Female Leaders who run our Mother City: Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana

In light of Women’s Day on 9 August, Future Cape Town considers the wealth of female leadership in Cape Town. Here Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, CEO of the Cape Town Partnership, writes about the struggles and successes of women leaders in South Africa, and Africa at large:

I feel privileged to be living in a country where the struggle of women has resulted in gender equality being enshrined in our constitution. Where women have the freedom to choose their destinies and direct their careers to the best of their abilities. Where I can be a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife and a career women and be able to have confidence that I can juggle all these roles without worrying about massive limitations being placed on me by society because I am a woman.

The work place environment for women in South Africa, whilst different from before 1994, is still quite challenging. In my experience, there are still issues of confidence and assertiveness that women struggle with. The balance between being seen as too soft or too tough as a manager is still an issue, and so is the ability to manage and exhibit appropriate professionalism when faced with deeply emotional and stressful situations. There is a constant sense of guilt that bedevils women who are in executive management positions which is linked to balancing equally the roles they play in society. I constantly struggle with being fully present for my family when I am anticipating a tough meeting or an important presentation at work the following day.

I am also very much aware that, even in my own country, there are very capable and intelligent girl children and women who struggle to reach their full potential due to issues to poverty and a dire lack of resources. I am also constantly mindful that I live on a continent where, in some countries, the girl child is marginalised and treated as a second-class citizen. In these countries, a number of social, economic and political realities have worked to confine women in general, and young women in particular, to the unfortunate situation that they find themselves in. In my opinion it is extremely important that women who find themselves in positions of leadership take on their responsibilities professionally, passionately and with compassion. I try to execute my duties with a clear consciousness that as a women and a mother I have instinctual abilities towards the softer skills that are a must for any manager and that enable me to create a management environment that fosters high performance and excellence from my team.