by Zipho Sikhakhane

On the 2nd week of International Women’s month, I had the honour of hosting a four-day international women’s conference for one of the top four commercial banks in the country. The central theme of the conference was women in leadership and women empowerment, and it was attended by female leaders from all over the continent.

Granted, a lot of companies make a lot of noise about Diversity and Inclusion, but only a certain percentage invest time and resources into Diversity and Inclusion. I am proud to report that this client that I work with has invested extensively in women’s development even before I started hosting this conference three years ago. Due to COVID19 restrictions and implications, we had to host the conference virtually, which was still amazing. In this article, I will highlight the themes of the conference and my biggest learnings.

1. Enhancing women’s development programmes

Companies need to have vigorous women’s programmes in place. Having a conference once a year will not achieve the desired outcomes. The conference plants a seed but beyond that, further action needs to be taken. Women in all industries should have international mentors and sponsors who will coach and guide them through this journey. It is very vital to not leave men out of this conversation because they are the ones in the leadership and decision-making positions. Their support is essential in driving women’s development in the workplace. They need to have an active hand in dismantling the ‘it’s a man’s world’ stereotype.

2. Wellbeing, self-care, work-life balance

Even though this is a topic that affects both genders, females are greatly affected. One of the executives spoke about being a single mother of four children at home and heading up a department at work. Unfortunately, this is an ideal environment for one to panic and feel under pressure. One piece of advice that I give my female mentees is that it is okay to not be superwoman and do it all. There is no error in occasionally asking for help and having a network of people who can help you navigate through the trials and tribulations of this life. One of my coaches once said that if you going to do something, give it your all and do it right, hence having assistance is essential.

3. Networking

We need to create a platform for women to connect with each other, reach out and support each other. Networking is the first step to building your net worth. When I started EMZ Advisory in 2015, I reached out to my intimate and broader network to get clients and new work. The relationships that I built 10 years ago are still working to my benefit and goodwill. Never underestimate the value of networking and putting yourself out there. You might be saying, “But Zipho, I am a shy person and its difficult for me to put myself out there. The first step is being uncomfortable and embracing the discomfort. Feel it and get over it for your own benefit.

4. Confidence

The greatest thing you can wear is a smile and confidence. If you do not believe in yourself, no one else will. If you get nervous while speaking in public, try speaking in front of the mirror or going for voice training. Dress up in nice clothes and embrace anything that boosts your confidence. Studies show that the first thing that people notice about your when they meet you for the first time is how you look and present yourself. Granted, building your confidence is not a one-day event, but it is worth investing in in the long term. My confidence has helped me overcome challenges, limit disbelief and live intentionally.

5. Showing Up

One of my biggest mottos in life is to always show up in all circumstances. In order to build your credibility and status, you need to fulfil the promises and commitments you make. Ensure that you are not well known for something negative. We all know that 1 person is notorious for being late or not honouring commitments. Do not be a person and make sure that you are known as the person who always goes the extra mile and extends a helping hand.

Whether you are a female or male, I believe that these five themes can resonate with you and inspire you to make positive changes in your life. We all need to work together to uplift women all the time, not just in March or August (Women’s month in South Africa). I am proud to say that we are the generation that is “Breaking the ceiling” and lessening the barriers for the next generation. The work is far from over, but most importantly, we have started.

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