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Fierce and feminine: Words of career wisdom from nine incredible women

From following your gut to being impeccable with your word, some of the admirable women we work with reveal insights, nuggets of career wisdom and advice for anyone trying to build a more balanced and meaningful working world.

Even though we’re in 2023, the odds are still stacked against women in the workplace. Despite this, there are still many incredible women who are forging formidable paths of success – not only in their own companies, but also in their industries at large. This leads us to the question: did they succeed because they’re women, or despite being women?

Because we believe that every month is Women’s Month, we spoke to some of the inspiring women we work with to get their insights – and perhaps a better understanding – of the uniquely female learnings and experiences they’ve had in their career journeys thus far.

Michelle Noth

Head of Distribution: Financial Intermediaries, Coreshares by 10X

Note from The Principality: It’s been a privilege to see CoreShares by 10X grow from a small, pioneering ETF business to the highly respected brand they are today. When smart people, hard work and an appetite to try new things meet, great things happen!

What advice do you have for women in the working world?

Sheryl Sandberg says, “Done is better than perfect.” To me, it’s absolutely essential yet such a challenge to adopt this mindset, because working in investments is competitive and most people I’ve worked with are brilliant. As a result, we all hold ourselves to very high standards, which are sometimes unrealistic given the chaos and unpredictability of “real life” combined with near-term deadlines.

From a broader perspective, there is never enough time to get things “perfect”, every day, in every aspect of our lives. Don’t fail by striving for perfection in everything. Focus on the big things, make sure they are close enough to perfect to secure the desired outcome, and then live with ‘good enough’ for everything else.

The other phrase I love that my very wise mother taught me is: “Take it from whence it comes”. To me it means that everyone has their own agenda, and you should never take anything personally.

What unique perspectives do women bring to the workplace?

In recent years, some of the softer (and difficult to measure) skills have become more valued, such as excellent communication skills, empathy, compassion, self-awareness, conflict management and collaboration. Women tend to excel at these soft skills, and this is increasingly being recognised and rewarded.

Polelo Kilner

Head: Marketing & Communications, Access Bank Botswana

Polelo Kilner

Note from The Principality: Access Bank Botswana’s marketing team have been such a joy to collaborate with – the energy and enthusiasm with which they approach their work is infectious.

On empowerment

We often feel we need to do grand things to make a difference. Rather start where you are, by sharing the knowledge and experience you have. That itself is an act of empowering the women around you. What can you share today?

On diversity

Don’t be afraid to be your true self in everything you do and believe in who you are. Always be willing to celebrate another’s differences. We benefit more from one another by doing so because diversity and the uniqueness of our differences make for richer experiences. We can all contribute to and learn from those differences; we just need to be willing to seek them.

On the inner critic

I’m not very good at asking for help. There, I said it. I grew up in a time when girls were encouraged “to be independent”. The truth is that I was never taught what that meant in practical terms – so what I ended up being was “fiercely” independent, where needing help and asking for it was a sign of failure. What I’ve learned over time is that you cannot do it all, every time, all the time. If you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed (as I have countless times) don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’m still learning how: I still find myself being harsh on myself for “failing” to get it all done, but I admit I’m a lot better at it now.

Know thyself. I have come to find that the most valuable time spent is on getting to know myself. We often invest a lot of time observing others’ behaviour, responses, and reactions, neglecting to understand how to invest sufficiently in ourselves. We are often our own worst critic, limiting our own success and eroding our self-confidence. If you can, invest in finding an appropriate professional coach to help you. When done properly, coaching can help you understand yourself better and identify your strengths, blind spots and opportunities.

Lize Monametsi

CEO, Polymorph

Lize Monametsi

Note from The Principality: We have such respect for the holistic and context-aware way Polymorph builds software. For how they treat their employees. And that they are a tech company with a female CEO!

What’s the most empowering advice you’ve ever received on your career journey?

Know your own identity and don’t build your identity on things that change. If you establish your identity in that which is secure you can use your empathy and your curiosity.

What’s your advice for women in the working world?

Empathy is a way more powerful tool than people think! Empathising with someone does not mean you agree with them and it does not mean you condone their actions. Empathise even with those who make things difficult for you. There’s a reason why they’re excluding you. Understand their reasons and empathise so that you can remove the obstacles people place in your way.

Be suspicious if you lose your curiosity in the face of adversity. Be bold enough to ask the stupid questions. The men in the room (and their forefathers) have been in the room for longer than you (and your foremothers). They have more institutional knowledge in the business world.

Close the gap by being curious and asking questions – even the stupid ones – on your own terms. You might be surprised by how surprised everyone is at the good questions you’re asking – questions everyone else was too afraid to ask. I still struggle with that second one and that’s something I’m learning: have grace with yourself, especially in a world that is not fair and difficult to navigate under the best of circumstances.

Tove Sithole

Head of Talent & Brand, iTOO

Tove Sithole

Note from The Principality: Besides being a rapidly growing and incredibly successful business, iTOO never cease to inspire us with the culture they’ve built internally. It feels like they’re as focused on their people as they are on their clients and it really shows.

What’s the most empowering advice you’ve ever received on your journey?

The one piece of advice that always sticks out for me is from motivational speaker Helen Nicholson, who said, “No one is coming to save you. You’re the one you’ve been waiting for.” No one is coming to give you permission, to choose you or validate you. You must love yourself so fiercely and fully that you have no choice but to BE you, FOR you, BY you.

What’s your advice to women in the working world?

Live authentically. Build strong relationships. Listen to your spirit. Find your inner voice and make it sing and lastly make your passion your profession.

What unique perspectives or skills do you feel women bring to the workplace?

This is a tough question as each individual brings a different set of skills and capabilities to the workplace. Women do, however, have some qualities that they’re just born with.

Minouche Shafik, Director at the London School of Economics, once said, “In the past, jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in the future they’ll be about the heart.” We are seeing this already – and women have been leading with heart all their lives. Leadership is about how you make people feel. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care – and caring is every woman’s superpower!

Zelda Bredenhann

Director, Cinque

Zelda Bredenhann

Note from The Principality: The powerhouse team at Cinque have been quietly innovating in the credit insurance space for years, building a reputation for being industry leaders off the back of product innovation and technology.

What advice would you give other women in the working world?

As women we’re so often scared of making the wrong decision. Over-analysing a situation and not making a decision fast enough can sometimes mean that you have missed an opportunity. Someone once told me that there is no such thing as a wrong decision, there is only a decision that no longer works for you – in which case you just make a new decision. Yes, ask the questions and make sure you use the information available to you, but don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis. Trust your gut and decide.

Minize Haron

CMO – Access Bank South Africa

Minize Haron

Note from The Principality: From their origins as Bank of Athens to Grobank to Access Bank South Africa, we’ve walked a long path with this team. Along the way, they’ve shown us the value in a business being able to evolve and pivot quickly, smartly and effectively.

What’s the most empowering advice you’ve ever received on your career journey?

Know that you can do anything by putting your mind to it and having passion for it. Only you can motivate you – don’t rely on other people’s appreciation and recognition. Rely on your own motivation and passion every day.

Marijke Coetzee

Director, Marketing & Communications, Vukile

Marijke Coetzee

Note from The Principality: We’re so impressed with Vukile’s dedication to ESG and how this forms part of their business’s DNA. The Vukile Retail Academy and the Vukile Academy are two critical areas that they focus on to reinvest in people, businesses and communities.

What’s the most empowering advice you’ve ever received on your journey?

At a crucial point in my career, when I really started climbing the corporate ladder quite fast, I started realising the importance of going inward and doing the work of pausing, reflecting and the journey of uncovering one’s most authentic self. This might sound like a very basic and easy statement, but within that, I believe, is a galaxy full of pearls that makes every step of the journey of self-empowerment, leadership and growth possible.

During this time, I read a book called “The Four Agreements” and if I had to give advice to anyone, no matter where they are in their career journey, it would be this: Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make any assumptions and always do your best.

What perspectives do women bring to the workplace?

We often don’t realise that things like empathy, creativity, sensitivity are feminine qualities. While every person, no matter their gender, has both feminine and masculine qualities, the feminine qualities are often what are overlooked when dealing with challenging situations or people matters in the workplace.

I believe women often lose these abilities as well in order to survive in the very masculine world. But by remaining in touch with our authentic selves as women and embracing our differences to men, we can bring a very different perspective to the boardroom table. After all, this is where most problems are generally approached from a very rational perspective, while people’s behaviour still largely stems from emotion.

Jennifer Barkhuizen

Head of Marketing, Mettus

Jennifer Barkhuizen

Note from The Principality: Mettus is a company for these times. We’re awed by the incredible ways they use data – not only to help businesses manage risks and grow, but also for the greater good in society. This business is one to watch!

What advice would you give women in the working world?

When life knocks you down or throws you off balance, remember to always get up – don’t stay down for too long. Learn from disappointments or mistakes as this will make you stronger and you will stand tall at the end. Your life is your responsibility, and your happiness, the choices you make, and your career is in your hands. Don’t be scared to embrace your emotions as they mirror your character, as it shows your ability to work hard, feel profoundly and embrace life with passion. Trust your capabilities, stay open to change and never remain defeated.

Simiso Velempini

Founder & Managing Director, Vele Africa Advisory

Simiso Velempini

Note from The Principality: London-based Vele Africa Advisory does the critical job of helping UK and EU-based businesses do business more intelligently in Africa. We’ve always found Vele’s approach remarkable in the sense that they balance commercial understanding with political and socio-economic insights – and they do it in a way that is intentional and context-aware.

I would really like to see the conversation moving from women succeeding “in spite of” to “because of or with support from” men. I believe there needs to be a paradigm shift that focuses on facilitating and enabling honest conversation across genders to move the needle on a range of women’s issues, both in and outside the home. Men who have grappled with the changing role of women in the workplace and at home and who have navigated this uncomfortable and challenging shift need to share their stories in boardrooms, on the golf course, in pubs, in places of worship and at social clubs.

As women, we can’t do it alone and we really shouldn’t have to. Thinking of men as part of the solution and constructively engaging with them to bring about healthy and sustainable change gets us all a little closer to that elusive “win-win” solution where we can comfortably celebrate and support each other every day.

We’re in awe of these powerful women who are bringing such strong and empowering perspectives to their companies and industries. Here’s to celebrating all that women bring to the table, and how much we can learn from them this Women’s Month – and beyond!

A final note from us. This quote from Frederique Dame, a product leader at Uber, encapsulates what we believe women can bring to the working world:

“To be elegant is to be deliberate, respond gracefully, take things lightly — to move through the world with positive purpose. It’s having a soft touch and tough resilience at the same time.”

Here’s to the elegant, deliberate, graceful, purpose-driven, tough, resilient women out there: we see you and we salute you!


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