Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an activist but where there is wrong doing, I will speak out. In recent months I was reminded that the cause for true diversity, inclusion and gender parity in our communities, society and places of work demands more action. There have been several events in 2018 that prove this: Globally we have seen the #MeToo movement gaining further momentum and back home research, by executive search firm Jack Hammer, found that little progress has been made in terms of women in leadership roles within South Africa’s Top 40 listed companies. There was also a commission of inquiry into widespread sexual harassment at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and then there were the disparaging and sexist comments about women in STEM. Enough, already!
I grew up in Apartheid South Africa in the first ‘township’ created to house members of the Indian race. It was a rather conservative community and my very first female role model was my MUM. Unlike members of her own family and those around us, she had long decided she wanted to be more than just a house wife. She wanted to be a nurse, but with a super old school father that was out of the question. Well, Mum made a plan which resulted in her studying in secret for three years with help and support from her mum and older sister. She came clean to her family when she qualified, and by then it was way too late for my Granddad to stop her from embarking on a career. But this was only the first of many acts of defiance on her part.
Remarkable for that period in time, she found a husband who supported and championed her nursing career. Trust me, it was not an easy time for any of us though. I can’t tell you the countless conversations by conformist family or community, the phrasing of which always had the same themes: “you need to tame your wife,” “what kind of woman works,” “what kind of a mother leaves her children to go to work,” “why don’t you show her who is boss,” and “how can you let your wife work?”
No surprise then that I grew up knowing that men and women can and should be supportive in breaking down barriers that prevent either of the sexes from reaching their full potential. Thinking back to all the people that have contributed to shaping who I am and who have helped me achieve my various career milestones, I know that being a champion of change can take many forms.
Spurred on by the recent unfortunate incidents that have undermined the cause of diversity and inclusion, I have found that even small actions can make an impact, whether it’s being a sounding board for younger women, giving a voice to their concerns or aspirations when they aren’t able to do so themselves, supporting them even if that means more work for me, celebrating their successes and if needed standing defiant when nobody else in the room has found their feet.
I’m hoping to draw more inspiration on how else I can contribute, from the likes of Graça Machel, Oprah Winfrey, Zoleka Mandela and Josina Machel. These four powerful women have been brought together by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Graça Machel Trust, to host“Is’thunzi Sabafazi” (Dignity of Women) an event with the objective of starting “a conversation aimed at mobilising a caring and just society.”
Will you join me in championing for change, not just today but everyday?