South African career women disrupt their industries

Women spoke about seeking opportunities in their pursuit of turning their dreams into realities – and encourage women to help each other.

career clare vale
Clare Vale says she was doing a BMW advanced driving course in 2003 when she asked about racing. “I asked my driving instructor if he thought that I could ever be a racing driver. He said: ‘You can but it would take a lot of practice.'” That comment planted a seed in her mind, says Vale. (Image Melissa Javan)

Melissa Javan
“Crash, fix and repeat.” This may be the motto in the motor racing industry but, said drifter Clare Vale, it could also apply to the business world. Vale was one of the speakers who shared her story at the Leading Women Summit held at Montecasino in Johannesburg.

The summit coincided with International Women’s Day on 8 March 2017. The second annual Leading Women Summit was hosted in collaboration with MTN Business South Africa and Forbes Woman Africa. The theme this year was “Disrupting the norm”.

Women who were seen as disruptors in their industries shared their journeys. Speakers included Caroline Wöstmann, the winner of the 2015 Comrades and Two Oceans marathons, and 17-year-old Kiara Nirghin, the South African schoolgirl who won the Google Science Fair in the US in 2016.

Seek opportunities

Vale, who is known as the First Lady in Racing, said she started training to become a racing driver in 2003, when she was 41 years old. Before then she had never been to a motorsport event, even though she loved cars.

“I don’t think talent is the most important thing. Opportunity is very important. We need to seek out opportunity,” she said. “Where we see other women seeking opportunity, we should reach out to help them.”

Vale uses social media to promote her love for drifting. Other women who have an interest in the sport connect with Vale online.

Motor racing was a masculine industry, she said. “Within any male-dominated industry, you have to work harder to prove yourself. The truck industry is the same as the racing industry.” Vale owns a truck-hiring business.

She is also the ambassador of Continental Tyre South Africa’s global road safety project. All women should do a defensive driving course, Vale said. “If you learn the skills, you’ll know what to do when someone drives in front of you.”

And she had some advice: “Remember to do things like checking your tyre pressures regularly.”

Watch Clare Vale show how drifting is done:

The power of social media

Nomndeni Mdakhi, founder of the public relations and events company Edits Communications, spoke about how she used Instagram to send positive messages to young women. “My signature says I’m a change agent.”

In 2016, Mdakhi said she started a challenge on Instagram called #30DaysOfAwakening. She chose this platform over other social media options because she loved visuals. “I use this platform to communicate with girls daily. My platforms are where girls will get positivity.

“A lot of girls need your advice,” she said. “They need some kind of access to you. The power is in social media.”

Through this initiative she decided to host an #EditsTalks workshop to meet some of the young women who engaged with her online. She posted about it on 1 March 2016, and got 100 emails in return. Mdakhi had not expected such an overwhelming response.

Her campaign led to an invitation to join a panel discussion on the opportunities that existed in Africa.

Watch Nomndeni Mdakhi talk about her first workshop:

Changing the African child’s narrative

Sibahle Mtongana said she enjoyed a challenge. “I love to take a different route that has not been taken by anyone else.” She grew up with a love for British television chefs, such as Jamie Oliver. “I found that there is a world of food available through television.”

Known as Siba, Mtongana said her mother did not like the idea of her doing home cooking as a profession. “They (her parents) gave me a year to decide on what I wanted to do (something other than being a chef).”

At the time, Mtongana said, there were no local cooking shows on television.

She set off to study food and consumer sciences in Cape Town and nine months after graduating, she applied for a job as an assistant food editor at Drum magazine. Mtongana said she later asked the magazine’s management if she could move to Johannesburg, because she had a fresh angle for her cooking pages: she wanted to showcase recipes made by celebrities.

The idea was a hit and was followed by Drum’s television cooking show. Through this, Mtongana and her talent caught the eye of the Food Network Channel, which offered her a job.

Mtongana’s cookbook, My Table, was published in December 2015. She told the audience that her cookbook was the best sold cookbook in history at Woolworths. “I had no publisher that helped me. I did the cookbook by myself.”

Recently appointed global impact ambassador for Stop Hunger Now, she uses her social media platforms to talk about this campaign.

“I feel like I’m changing the narrative of the African child – that we are not takers, we are contributors,” Mtongana concluded.

Watch Siba Mtongana on the Food Network Channel:

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