Expert advice to help businesswomen stay on top

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Women entrepreneurs wear many hats: mother, housekeeper, wife, nurse, businesswoman, bargain hunter, etc. So, we have made it easy and asked Fetola’s expert team of women mentors for advice on how to overcome the most serious challenges facing South African businesswomen.

How do I react when men flirt?

Nomvuyo Bengane: This is quite common among the young females when they deal males that they pitch to for business – guys in procurement departments and generally other men that they interact with.  One buinesswoman decided not to go to networking events because she didn’t know how to deal with this.  I coached her by asking her how she would grow her business if she did not attend. She realised she was being a victim and decided to take her power back by being professional, being alert to flirting, and directly and courageously calling it when someone was making advances towards her.

What do I do about Pull Her Down Syndrome?

Sezanele Zondi: Women can be undervalued by other women who have what we call a Phd – a pull her down syndrome. They see other women as rivals and do not support one another. In order to break the cycle, you can lead by example and mentor other aspiring entrepreneurs.

How do I get the work-home balance right?

Nomvuyo Bengane: As we all know our businesses may place certain demands on our time – and the lines between home and work can easily become blurred.  It is especially difficult for married women who still play the traditional female role of doing household chores as well as looking after children.  Research shows that men are naturally able to shut off to the softer needs of their household – whereas it is more difficult for women to do so. I encourage women to:

1) communicate and negotiate with their husbands so that household responsibilities can be shared.

2) Be conscious of your time.  Sometimes business does encroach on family time for a reason, but you need to learn to manage time better by knowing how to prioritise and creating systems can help with this.

3) Sometimes the fear of losing business may make them accede to unrealistic customer demands on their time.  I encourage them to own the power to manage customer expectations elegantly.

How can we support our young, sister entrepreneurs?

Corinne Clack: As a senior consultant- and older woman, I see a lack of confidence in young women entering male-dominated industries such as manufacturing, engineering and the like.  I trained unemployed people in entrepreneurship for 10 years and there, too, found a distinct difference in the confidence levels and risk profiles of younger, black ladies compared to their male counterparts.  We need to use available female role models and mentors more to support our young sisters on their first steps up the corporate ladder. This support should, ideally, be available and implemented in schools.

How can I improve my confidence?

Nomvuyo Bengane: Women have been told so often that they cannot make it they have unconsciously accepted it.  Mostly, they are not aware that they are limiting themselves.

1)      Invest in personal development.

2)      Know your life purpose and pursue it. Your life purpose reminds you that you are unique, you are great and you have an assignment to serve others.  Playing small does not serve you and your life purpose.

3)      Do not take failure personally.  It is an important part of learning.

How do we overcome prejudice against successful women?

Elmarie Goosen: Something that I see regularly is the cultural belief that a successful woman achieved success through some sort of immoral act or witchcraft. I believe that, over time, as we tell the stories of success and celebrate it, the mindset will change. For now, all we can do is to give these women the tools to stay the course and be resilient in the face of gossip and malice.  One of the female entrepreneurs I worked with had to get herself a bodyguard when she was working onsite as she was threatened by a rural community who believed she was a witch. She is a qualified engineer who is running a very successful mining operation.

How do I develop a prosperity mindset?

Nomvuyo Bengane: The tendency to buy designer clothes and bags, weaves, etc in order to give an impression of “success” is more common among female entrepreneurs.   But this is a poverty mindset. I tell my mentees:

1)      Do not allow you identity to be defined by momentary things.

2)      Understand what wealth is and define it for yourself

3)      Inculcate a prosperity mindset.  A prosperity mindset understands the need to save and to delay gratification for greater rewards.

There you have it. Sage advice from our mentors on how to overcome challenges. Sezanele Zondi shared some parting advice: “As a woman you might face intimidation which can result in a low self-esteem. I believe that you should never argue or try to prove that you are capable, but let your work speak for itself. If you remain focused and principled your hard work and dedication will pay off.