This Podcast Interview Will Inspire Every Business Women

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. Mthembi and Oakley-Smith, spoke at an Investec Women in Leadership event, entitled, "The Courage to Change." We bring you this inspirational podcast.
This Podcast Interview Will Inspire Every Business Women
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International Women’s Day highlights the imperative role women play in business, the economy and households. Whilst women have come a long way in terms of recognising their worth, we’ve got a long way to go – and that starts in the boardroom. According to an EY study, there is overwhelming evidence that links gender parity to innovation and improved financial performance.

Businesses with women in top management roles experienced an increase in “innovation intensity” and were worth, on average, about US$40m more than companies with only male leaders. Yet on average, in SA, women earn about 73% of what men earn. (Ipsos 2017 survey)

In a frank and honest chat with Investec, two inspirational female leaders, Fumani Mthembi and Teresa Oakley-Smith, share their extraordinary business journey from having "a big dream" to surviving through the mean and lean times.

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

Here are some of the stand-out highlights from the interview:

1. Overcoming challenges female entrepreneurs face

Both Fumani and Teresa believe that, based on their respective experiences, men don’t take women seriously.

“It’s very common in my industry to attend a meeting and have all the men address each other and not you,” says Fumani.“So I’ll be sitting there and they’ll all have their backs turned and they’ll be having a conversation amongst themselves."

“I’ve had to work twice or three times as hard as male competitors to gain a contract; I’ve had to bend over backwards to actually make sure that my delivery is ten times better,” says Teresa.

2. Breaking down stereotypes

“In households of dual income, often the woman is bringing in more than the man, yet when we have to approach institutions of power, we feel somehow belittled, or we somehow lack our courage in an appreciation of the power we actually hold,” says Teresa.

“One of my clients is a very large retail company and they only have one woman out of a board of 40, and I was challenging them by saying: Who does the shopping? Women hold the purse strings, women go to the supermarkets, so why are they not represented? Why are their voices not heard?”

3. Encouraging diversity in the workplace

Teresa work centres around helping employers create work environments that encourage intersectionality, and recognise women’s unique needs.

“Does your company provide proper facilities for breastfeeding women and supply feminine hygiene products in case a female staff member is in need?” asks Teresa.

4. Educating about the need for empowerment

Fumani’s aim when starting her company was to transform society through knowledge and power and make a difference through a legacy that creates a new kind of context in which people like herself – a young, black female entrepreneur – could operate. “We wanted to spread the justice dividend and to use our privilege responsibly,” she says.

In her experience, banks struggle to recognise the need for women to seek finance for start-ups, because “they don’t need to take on that kind of risk. And that’s the thing about this dual economy, and as women we represent that second economy,” she says

“We’re a new risk; the things we want to do in this economy are new. Everything we do and present is new and we can be disruptive. So while we can ask for change, we can also be the change, and we can create these institutions that really understand us.”

5. Seizing the power within you

Both women agree that recognising the challenge of being a woman in South Africa, should lead to women standing together and reclaiming their power. “We can only own our power if we join together as women of all races, ages and abilities and understand each other,” says Teresa.

Out of Fumani’s 25-strong staff complement, only five employees are men. She puts that down to the talent and intellect shown by her women employees. But this female-male mix is far from the norm. Why? “What I’ve often seen is that women are very risk averse they’re incredibly bright.

We just don’t want to take a bet on ourselves,” says Fumani. “All these institutions are growing on the back women’s efforts. There’s a reason why 54% of graduate are women – we can do it, it’s just a matter of taking that chance on yourself.”

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