Phili’s experience is instructive in stating that fathers are not only parents to daughters. They are also sponsors.
They must sponsor the conviction their daughters must cultivate in their own abilities in a world that will certainly want to sell them the lie that they are lesser beings.
In the past week, we had the pleasure of having a number of influential women take over the airwaves at Power98.7.
Standard Bank head of personal and business banking Funeka Montjane took over my show for the campaign, giving me an opportunity to ask her about men’s role in her corporate leadership.
“Most people who have power today are men. All the way from PwC – Richard Irvine, the guy who gave me a bursary straight from high school until I joined the firm and met the most beautiful man, Michel Engelbrecht, who told other partners I could do actuarial valuations.
“I then joined Standard Bank and the biggest sponsors of my career have been Peter Schlebusch, the most human of human beings.
“Sim Tshabalala, who has been nothing short of great to ensure that black people, and women in particular, are adequately empowered.
“Men have a key role to play. It is not about mentorship, it is about sponsorship.”
Happy Women’s Month, gentlemen.
• Andile Khumalo is chief operating officer of MSG Afrika and presents ‘Power Business’ on Power98.7 at 6pm, Monday to Thursday