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Empowering the modern woman – A look at how our female alumni are making strides in their careers

Empowering the modern woman
  • Sep 21 2018

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The research is clear: companies need to embrace the strength women bring to their organisations if they want to thrive. However, the path to success is still not easy for many women in business. We talk to two of USB’s female alumni, Desery van Wyk and Dr Marlene le Roux, about the factors that have influenced them and their careers, and what it is like being a woman in the modern business world.

Desery van Wyk
Head of Digital Banking at First National Bank, Namibia

Before we get into your career, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? I am a born-again Christian, involved in community activities, mother of three beautiful daughters and happily married for almost 20 years. I enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, jogging and cycling, and love traveling. I usually reward myself and my family with an overseas trip whenever we achieve something big on our “tick list”. I’ve travelled to 10 countries over the world. There are endless opportunities outside of our borders. Yet, traveling has also given me an opportunity to reflect and appreciate what we have in our beautiful country.

I live by a quote of an unknown author: “If your dream does not scare you, it’s not big enough.” To support that quote I know that “all things are possible with God who strengthens me”. This gives me confidence in setting stretched targets – it makes me “tick”.

“If your dream does not scare you, it’s not big enough.” – Desery

Who has influenced you in your life? Both of my parents – they are the best role models ever. They taught me respect, personal values, the importance of God as your source, the Bible as your guide, to dream big and always stay humble.

What did you study at the University of Stellenbosch Business School? I studied the Senior Management Development Programme.

What has studying at USB taught you? It taught me so much – time management and conflict management. Most of all, it taught me the importance of networking, to live your dream and to make a difference wherever you go.

I had the opportunity to be chairperson of the USB Alumni team in Namibia – what an unforgettable experience. USB gave us the platform to be associated with the best brand and to share my story. Best of all, USB and University of Lincoln gave me another opportunity to travel and graduate in the UK – an experience which one cannot express in words. Thank you, USB.

Where are you in your career and where do you want to be? Your next steps – the foreseeable future? I am in a senior management position as Head of Digital Banking Products at FNB. I started my career at FNB with more than 20 years’ experience in the banking industry. I see myself as a natural leader – always in the leadership position to initiate and take ownership. Saying that, I acknowledge that my success is a result of amazing support at home and a great team behind me in the workplace.

I love the excitement around digital evolution and see myself in an executive position representing digital banking.

How have your expectations of the business world compared with the reality you have experienced? My expectations are in many instances in line with what I experience. Some goals took longer than expected but I believe that was needed to shape me for the next level.

Do you think progress is being made in terms of giving women opportunities in the business world? Yes, we see more and more women take up leadership positions.

In your opinion, what is the most important benchmark to measure gender equality in the workplace? Is enough being done in this regard, and where does responsibility lie – government, private businesses, educational institutions? I believe there is still room for improvement in this regard. By saying that, each one has a responsibility to ensure gender equality in the workplace. Yes, government, business and educators play a role, but individuals have to stand up for themselves and make sure to raise their voice.

What advice would you give young girls who would like to make a difference in the world but do not know where to start? My advice would be to believe that you can make a difference. Our minds are so powerful! It determines our attitude and how we represent ourselves. Ladies have to work twice as hard as men to excel in the corporate world, but the good news is God created us to excel. Therefore, go out there and shine to the world. But most importantly, shine from within.

Dr. Marlene le Roux
Artscape Chief Executive, Cape Town

Can you tell us about yourself? This can include a little bit about your background, your upbringing, etc. My motto in life: “Die lewe skuld jou niks” (Life does not owe you anything.) And a title is only your ego.

“Die lewe skuld jou niks” – Dr Marlene le Roux

I grew up in Wellington. I contracted polio when I was three months old. My primary school was Pauw Gedenk and high school was Berg River High School. I attended UWC for my first degree.

Who has influenced you in your life? I had great role models in my mother, Christine Le Roux, and my ouma, Christina Abrahams – both strong women. They believe that your circumstances are not going to determine your future. They both only went to primary school. However, they believed in education and made sure, against all odds, that I would be schooled. I can still remember how they told the principal at the primary school that I will be accepted in sub A (grade 1) now. And they would only leave once I had been accepted. They did not know the word activist – but that day they fought for a young disabled girl to have access to education.

What did you study at the University of Stellenbosch Business School? In 2002, I completed the Management Development Programme and in 2003 I completed the Senior Management Programme at USB-ED.

What has studying at USB taught you? You can never make assumptions. You can learn so much from each other. It prepared me to have a journey with myself to see things in context in a country that needs healing. Studying at USB also made me realise that sometimes we think that when we obtain a degree it makes us civilised. However, it is humility makes us civilised.

Where are you in your career and where do you want to be? Your next steps – the foreseeable future? I never have goals. I just work hard. I made sure in my life that I always put others first, and that I am never disrespectful. I never intended to be CEO of Artscape. My son died a year ago and now I only take one day at a time.

How have your expectations of the business world compared with the reality you have experienced? Business is hard – you must prove yourself all the time. And, as a woman, you must give 150% more than a man. Also, I don’t play golf, and I am not interested now.

What have you overcome in your career to get to where you are? I am not a sensitive person. I came from the dark era of apartheid and from a young age I have experienced discrimination on all levels. In my workplace I never take anything for granted. I am a lifelong scholar. I learn from everybody. From the cleaning staff, the tea lady and the people that have more experience than I have in my field. You never know it all.

Do you think progress is being made in terms of giving women opportunities in the business world? Small strides have been made. And as a woman leader, I make sure I create opportunities for other women. At my current workplace I have a shadowing and mentoring programme for women to be in management.

In your opinion, what is the most important benchmark to measure gender equality in the workplace? Is enough being done in this regard, and where does responsibility lie – government, private businesses, educational institutions? This is a societal mindset that needs to change. We live in a patriarchal society and change should start in our homes, religion and cultural practices. Then we will have an equal society. We need to ensure that women and girls, especially with disabilities, have access to transport and the infrastructure to take part in the primary education system.

What advice would you give young girls who would like to make a difference in the world but do not know where to start? Work hard. Have respect, self-acceptance and also be kind to others. You can make a difference with just changing your mindset to a positive attitude. Start from the bottom, learn your trade and be ahead of your game without blaming anybody when you fail.

Learn more about these alumni, how they give back to society and the knowledge they have. Find out what USB offers its alumni on our website.

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