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Unisa online - Women leaders must be rainmakers not gatekeepers

Unisa’s women achievers were also acknowledged at the dinner. Pictured are Prof Bernadene de Clercq (Head: Personal Finance Research Unit and Winner in the Significant Achievements category), Prof Ruth de Villiers (College of Science and Engineering and Winner of the Transformative and Servant Leadership award), Mandu Makhanya (Directorate: Counselling and Career Development), Prof Narend Baijnath (Unisa Pro-Vice-Chancellor), Dr Judy Henning (Chief Operations Officer: Unisa Women’s Forum), Dr Genevieve James (Executive Assistant in the Office of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Winner of the Gender Activism – Advocacy and Promotion of Women’s Rights award), Rachel Prinsloo (Unisa Women’s Forum), and Prof Mandla Makhanya (Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor)

“It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. I always say it takes a sisterhood to affirm and raise a real women leader,” said the inspiring and exemplary Nolitha Fakude.

The SASOL Executive Director was speaking at Unisa’s Women’s Empowerment Gala Dinner on 8 August 2012, where she not only spoke on the importance of policy development, which is key to achieving equal rights between men and women across all sectors, but she also addressed the importance of women leaders and decision-makers extending the circle of opportunities to ensure that other women grow in their careers. Women, she said, should not stand in their own way, and women leaders should not impede another woman’s growth.

Fakude said women in leadership positions need to reconsider their roles as leaders and decision-makers. “Women have got to understand what it is that underpins their agenda of leadership, personally and collectively. We have to embrace the fact that as women in our generation, more has been given to us, and therefore much more is expected of us, especially as decision-makers. The questions we should be asking ourselves and others in leadership and decision-making positions is how do I extend the circle of opportunities to others for them to participate in economic development in a fair and transparent way.”

SASOL Executive Director, Nolitha Fakude
SASOL Executive Director, Nolitha Fakude

She said there is a higher expectation for women leaders to transform and be change agents than there is for their male counterparts. “All I can tell you is that by empowering another woman, you are affirming your own identity, so it is a role that I take on with great relish and honour.  Becoming a door opener, rather than a gatekeeper is something that I believe most women need to do. I call most of my sisters ‘rainmakers’, and these are the sisters that I may or may not know… I urge most of us, as women and as leaders, to continue to be rainmakers and champions for other women, whether they are there or not, and whether we know them or not.” 


Given the low numbers of South African women leaders in the private sector, Fakude posed a question: “What do we need to do as leaders to seriously accelerate the advancement of women in all these sectors. As decision-makers, we each must challenge ourselves, and ask, how many women, and others who are vulnerable and marginalised in our society and community, can I impact positively?”

Fakude suggested a few interventions:

  • Well thought-out polices in business, academia and government. “We may never know how many people we have helped, but a greater sense of accomplishment comes with knowing that you have been part of policy formulation that has impacted on people’s lives meaningfully.”
  • Creating gender sensitive workplace practices and behaviours.
  • Creating an enabling work environment and culture for other women to grow, strive and blossom to their fullest potential.
  • Participating in mentorship and coaching, particularly for young people. “I would encourage that you go for opportunities to mentor others and coach others, particularly young people, because they coach you back. They challenge you in terms of your consistency, they challenge you in terms of your integrity, they challenge you in terms of whether you live by the values you espouse as a leader, and they challenge you in terms of holding you accountable for collective leadership and walking the talk.”

Career intelligence is essential

At a personal level, “career intelligence”, according to Fakude is what women should have to boost their own career trajectory. “This intelligence is demonstrated by embracing policies and interventions that are put in place to support women empowerment and advancement, as well as accepting that you are the captain of your ship.”

Labelled the five Cs, Fakude said, career planning, linked to your personal goals; changing your career path by sometimes taking the less obvious or less popular route and looking for opportunities and projects where your ideas and thoughts are heard; courage to become visible and brave, and to ask for, and assume additional responsibilities, and promotion; developing curiosity to learn; and ensuring connectedness, where you have a support network in place, is important for career growth.

Policies: Affirmative Action and Employment Equity should not be an obstacle

“Not until we (women) are well represented can we afford to have this snobbish attitude of, ‘I am not an affirmative action or employment equity candidate’. Grab the opportunities and help change the policies and processes once you are on board. If you are not in, you are not going to be able to be a part of the decision-making processes. So forget about the fact of affirmative action or employment equity, just take the opportunity and run with it,” said Fakude.

Harpist, Davina Mortlock (SOUL SOLO) welcomed guests with her soothing melodies
Harpist, Davina Mortlock (SOUL SOLO) welcomed guests with her soothing melodies

She concluded with examples of policies that speak to the progressive nature and gender sensitivity of Scandinavian countries. A change in mindset, she said, is vital. “In 2008, the Norwegian government legislated that all publicly listed companies should have 40% of each sex on their boards. This rigid top-down approach has been met with great success in Norway, and other countries are adopting similar measures.”

“This proves also, that some things should not be left to market forces, even in a democratic country with a robust constitution. A number of countries have adopted progressive legislation, making it easier for women, and men, to balance families with career demands… As women and leaders in various fields, we should therefore continue to advocate and lobby for progressive policies in our respective places of work, as this is still the one key strategic lever to pull, in accelerating the advancement of women in our society.”

Higher Education’s input

Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Mandla Makhanya, who spoke on the imperative for higher education to advance gender equality and empowerment for Africa’s development, said women’s month is a time – however, not the only time – to explore and understand the barriers and contradictions which avert women from attaining their full and optimal potential. “This is particularly important because we do not want to promote a sense of triumphalism as though there are no challenges to gender equality and women’s empowerment in diverse spaces, including the work place.”

“It is also clear from our analyses and research, while South Africa may be making significant progress in the advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment with generally good numbers of women in positions of leadership, there is equally a great need to ensure that women find themselves in an enabling environment where their quest for success and excellence can flourish.”

Prof Makhanya said it is especially important for those in positions of leadership – whether in universities, public sector, corporate/private sector and civil society – to work together, to advance African society, and particularly women. “It is equally important as Unisa to ensure the full integration of women’s leadership, work and insights into our core mandate; that is, teaching and learning, research, development and innovation and community engagement.”

He spoke about Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s appointment as the first female African Union Chairperson, saying, apart from her being an astute political leader with a successful work record, her successes as a scientist and medical doctor also speak volumes of the calibre of women that younger girls should aspire to emulate. “It is even more interesting for us as an institution of higher learning that her success as a scientist and medical doctor, and her translation and transference of skills from natural sciences to local and continental leadership, ought to be celebrated.”

As part of Unisa’s transformation efforts, Makhanya spoke about the Transformation Charter, known within the university community as the 11Cs + 1. “This charter is one of the ways we aim at ensuring our commitment to making Unisa an enabling environment for all its students, staff and stakeholders.  An enabling environment allows and supports people’s talents, their intellectual quest for research and development, teaching and learning and community engagement, in order that the university not only produces knowledge, but contributes to local, regional and global development. As a university we have accentuated the role of women researchers and scholars.”

Nomfusi and the Lucky Charms performed during the course of the evening
Nomfusi and the Lucky Charms performed during the course of the evening

The Women’s Empowerment Gala Dinner is a flagship programme of the office of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Mandla Makhanya, aimed at:

  • Commemorating Women’s Month and National Women’s Day, and creating a forum for discussion on women’s plight and empowerment in the present and for the future.
  • Showcasing the successes of women intellectuals/ scholars/ innovators/ scientists/ and public leaders.
  • Exposing emerging scholars, youth and young adults to a plethora of successful women in the academic, public and private sectors who are trailblazers in their areas of work, expertise and/or contribution to the advancement of South Africa, Africa and the world.
  • Promoting the commitment to social justice, particularly gender justice as a key component of a successful university and/or Africa’s future.
  • Cultivating relationships with the public, corporate and civil society leaders with the potential of yielding long-term relations aimed at exploring private/public partnership on research and innovation by women.
  • Advancing inter/multidisciplinary research outputs that map out the diverse issues related to women in science, development, politics and civic and civil society engagement.

*Written by Rivonia Naidu

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