Gender-equality in workplace vital for healthy, functional SA society, says Mark Jennings

CAPE TOWN. – Self-belief, bravery, networking, education, and hard work are the hallmarks of success of the women entrepreneurs who persevered, some of them despite unspeakable challenges like gender-based violence, and their inspirational addresses changed the way he approached his own job, said Mark Jennings.

Jennings, station manager of Fine Music Radio, commented on the August webinars hosted by 1000 Women Trust in collaboration with Pick ‘n Pay, about the 1000 Women Restart initiative. Jennings was the MC at the three August webinars.

The 1000 Women Restart initiative was geared to give women who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 lockdown the opportunity to restart their businesses or to improve their skills to increase their employability.

Anna Phosa, multiple award-winning entrepreneurs and the only female black commercial farmer in the country, Leonora Sauls, head of philanthropy at the Ackerman Family Foundation and the Ackerman Pick ‘n Pay Foundation, Ntombekaya Nonxuba, owner of the award-winning Rise Uniforms, Mems Ramaila, award-winning owner of the bee-keeping enterprise Bee African and Lynn Maggott, owner of the Green Connexion, were the speakers who inspired the audience at the virtual zoom meetings of the three webinars in August 2021.

“While I was MC at the webinars, I watched the comments line closely of those who attended the webinars and almost everybody derived a lot of encouragement from the speakers,” Jennings said.

“I believe that if only one or two future entrepreneurs would have been born out of these meetings, it would have been enough.

“It certainly impacted the way I viewed my work, and one of the common themes was that things not always went plain sailing for these successful entrepreneurs.”

For example, Nonxuba experienced a setback and faced a test of her character when the back contacted her and wanted to take her car back while she was on her way to a big client.

She attended that meeting with Pick ‘n pay and put up a brave face.

After the meeting, she spoke to the representative of the bank who told her he would come back for her car within a week if she does not repay her loan. She told him she don’t know if she would have the money within the next week to repay the bank.

But she told the attendees of the webinar: “I still have that car”. She became an award-winning entrepreneur.

“You have to guts your way through adversity, and don’t panic,” Jennings said.

Phosa’s honest revelations about her road to success during the first webinar on self-confidence also touched Jennings.

He said she was open and honest with Pick ‘n Pay. She asked for help, networked, and was able to transform all of that through hard work into business success. Many times, she had to burn the midnight oil and work literally through the night.

She persisted despite pitfalls, but there were also setbacks. For every peak there was a valley, Jennings said.

Ramaila revealed how her mother, Ethel, was a businesswoman whose own success had a lasting impact on her life as an entrepreneur.

“It is so important for entrepreneurs to network because we are social creatures and we need support groups and family and friends,” Jennings said.

“One of the things that were so true, is that your profit margin is not the sole motivational factor behind success. I always go back to what Raymond Ackerman said when he spoke about the foundations of business.

“You need administration, people, marketing, and merchandise, but your company must also have a soul, a philosophy. If your company has a soul – to care about others – the profit will follow,” Jennings said.

Jennings added that wrong male perspectives about women in the workplace adversely impact the SA economy.

“I believe passionately that society in South Africa can only be truly healthy when women empowerment has been reached. Men must accept that women are their equal, but men must be educated in how they view women.

“If there is gender equality in the workplace, you will get a healthy, functional, and happy society and everybody will grow,” Jennings said.

South Africa still faces gender equality gaps. For example, only 20.7 % of board members on JSE-listed companies are female.

It is estimated that gender gaps cost the global economy some 15 % of gross domestic product annually.

Asked how he would advise private companies and corporates on how to improve gender equality in the workplace, Jennings said he would invite women speakers, listen to women’s views, and host conferences and webinars. “Right now, it is not happening, and we are not talking about the elephant in the room.”

Jennings said in his own experience working at Pick ‘n Pay, he admired the value that women add to the workplace in different roles.

“One example is women as store managers. Women make excellent store managers. They can walk into a store and in the blink of an eye scan the room and pick up if there is a worker with low morale,” he says.

1000 Women Trust has launched the economic empowerment program 1000 Women Restart – a network for women interested in starting or restarting a business or income-generating initiative. The Network includes women with successful businesses or women in business who would like to expand.

The idea is that women who join the Restart network will be supported with what their needs are – maybe access to funding, knowledge, mentorship or solidarity. 1000 Women Trust will be there for the women.

Tina Thiart, the founder member of 1000 Women Trust, has started a 1000 Women Restart WhatsApp group on the mobile number 0732079079 which is already supported by hundreds of women from all over South Africa.