08 Mar 2019

6 leadership lessons from inspiring women

Ingrid Booth

Digital content producer, Investec

With true grit and determination, they have made it to the top of their game, despite gender barriers they have faced as high-achieving career women.  Here, some of Investec’s most inspirational women share their leadership learnings. 

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Chase experience

Chemical Engineer Nkateko Mathonsi, a resource analyst in Investec’s Corporate and Institutions business, has literally been at the coal face of gender inequality since she began her career in mining. From working at mines around the country, Nkateko built up her knowledge on the ground. Her advice to up and coming business women is, in the words of Steve Jobs, “Do your work, and hope that later on, the dots will connect.”

 

I’ve worked in remote areas, I’ve worked in Messina, Kimberly and Springs, and today I can tap into all that experience. At the beginning, and even now, I wasn’t chasing money – I was chasing experience. So my biggest advice is to chase that experience. Trust that if you put the right building blocks first, the dots will connect and everything else will fall into place.

Nkateko Mathonsi - equity analyst - resources, deputy head of research, Investec
Nkateko Mathonsi, equity analyst - resources, deputy head of research

At the beginning, and even now, I wasn’t chasing money – I was chasing experience.

Own your place at the table

Single mum of three, Rufaida Ismail is the head of payments at Investec. She went against the grain of her immigrant Muslim family’s wishes for her to become a doctor and instead followed her instinct into the business world.

 

Describing her leadership style as “unapologetic, consultative and respectful, with an underlying base of integrity,” Rufaida’s advice to other women on the rise is to never take no for an answer.

 

“In a very patriarchal society, women often play victim to that default patriarchal response and this passive acceptance helps no one. Women also tend to apologise a lot. We walk into a room and say “sorry I’m late” while our male colleagues generally never apologise for their lateness. They simply fill up the room and claim their space - us women need to do more of that.”

Rufaida Ismail - head of payments, Investec
Rufaida Ismail, head of payments, Investec

In a very patriarchal society, women often play victim to that default patriarchal response and this passive acceptance helps no one.

Embrace being a woman

Having cut her teeth in the investment banks of Wall Street, working mum of two, Alexandra (Ali) Nortier, National Wealth Management Joint Head at Investec Wealth & Investment, is well versed in carving her own path through a male-dominated environment.

 

She learnt the power of embracing her female self from her mother, a pioneering South African career woman, and from an inspirational female boss in New York who “made no apologies for being a working mother”. Her advice to other women is not to try and emulate men in the workplace.

 

“I once heard a quote that said: ‘We expect women to work as if they don’t have children, but to raise children as if they don’t work’,” says Ali who tries hard to seek the elusive balance between work and family.

 

She believes that you need to be true to yourself at work: “Bring your fabulous female selves to work. I can be a woman at work. In my mum’s day, working women could never mention that they needed to organise play dates, let alone breastfeed babies!”

 

Alexandra Nortier - Joint Head of Wealth Management, Investec Wealth & Investment
Alexandra Nortier, Joint Head of Wealth Management, Investec Wealth & Investment

We expect women to work as if they don’t have children, but to raise children as if they don’t work.

Stay in your lane

CEO Nonhlanhla Mayisela has defied all odds to rise to the top of Izandla Property a majority black-owned property company powered by Investec Property and the Investec Property Fund. Her advice is to pick an area of the business where you can learn the ropes and to have the patience to stay put while you do so.

 

"My first piece of advice would be ‘stay in your lane’, focus on your personal journey and growth path and don’t be too concerned about what others are doing. Women place tremendous pressure on themselves to outperform and this can derail their focus.

 

"Be patient: both with yourself and your environment. It takes time to build technical knowledge, solid relationships and credibility."

Nonhlanhla Mayisela - CEO Izandla Property
Nonhlanhla Mayisela , CEO Izandla Property

My first piece of advice would be ‘stay in your lane’, focus on your personal journey and growth path and don’t be too concerned about what others are doing.

Teach your children about equality

Makoena Mabusela, an Aviation Finance Consultant in Investec’s Corporate and Institutions business, put herself through university and built up a successful career in the logistics and aviation industries where female leaders are very hard to find. Her advice as a working mum of five is to raise your children to respect someone’s gender.

 

"For me, whether it is a boy or girl, I try to live and teach them the same values. I know these days there’s a great spotlight on girls, but I think at the same time we can’t leave the boys behind. Above all, we must make sure boys respect girls and really learn equality. I teach them to “fear no one but respect all”, to make sure their voices are heard, but do it respectfully and with confidence."

Makoena Mabusela - aviation finance specialist
Makoena Mabusela , aviation finance specialist

I know these days there’s a great spotlight on girls, but I think at the same time we can’t leave the boys behind. Above all, we must make sure boys respect girls and really learn equality.

Look for male mentors too

In her journey to becoming the Head of Digital for Investec South Africa, Devina Maharaj credits male mentors as some of her most important role models. 

 

"I try not to confine myself to only women as inspirational figures, because I think men play a huge role in championing and sponsoring women in the workplace."

Nonhlanhla concurs: "Sometimes we focus too much on female mentors and often they’re simply not there, or they may not have the capacity to mentor as they may be battling with the same challenges as you are. So, I would say you should focus on building relationships with people that believe in you and are willing to support you along your journey of growth, that could be a male or female."

Devina’s other important piece of advice is to remain true to yourself: "People often say female leaders need to lead like men but I’m proud to say that I’ve burst into tears in meetings, and I wear my heart on my sleeve most days – which shows others that it’s ok to be your real self. I don’t shout the loudest or aim to be the most aggressive, but I still hold my ground. I also often purposefully wear a dress when I go into an important meeting because I want people to remember that I’m a woman, and that’s a powerful thing."

Devina Maharaj - head of digital, Investec
Devina Maharaj, head of digital, Investec SA

I also often purposefully wear a dress when I go into an important meeting because I want people to remember that I’m a woman, and that’s a powerful thing.

Women on the rise

Read more inspirational stories about Investec women in business, education and sport.

About the author

Ingrid Booth image

Ingrid Booth

Lead digital content producer

Ingrid Booth is a consumer magazine journalist who made the successful transition to corporate PR and back into digital publishing. As part of Investec's Brand Centre digital content team, her role entails coordinating and producing multi-media content from across the Group for Investec's publishing platform, Focus.

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