One of my earlier experiences of self-promotion was through a mentor (now turned sponsor) of mine who did It on my behalf, and it eventually led me to working with a multi-billion dollar global intelligence and media firm in their first innovation labs in an emerging market and being the first hire. A proud moment (and notice, this is also a showcase of my badassery) that will definitely stay with me for a lifetime. As I began navigating the world of work, never mind that of corporate, I noticed that both young and old professionals (especially women) have a hard task of talking about how badass they were and taking credit in the projects that they were involved in, something that bothered me much, because I definitely saw a part of me in this, and whenever I could, self-regulate.
“I think she sometimes forgets that she’s a junior executive, I feel like she would never work well with other people because she’s always talking about the work that she does.”, a comment reserved about me by a senior executive in industry a few months ago.
While for some cultural, and others religious or spiritual teachings and for another group, a cocktail of all these ways of learning and being, self-promotion is and has always been something associated with vanity. Even with the definitions below, sourced from Oxford Dictionary and Merriam Webster Dictionary respectively, notice not only the structure of the definitions, but also the gender placement per definition.
noun: self-promotion; plural noun: self-promotions
the action of promoting or publicizing oneself or one's activities, especially in a forceful way.
"she's guilty of criminally bad taste and shameless self-promotion"
Definition of self-promotion
: the act of furthering one's own growth, advancement, or prosperity : the promotion of oneself didn't try to disguise his self-promotion
Because self-promotion is deemed more of a masculine exercise, when women do it, it comes across as not only trying to join a boy’s club, but also adopting a swear word. Weird, isn’t it? Or does this sound familiar? This means that we also incur a double cost, socially and professionally. Seen as less likeable, advocating too strongly when we raise our profile but also when we don’t do it, seen as incompetent leaders who won’t see their value and their worth and are passively getting by with their work. There’s also the esteemed professional proverb of “Let the work talk for itself” that cements these values around self-promotion. We’ve ironed out the semantics and politics around this matter, how do we now actualise it?
In her (revised and update) book, Nice Girls Still Don’t Get The Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make to Sabotage Their Careers, author Dr Lois P. Frankel talks about the importance of taking yourself out of your sweet spot and highlights that “… It’s important to take yourself out of the women’s safe zone and toward the edge of the field where the winners are playing.”
In recognising that, let’s invest in the power of three, and start with these three marching orders to kickstart your journey to raising your profile and tapping into the badass that you are:
1. Leverage Social Media
Whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn, these platforms add value dependent on how you use them. Just like any conversation, it’s a give and take of listening and allowing your community and followers to talk about themselves, and an opportunity for you to talk about what’s relevant to the conversation or one that you want to drive. Share about your work win for the week, a speaking engagement that you participated in, sharing and congratulating the work of your fellow industry peers and/or friends and even a book that you’re reading with a mini review. These small steps and a strategy in place will definitely allow you to start thinking about how you can take the opportunity of the internet and its community to elevate your profile, and serve your community and purpose.
2. Tell your Truth - Authentically
When you have worked on a successful (or not so much) project and were the lead of a team, and post that on social media, that is the truth and whether you share the winnings or losses and lessons behind that, that is authentic content. However, if you’re taking all the glory in something that required the work of 2-10 other people, that’s you being an actual self-righteous and ill mannered non-team player. The only form of self-promotion that’s tactful, is one of truth and truth told authentically. And, as uncomfortable as sharing this may be with the world, remember that you did it and this is your opportunity to move towards operating outside your comfort and toward the edge. Career opportunities, and mentorships also arise from doing this, so if not for yourself, then from the other young and older people who gets inspired.
3. An Opportunity for Mentorship
It’s not always rosy, and as much as we share our successes, I’m a big believer that it’s also just as important to share your losses and challenges. This, because in as much as we may not want to admit it, whenever we have a platform or communities, we have a responsibility with how we use it, because people look up to you. How you drive and use that conversation and responsibility, that is completely up to you. Share your journey to connect dots, and information so that other may be empowered.
This won’t be easy, but I want you to try!
The comment by the senior executive, did it pinch? A little, however after I understood that the core of their reasoning was based on my self-promotion and not the lack of truth or authenticity about my actual work, I opened a bottle of wine and focused on how I could continue connecting the dots for other women, so that more magic and impact may be amplified and badassery be multiplied. This, is also important in the spaces that you allow yourself to thrive in, they become a catalyst in themselves. A recent experience of this was at the launch of The W Collective at the World Economic Forum on Africa. This is a lounge, a community of women who are focused on elevating the profile, high level discussions and networking of industry leaders who are focused on advancing career progression and personal development, and as it says in the name, we're more powerful as a collective. So ladies, get to your marching orders, and operate with what I like to call my "Personal Board of Directors", and cause a shift and change in the world with your badassery!
Images: The W Collective -
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on the website, and between work, school and the new role with Circle of Young Intrapreneurs as Chapter Lead, an incredible global organisation for young intrapreneurs, it’s been a tough balance but I want to thank you for the continued support and constant resharing and engagement with the content. As such, I thought it only fair to share on some of the activities that’s been keeping me busy on these streets which includes some speaking, mentoring and some contributions on other platforms.
Some speaking engagements included:
1. Facilitating the Cape Innovation Technology Initiative Tech Skills Readiness Programme with their Software Engineering cohort as they embark on their careers. This is a great programme that looks at aspiring software engineering students largely from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, and seeds knowledge and skills so as to cultivate the STEM future workforce for South Africa! An incredible knowledge sharing afternoon it was.
2. When this email came into my inbox, I couldn’t stop beaming. It was the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation and what made me happier was the request to mentor for the day and share my journey was with their Youth@Work and their 60 phenomenal young women, who looked like me and came from the same township and a desire for knowledge and access was there. The opportunity was to engage with these young women on finding employment and choosing a career path – which as we all know how intimidating it can be when you’re still in your late teens. I’m so honoured to be able to get the constant opportunity to engage with young, black women and use my platform for such, to empower with information and access more than anything - be it through work or otherwise. I was left inspired ?❤
3. About two weeks ago, I flew to Pretoria to facilitate a panel discussion on Power and Influence of Young Trailblazers in Corporate and Business that had fellow One Young World Ambassador Farai Mubaiwa on the panel. The Young Corporate Leader‘s Women’s Day celebrations included a keynote addresses by Ipeleng Mkhari and Dr Matete Madiba, just to mention a few of the phenomenal women who got to use their platforms and engage with us. Well done to fellow Ambassador Kamogelo Lesabe for pulling this stunning event together with your team
4. I really do enjoy spending my time with my peers and those even younger, especially still in their teens and impressionable when it comes to making impactful decisions like what subject choices and the career choices that are available for their choosing – of course the bias in me leans towards STEM careers, especially in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I got to have some time with these students at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) recently. Mmaki Jantjies, Head of Information Systems at UWC shared the experience.
Associate Professor at SARChI, Chair of African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, University of Johannesburg on his podcast. In it, we looked at the role of Venture Capital as well as other ingredients for start-up success in South Africa, which can be found in this link - https://soundcloud.com/mzukisiq/start-up-opportunities-and-venture-capital , aswell as a feature on Daily Maverick on South Africa’s Silent Start-Up Revolution which he authoured
One the most impactful and growing technology entrepreneurial schools in Africa is Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), which over the years has premise in Ghana and recently Nigeria and South Africa, with plans to launch in Ivory Coast and Kenya soon. I had the opportunity to host a session on Open Innovation and Community Building at one of their Community Conversations in Cape Town, as well as share some of the nuggets from the experience and my journey as a junior executive in corporate innovation- https://meltwater.org/open-innovation-and-community-building-with-vuyolwethu-dubese/
It was the cover image that captured my attention to pick up the book and lean in, the image of two black women in their beautiful black hair, smiling at each other. With closer attention, I learned that one of the familiar faces with one of South Africa’s most decorated woman in business and leadership, Dr Judy Dlamini. It was the third point of observation, the title on the cover “Equal But Different: Women Leaders’ Life Stories – Overcoming Race, Gender and Social Class” and paging through the pages and seeing the black powerful women leaders profiled that convinced me to eventually buy the book with much excitement.
“My interest in this area of study is based on my strong belief that people are born equal but different. It is a belief that equity across gender, race, social class and sexual orientation will be attained in my lifetime.”
This is the opening quote of the first chapter of the book, where Dr Judy Dlamini unpacks the motivation for choosing the social identities of race, gender and class to carry the narrative of the book and the genesis of the book’s conception. The strongly academic tone of this opening chapter (very well consistent throughout the book) is sweetened by a framework suggested by authors Dlamini fondly quotes Nkomo and Ngambi (2009), a meso-level approach to women leadership that is operational at Societal, Individual and Organisational Level.
I’m so incredibly excited to be affirmed every day I see a sea of women, and particularly for my societal identity, black women who are successful in business and technology. Representation matters, it does, and what matters within the confines and decoration of the politics of the image of your role models is also what they consume to inform their society. Taking into account the time period of Apartheid that these women grew up in, the socialism of not only gender but race played a role in how their lives turned out and ultimately, what class they managed to place themselves in, consciously and unconsciously.
In the chapter that followed, Dr Dlamini goes on to profile numerous leaders including United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, CEO of Barclays Africa’s Maria Ramos, Founder of Fly Blue Crane’s Siza Mzimela, and current President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa to name a few – this is where it got real for me.
The general consensus from the series of interviews confirmed this for me from the array of women leaders interviewed:
· Most of the women interviewed were black women, and the further education either in Europe or North America afforded them the entry point into the social class privilege that they enjoy today
· Men, and especially white men seem to be better mentors and sponsors to women at the start and peak of their careers
· Black women don’t see white women as allies, mainly because as Gloria Serobe puts it “…. White women are struggling to accept that they were marginalised; the fact is that they were. They benefitted from employment equity.”
From foreign perspectives of both women and men leaders, the consumption of feminism from both men and men to the strategy of quotas to enable more women into not only boards but also the transition from middle-level to senior-level management, this book peeled many layers to its honest core. The one unpleasantry of the book had to be the constant repetition of quotes from Chapter 2 “South African women’s life journeys” throughout the book from Chapters 3 onwards through to the final chapter. The reference of the chapters were written in a manner as though the reader started reading from Chapter 3 and skipped pages, instead from the beginning.
“There was consensus among the interviewees that women tended to work in support departments, which did not expose them to leadership positions. Cora emphasised the importance of being in a revenue-generating position within the organisation as a success strategy, while Tomatoe Serobe, co-founder and CEO of WipCapital, emphasised the need for women to understand the business of their company as a whole rather than only the small division where they worked.”
For a young woman starting out in her career and/or business, this is a book of great insights and a look at what not only successful black women representation looks like, but also a consultation on where and how one would draw the line in being an ableist of sexism, tokenism and other –isms in your career journey. Take heed of the strategies and advice supplied by these global leaders and do your best in your journey.
Images : Dillion Phiri.