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Fumani Mthembi and Teresa Oakley-Smith, both MDs and founders of their own successful businesses, share their personal stories of fighting gender and racial stereotypes in pursuit of a dream.

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Fumani Mthembi is a founding member of the Pele Energy Group, South Africa's largest 100% black-owned independent power production and development firm. She is the MD of its research and development subsidiary, Knowledge Pele (KP). Teresa Oakley-Smith is the founding member of Diversi-T, a change management consultancy with a focus on transformation and diversity training. 


Fumani and Teresa spoke at this year’s Investec Women in Leadership event, centred on ‘The Courage to Change' and recorded a podcast with Investec on thriving as a businesswoman in a male-dominated world.


"The thing about being an entrepreneur is it isn't an upward trajectory. Diversi-T has gone through cycles; up and down times. I had to sell a house at one point cause even though the business was performing poorly, I still had such a belief in the dream. You have to make a plan. You have to make a way," says Teresa. 

Fumani and Teresa bring two very different and useful perspectives to the discussion on: 'What are we as women doing to challenge the patriarchal mindset that dominates politics and business alike?' But in their call to action directed at women of all races, their message is loud and clear: "We've got to come together and take our power."

Jump to the sections you're most interested in by scrolling to the time codes provided below


01:03 Fumani and Teresa tell their founding stories.  

03:23 Teresa talks about how her passion for breaking down barriers -of race, gender, culture- even language- started.  

04:46 Fumani reveals the sacrifices she made to keep her business afloat.

04:48 Where does the courage to try something new and risky come from? 

07:58 Teresa explains how she needed to sell her home in order to keep her dream alive. 

10:17 Black Economic Empowerment: How its worked and what needs to change.  

14:45 The importance of education in empowerment. 


Fumani Mthembi, founder and MD of Energy Pele
Fumani Mthembi, Pele Energy group

Starting a business is like gambling at a slot machine. If you sit there long enough you’ll win. I don’t know how to abandon ship.

15:57 Discussion around opportunities that exist in all sectors, but especially banking. 

17:25 Teresa and Fumani discuss how stereotypes need to be broken down

19:18 Corporates need to build environments that encourage diversity.

20:12 Why Fumani describes herself as privileged when she comes from two previously disadvantaged groups. 

23:53 Teresa speaks about the rising sense of anger felt by those marginalised. 

25:13 Fumani and Teresa explain the challenges inherent in being a female entrepreneur. 

27:39 The need for women to appreciate, and seize, the power they already hold.

32:00 Fumani says of the 25 employees at Pele, only five are men.

33:00 Women are hardworking and bright but risk adverse. 

Teresa Oakley-Smith, Founder and MD of Diversi-T
Teresa Oakley-Smith, Diversi-T

I’ve had to work twice or three times as hard as male competitors to gain a contract.

About the author

Caroline Edey-van Wyk

Caroline Edey-van Wyk

Brand Editor

Colloquially known as Investec’s “storyteller,” Caroline curates and produces all the content that underpins Investec's Out of the Ordinary brand promise. She works across the business but specialises in the areas of Sustainability, CSI, Sponsorships and HR. Caroline holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree in Political Science and Broadcasting - cum laude. Before she joined Investec she was a broadcast journalist at Sky News and eNCA.

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