A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) indicates that a mere 3.31% of chief executives are women in JSE-listed companies. While it is an improvement, the scales are skewed to mentor other women who are climbing the ladder, however, Thembi Mazibuko, CFO at Masslift Africa is grateful to the leadership coaching she received throughout her career trajectory.

Mazibuko’s tenacity is evident in her list of qualifications and work experience and results of her belief of not waiting to be given opportunities but rather reaching out and taking it is clear in her rise to the ranks of Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Thembi says, “I aspired to make it into the C-suite as quickly as possible, so I knew that I had to apply myself to any task given to me and offer my assistance on projects led by others.“

Her journey was not without challenges which saw her questioning herself on work/life balance when she became a mother early in her career. The workplace does not permit leave when children get sick or for their first day of school – a deadline is a deadline; a deliverable is a deliverable.

Confused by the feedback she received that she was not aggressive enough or assertive enough because of her compassion and camaraderie with her team, Thembi forged her own way by being true to herself. She learned to express herself with passion at the risk of being emotional and she will try her hand at golf because you either learn to play golf to fit in or you get left out.

The young CFO operates in an engineering and manufacturing environment, known to be dominated by men and she confidently occupies the space by being deliberate about showcasing her achievements and not waiting for others to recognise her competencies and skills. Masslift values diversity and inclusion, which is seen in the 50% representation of females in the leadership team. Talent discussions happen regularly at senior level and key individuals are identified for the talent pipeline and are coached and mentored to prepare them for their new roles.

The popular opinion that “When women advance, everyone benefits” is strongly supported by Thembi as she remembers Prince Harry saying that, “We know that when women are empowered, they immeasurably improve the lives of everyone around them, their families, their communities and their countries.” More recently social media shared stories of women-led countries who have successfully handled the global epidemic within their countries.

This makes a strong case for companies to relook their transformation agenda and extend it beyond race to include gender. Issues faced by women in the workplace like the gender pay gap, harassment policies and childcare must be addressed and result in operational and strategic policies which will advance women. The forklift industry is seeing an increase in females taking up roles as warehouse managers and within the operations departments because there are more females signing up for apprenticeships for technical roles. Skills development should encompass soft skills like emotional intelligence and leadership for high-potential female leaders. Women in leadership roles need this support. “Even when women have great potential, they deal with external barriers like the patriarchal systems, workplace policies for mothers and environmental issues in the engineering space; as well as internal barriers of confidence, balancing home and work and trusting in their own ability. Women have been successful entrepreneurs because those psychological barriers are removed. This practice must be replicated in traditional corporate businesses so we can take up space successfully,” encourages Mazibuko. It is a fact that women get pushed off a glass cliff rather than shattering the glass ceiling, where women work twice as hard to progress in their careers, they have less work-life balance, and experience more pressure than their male counterparts which results in burn-out, break downs and less quality time with family and/or to be dedicated to health and self-care. Thembi advises that women need: • to establish boundaries to avoid confusion and to align expectations • to communicate their expectations and understand their responsibilities • to be authentic and be led by their values and principles • to build a foundation of support with people who are smarter than them • to believe they are capable and competent to do the job then let the work speak for itself • to ask for help.
Thembi Mazibuko has been taking up space as advocated by Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi. She shares her secrets of success for other women to follow which recommend that women should not be afraid to express their opinions because it may add value or provide a fresh view and women should leave the door open for others to do the same. Her collaborative leadership style is exercised when Mazibuko shares her vision with her team and colleagues and then collaborates with them on how to successfully execute and achieve solutions. She believes this leadership style maximises individual success and achieves strategic goals.