strategically within industry in order to take advantage of the opportunities associated with the recent strategic focus by the Department of Trade and Industry to create 100 black industrialists in the next three years. Would this be another talk shop?
We Can’t Do It Solo
Lijeng Mokoatle was the keynote speaker at this gathering of the SASDC. She is one of those people with that endearing mix of charm and ‘street smart’ – and she knows what she wants and goes out to achieve it: no excuses. A quantity surveyor by profession, she is familiar with the challenges that go hand in hand with being a woman in male-dominated terrain.
Mokoatle is a managing member of Lettam Building and Civils and a Construction Excellence Award winner. As a qualified quantity surveyor, she has over 20 years’ experience.
If the wording on the invitation sounds intimidating, Mokoatle isn’t. She soon disarms her audience with her candour and warmth. “When I looked at my role as a queen in the house, you must protect the king. We must honour our sons, husbands and business associates for this to work. We can’t do it solo,” she says.
She understands men more than she does women. Mokoatle has worked for the likes of Group Five, Stocks and Stocks (as it was known then) and Murray & Roberts. She has big ambitions and states them boldly. “I personally would like to acquire a company as big as Sasol,” she states.
When the Going Gets Tough
“What helps us is the relationship that we have built. Three years ago, we had financial problems. Government was not paying us for many, many months. I felt like we were going down. We couldn’t collect money. We attended training here at Barloworld. I met a financial man here in the corridor and told him that, if we don’t get paid at the end of the month, we will have to close shop and go home.”
Thanks to the timeous assistance that Lettam Building and Civils received from Barloworld, Mokoatle is now able to say with confidence: “Financial freedom is inevitable when you go into business. It is difficult. It is risky. But the rewards are more than the risks.”
Gaining Entry to Opportunities
“The construction sector is still very male and white-oriented,” says Mokoatle. “They have built a wall around them, so, to penetrate them, you must be very muscular.” She is intent on finding another industry in which her business can diversify its interests. Further, she upholds the notion that it is dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket. Ideally, she would like to find a line of business aligned to her business, like supplying pipes.
But whatever business she is in, Mokoatle maintains that it is essential that women stand up against the control of others. She sees no reason why, as a woman operating a business in the corporate world, she cannot have the same as others. “Every nation is built by economically empowered individuals,” she explains.
She is aware of where her business stands in terms of its growth path. “We are past the mentorship stage, yet we are not reaping the fruits. We are at the stage where we need to acquire,” she notes.
The panellists at the event are dynamic, articulate businesswomen and share stories that many can relate to. Some are feisty. Besides having five degrees, Dr Renee Horne is a senior lecturer at Wits Business School and a former SABC war correspondent. She was once told to blow-dry her hair. “So you look calmer!” recalls Dr Horne. She recommends that women ask – and fight – for what they want.
Donna Rachelson is CEO of Seed Engine and Incubator and the author of Play to Win – What Women Can Learn from Men in Business. “The game of men was invented by men. Let’s understand the rules by which men play business,” she urges. Rachelson perceives South Africa as being very prejudiced in redressing inequalities regarding women. She cites a startling statistic: 21% of corporates have no women in management.
A Way to Go
Asked whether the SASDC has been successful in leveraging corporate supply chains, the question is met with a resounding no from the members present. On the other hand, the observation is made that black suppliers are not adequately marketing themselves. Those present agree that women could better leverage their potential by embracing the approach that men have towards business.
Rachelson shares the example of a woman thinking of phoning a business connection she hasn’t seen in six months. “As women we tend to think: ‘What is she going to think of me?’ A woman thinks in terms of relationships, whereas a man thinks in terms of winning or losing.”
Patience is called for as much as the will to make things happen. She recommends that businesswomen think in terms of giving rather than getting. There is wisdom in that.
Rewards of Entrepreneurship Outweigh Risks
We have businesses, and then we have businesses run by women. So what, you ask? Well, when there are expressions like ‘sorting the men from the boys, first port of call, and so on’, it becomes clear that, in many respects, it still is a man’s world.
August being Women’s Month, the South African Supplier Diversity Council (SASDC) extended an invitation to businesswomen and to the media. The SASDC promotes the added value inherent in sustainable supplier diversity through targeted procurement and black supplier development.
The invitation to the event sported an attention-getting title: Positioning the Black Queen on the Chess Board of Industry. The focus would be on how black women can position themselves
by Samantha Barnes