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Women’s Day: Five tips to grow your career as a female founder or business leader

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Nthabiseng Makgatho

Aug 9, 2021

Today is Women’s Day in South Africa and the whole of August is Women’s Month. Whilst it’s an opportunity to celebrate the great women’s march of 1956, it’s also important to reflect on the progress that still needs to be made. 

It’s been such a challenging year for all businesses. Despite the setbacks, we’ve seen female business owners continuing to push our business community forward, champion women in the workplace and so much more. 

At Xero, our cloud platform has enabled us to get closer to the lifeblood of our economy and it has been inspiring to see how our community of female-owned small businesses and accounting customers has flourished in recent years. Even against the odds. Many of them are driving growth and innovation in South Africa and are also helping to encourage female representation in senior positions. 

I spoke with four inspirational women about starting their businesses, and together we share some advice for other women in business.

Taking the leap

We all have different motivations that drive us in our professional lives. For Hazel Bango-Moyo who founded Primorial Solutions, it was about supporting – largely female owned – small businesses. “From a young age I knew that to achieve my purpose in the world and in my personal life, I would need to start my own business,” shares Hazel.

Similarly, Depo Ogunruku, the founder of Outsourced Finance, explains “The purpose of starting a business for me was to help solve the social economic divide of South Africa by ensuring job creation and training. That was the mindset behind the start of Outsourced Finance. It’s had its ups and downs, but I’m so proud of where we’ve got to today and our team of over 25.”

Lauren Dallas, who founded Future Females, found inspiration from a relocation. “I had recently emigrated from Sydney to Cape Town, and struggled to fit in. I couldn’t find entrepreneurial women like me. So my co-founder Cerina and I decided to create a space and invite women in.”

Overcoming challenges

Starting out in her career and reflecting on the biggest challenges she faced, Hazel explains “The biggest obstacle was stereotypes about what women can or can’t do, in terms of their abilities as professionals, especially being a black woman. I overcame them by working harder, taking on the most challenging jobs, calling out biased behaviours and never losing faith in my own abilities.”

For Kirsten Halcrow, from Encapsulate Consulting, finding the right balance was a hurdle: “My biggest career challenge was finding the balance between being a wife, a mum and a full-time entrepreneur. In an effort to excel at all my roles it often felt as if I wasn’t doing any of them very well. I needed to take a step back and take away some of the ‘self-imposed’ pressure. We are often our own biggest critics.” 

Further advice for female entrepreneurs or professionals

Invest in a mentor or coach

Hazel Bango-Moyo, Primorial Solutions

Don’t doubt yourself because you are more capable than your mind (and society) might lead you to believe. Surround yourself with people who truly believe in you and support the goals that you have. As part of this support system, invest in a mentor or business coach. Budget for the cost as you would for your staff’s salary – it will be an essential support and sounding board.

It’s not how far you are going, it’s how far you’ve come

Nthabiseng Makgatho, Xero 

It’s so easy to be hard on ourselves – especially if things aren’t going the way we want or expect. The same is true for work and business. It’s important to remember that nothing is perfect and mistakes happen, all you can do is learn from them. Take things one day at a time, cheer another woman on, be your own cheerleader, have fun and enjoy the process. Taking time out to reflect is important, you’ll be surprised how far you’ve come. Best of all, be rooted in your identity and own your magic!

Don’t fear failure, take the first step

Lauren Dallas, Future Females 

Stop fearing failure, start fearing regret. It might feel easier to stick with your day job, clock off at 5pm, and receive a fixed salary every month. But does that light you up? At risk of sounding like a Nike ad: Just Do It! This is not a practice run – you only get one wild life so take action and don’t put it off if you’ve been thinking about it for a while. 

Be unapologetic

Depo Ogunruku, Outsourced Finance 

Sometimes as women in business it feels like we need to work ten times more than our male counterparts to get the recognition we deserve. When I started Outsourced Finance, I was very apologetic about being at the table. Over the years I have realised I am just as good or even better than my male counterparts. My advice to other women is not to be apologetic. You have every right to be there.

When times get hard, get support

Kirsten Halcrow, Encapsulate Consulting

Entrepreneurship is not easy, but if you put in the work and do it with passion you will reap the benefits. However, there will be times when you feel like giving up, but it’s those times that you need to rely on support and other business specialists. Remember that you are not an island – always ask for the help and support when you need it.

It has been encouraging to see female entrepreneurship grow in South Africa. A study conducted by SME South Africa (2019) found that around 47% of SMEs are led by women – a 6% increase from the previous year. It fills me with immense pride to be a part of a company that has established digital tools that enable us to support female entrepreneurs in a number of ways.

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