An essential tool for creating a world where women are celebrated for their achievements means creating collaborative initiatives and surrounding yourself with like-minded people who lift you up, challenge you and support you, writes Anna Mokgokong.
As we have been taught and advised by our forebearers, and have been discovering over the years, no woman can achieve success and greatness on her own. We need each other. We need to strengthen each other collectively and utilise that to make a profound impact together. Together, we can achieve greatness and success. When we rise to speak, we must not speak for ourselves, but for the collective purpose.
As we celebrate Women’s Month under the theme, “Women’s Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment: Building Back Better for Women’s Improved Resilience,” we must accept that we are not going to be able to bring about change if we act selfishly in silos, we need to act selflessly.
I am often reminded of the wise words of my beloved mentor, Charlotte Maxeke, who once said, “If you can rise, bring someone with you.”
This is the principle that has guided my actions, and one that I believe forms the very essence of this year’s Women’s Month theme.
As a woman who has been fortunate enough to navigate a path of progression in my life, I have always believed in the power of authenticity and togetherness in empowering women to reach their full potential.
When I was honoured with the “women who make a difference” award in Las Vegas last year, it resulted from the collective strength of my networks, particularly my peers at the International Forum of South Africa, under the leadership of president Irene Charnley.
This recognition did not come solely from my achievements or self-promotion, but from the sisterhood networks I had built and cultivated over time.
Networks are integral to the fabric of building togetherness, they are the ones that bind us together and hold the potential to empower us as future leaders.
By forging meaningful connections with people from diverse walks of life, we can build the greatness we envision for ourselves and the upcoming generations.
I am grateful for the calibre of networks that I’ve built through my 41 years of being in business, and that goes for both males and females. Those who have never tried to change who I am as a person or my values, ambition, or goals, but have always enhanced and supported them, and also believed in me.
Even at my age, every day I learn something new from others and in turn, I impart knowledge to those who seek it.
Join the boys’ club
When I was the only female board member at Shoprite/Checkers, I learned to be resilient in order to survive among formidable males. You have to join them in their toughness, be part of the “boys club”, join them, don’t fear them. Be part of them. In no time, they’ll even forget that you are female and view you as one of them.
The self-doubt phenomenon should not exist, but rather, you should look at how to strengthen your knowledge to gain the necessary experience.
In this case, you’ll bring others on board.
I was able to implement policies supporting diversity and the implementation thereof. The outcome was pleasurable and heart-warming.
I have learnt that in a world that often pushes us to conform, the power of authenticity cannot be underestimated. When you lead as your genuine self, your potential will be unleashed. Inspire others to do the same and create an environment where diversity and inclusion thrive as our collective talent, expertise and efforts are what we require to achieve this greatness and success.
The adage of “support women, promote women” no longer suffices; we are just as tough, resilient and competent as our male counterparts. These two words, support and promote, make us sound like we are “pussycats” who need to be propped up.
All we require and need are opportunities. We have the ability to lead and achieve greatness, through that we can build our greater aspirations.
Our downfall as women in the past has been the tendency to build silos rather than building walls.
As a woman, don’t sit on all the resources you have that you must utilise, because you are resentful or self-centred to pass them on — the more, the merrier.
Let’s ignite the power that lies within us that will pave the way to greatness. We must talk and we must share experiences as we learn from others.
I know the challenges that come with raising children and managing families are extremely complex. Unfortunately, as women, we have that added responsibility.
However, I believe the answer lies in having a balanced life. We need to try and lead a joyful life because you can only extract the best out of yourself if you are peaceful and happy.
We must learn to navigate workplace stress and everyday family challenges and find ways to prioritise our well-being.
To build greatness collectively, we must begin with introspection to define our individual talents and goals.
We must identify our individual strengths and weaknesses and find ways of leveraging and mitigating them. We need to build strong teamwork ethics that call upon honesty and being frank with one another as we go about analysing ourselves.
If one member doesn’t pull her weight, she must be taken on, as it’s your responsibility as a sister to intervene. We shun at mediocrity. Rather, give valuable advice.
Sadly, women still question our abilities for leadership positions, some believe that those are positions of privilege. We need to silence that voice within, that nagging feeling of self-doubt.
Each one of us has the power to be a force for good, to inspire change and to support one another on the path to success.
Passion for our work
We should never view the upward progression of women as due to “sleeping our way to the top”, or “being favoured”.
Success is not a result of luck or favouritism but the outcome of a sequence of events in your life. We have earned our places through determination, hard work, talent and knowledge, passion for our work, and, at the same time being conscious about the communities that we live and work in that also require our support, mainly the development of the girl-child.
Our successes are not accidental or incidental; they are the outcomes of overcoming those barriers and standing strong in the face of adversity.
I have always believed that success begins with a solid education, that knowledge empowers us, and with confidence comes the ability to execute our work with excellence.
Lift your hand
My favourite saying goes: “lift your hand, be seen and counted.” Your good work will speak for itself, and not your baseless loudmouth.
As a woman, you must take crucial steps to build a solid foundation for your leadership journey. Embrace the art of self-discovery, learn to be bold, and trust your abilities and instincts.
I often add another, and that is intuition. Then, you can place yourself where you believe you belong and rise. Be humble as you go about that, carry yourself with dignity, humility and not arrogance.
Let us remember the words of Lady Gaga when she said: “Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you it doesn’t love you anymore.”
Establishing collaborative initiatives and surrounding yourself with like-minded people who lift you up, challenge you and support you is the essential tool for creating a world where women are celebrated for their achievements.
Let us build greatness together as women.
– Dr Anna Mokgokong is chairperson of Community Investment Holdings and Chancellor of North West University
Article first published on NEWS24 – August 29, 2023.