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Women Who Lead: Bonnie Cooper And Esna Colyn On Wearing The Mantle Of Leadership

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to two inspirational leaders who happen to be women. Here is what Bonnie Cooper and Esna Colyn shared on wearing the mantle of leadership.

Dirk Coetsee

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“It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It is also a very clear path to happiness.” – Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook)

Arnold Schwarzenegger, in that very interesting and powerful German accent of his, gave a very thoughtful and inspiring answer to a female listeners’ question during a Tim Ferris Podcast. The essence of her question was about how a woman should go about the very challenging task of being a leader.

In this writing I will abbreviate and paraphrase his answer as it was a very long powerful lesson in politics, history and business – “Angela Merkel does not think about being a woman when leading Germany it is about the person and having strong leadership characteristics. I am sure that Catherine the great of Russia did not think of being a woman as she led her country, it is about the person.”

Related: Why Donna Rachelson Believes The Secret To Your Business Success Lies With Women

“The Terminators” answer lends more weight to the theory that leadership has very little if not nothing to do with gender, background, or position and much more to do with having a clear vision, inspiring others, and being an example that others want to follow. Leadership is about being passionate about what you do and leaving other leaders behind by adding value to them and serving them.

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to two inspirational leaders who happen to be women. Here is what Bonnie Cooper and Esna Colyn shared on wearing the mantle of leadership. 

“Leaders create energy”

Taking on the dual roles of being the Chief executive of BPD Advertising Agency and the Chief Marketing Officer of Roman’s Pizza requires a vast amount of energy, and Bonnie Cooper has bucket loads. Creating an energetic environment and an inspirational atmosphere is what true leaders do. She pointed out to me that high levels of enthusiasm and drive are critical factors when success is contemplated.

She asked me to emphasise that she has many flaws but immediately added that the very same flaws can open the door to opportunities when you admit them and put in the hard work to change. This positive attitude towards personal transformation can ignite inspiration in other team members who are willing to improve themselves.

Bonnie admitted to being an extreme introvert. Some see introversion as a detractor of performance especially within roles where public speaking, constant group engagement and corporate presentations are the rule and not the exception. She is however one of many examples of people who has obliterated this assumption. The determination in her eyes, the expansive body language and the confidence in her voice provides undisputable testimony to the fact that she has purposefully evolved her introversion into being an influential presence.

Leadership is about character, being the model of behaviour that you desire for your team to adopt. Bonnie is an inspiring example of how constant change and a focus on self- improvement can help others to leave their comfort zones behind to become leaders.

She strongly believes in empowerment and in part sees that as creating an environment where you as team member have no option but to venture outside of the self-imposed boundaries of your own comfort zone.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

“Respect is all that matters”

This statement is part of her e-mail signature and part of her belief system, and in having interacted with her I can honestly say, part of her actions. She will admit when she was wrong and show you the respect of a sincere apology.

Bonnie respects her team members by truly having an open-door policy and as a team member you are given the freedom to make mistakes, if you own them and fix them.

“A boss will blame and take credit, a leader will give credit and take the blame.”

The above quote alludes to the huge level of responsibility on a leaders’ shoulders and the high level of character that a leader must maintain to win and keep the trust of her team members. You can trust Bonnie to say what she thinks, to apologise when she is wrong, to roll up her sleeves shoulder to shoulder with her team when the hard work needs to be done and to give credit when and where it is due.

ESNA COLYN – CEO OF IMBALIE BEAUTY

esna-colyn

Question the status quo

A  leadership lesson that Esna has learnt is to understand her business by constantly questioning the status quo through the following questions:

  1. What are you passionate about?
  2. What is the economic engine that drives your business?
  3. What do you want to be the best in the world at?

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Key leadership principles

She highlights the importance of asking for help and to seek guidance as a leader and to never stop to read and learn.

Strong leaders entertain strong beliefs and Esnas’ belief system is applied in her business through the following key principles:

  • Work with and grow passionate people of great character and integrity.
  • Bring people into the organisation that are stronger than yourself.
  • Aspire to change the world and leave a legacy.

She does not hesitate to mention that to consistently apply the above principles are tough. The CEO of Imbalie believes that authenticity is the most effective vehicle of communication when it comes to motivating all key stakeholders around the purpose of the company.

Inspiration

Esna sees the late Nelson Mandela as an inspirational leader who’s example she looks up to. She is proudly South African and aspires to the changes that he facilitated in our country and in the world. Speaking of inspiration and aspiration the quote that Esna most resonates with comes from Joshua 1:9 – “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage, do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Imbalies’ theme for 2017 is “#LIFT OFF“ and she sees all franchisees as leaders and entrepreneurs whom in unison with the organisations’ leadership must make this theme a reality.

Dirk Coetsee is an international Peak Performance Business and Master NLP coach. He is an entrepreneur and founder of DCGlobal business and life coaching. DCglobals’ purpose is to multiply the performance and growth of businesses and individuals. Contact Dirk directly at: dirkcoetsee3@gmail.com

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

Collaborating To Create #balanceforbetter

Communicating this business case, setting goals and reporting on progress are key to driving change. The door to diversity will not open itself.

Anna Curzon

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Each year on 8 March, International Women’s Day, I get invited to attend events that celebrate and discuss gender diversity in the workplace. They’re often rich with intelligent discussions about women and work, a topic I am immensely passionate about.

But all too often, I sit up on stage, look out to the crowd and I think, ‘where on earth are all the men?’ There are many supportive men on gender diversity (I know quite a few) but there is still work to be done as I often find myself singing to a choir of women who already know that gender diversity is a business priority.

It’s irrefutable that having a gender balance leads to better business outcomes, greater profitability and value creation. Better balance between women and men means broader insight, more empathy, and fresh ideas.

Gender diversity is not only a women’s issue. It’s a human issue. And the majority of our business leaders today, in particular in technology, are men. The only way we are truly going to make headway is to have the men standing with us to create a business environment where women can thrive.

I believe collaboration is vital to have as part of any gender diversity discussion and would even go so far as to say it’s negligent if this isn’t on a male or female business leaders’ agenda.

However, I think it’s easy to point fingers and we all need to look at how we can create more inclusive environments. It’s critical we have discussions in an open forum, and that organisers of events and support groups create positive opportunities for discussion that encourage men and women to attend and work together.

It worries me that the 2018 McKinsey and Company report on Women in the Workplace shows that progress hasn’t just slowed, it’s stalled. All the while, companies are reporting that they are highly committed to gender diversity. It’s a frustrating paradox. We didn’t open the door to diversity, only to turn around and shut it behind us.

Recently, I was introduced to the term moral-licensing through Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History. I can’t help but think that the phenomenon might be at play here. It describes the subconscious decisions we make to engage in prejudice behaviour, because in the past we did something virtuous.

Moral-licensing became a popular theory in 2009, describing those who voted in US President Barack Obama, and subsequently reverted to racist behaviours.

When I think about it in this context, I think about the companies who have hit a quota of females and assume the job is done. But token acts of egalitarianism do not mean you have an egalitarian workplace. It’s box-ticking and it’s bad for business.

I encourage every business leader to introduce a diversity plan and to really think about fostering an inclusive and respectful environment for diversity to thrive. Here’s where I think is a good place to start:

Women need to feel supported in the workplace, they need allies to feel confident enough that they can share their beliefs, their values and their views. Our leaders need to reengineer working environments to make them a safe, supportive place.
We need to be aware of our unconscious biases and flagging behaviour in the workplace that isn’t inclusive. It’s little things like calling grown women ‘girls’. They’re small but reinforcing behaviours and when added up, they have impact.
Support groups and events around International Women’s Day are great, but how can we make sure we have a diverse spread in the room and it’s an inclusive and encouraging environment for everyone.

I do believe the majority of businesses have the very best of intentions in this space, but leaders need to turn those intentions into actionable plans. So this International Women’s Day, I challenge you to speak out publicly about your business’s progress and goals for diversity. How is your organisation tracking and what is your vision and plan for the future? What you’re doing to ensure you’re not giving in to moral-licensing?

Communicating this business case, setting goals and reporting on progress are key to driving change. The door to diversity will not open itself.

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

Female entrepreneurs are growing in numbers, but without access to appropriate funding many start-ups will find it difficult to grow their businesses, regardless of whether there’s a man or woman at the helm. Fortunately, access to funds for female entrepreneurs is improving thanks to government and private enterprises.

Nicole Crampton

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In fact, The Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) noted that 72% of micro-enterprises and 40% of small enterprises are currently owned by women. Government and private enterprises have put programmes and funds in place aimed at empowering the women of South Africa.

Starting a business is always a challenging objective, what makes it more challenging is trying to find funding to get your innovative idea of the ground.

Content in this guide

  1. The Isivande Women’s Fund (IWF)
  2. Women Entrepreneurial Fund (WEF)
  3. Business Partners Women in Business Fund
  4. IDF Managers Funding
  5. Enablis Acceleration Fund
  6. The National Empowerment Fund (NEF)
  7. Absa Women Empowerment Fund
  8. The Special Projects and Programmes Unit (SPP)
  9. Women in Oil and Energy South Africa (WOESA)

Funds and Financial Assistance

Here are seven funds and financial assistance programmes as well as two resources for women entrepreneurs in South Africa.

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

Too Few South African Women Become Entrepreneurs, But This Can Change

Organisations built by business women and that speak loudly and assertively for business women will send an unambiguous message that women belong in the community of entrepreneurs.

Gugu Mjadu

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Although South Africa’s constitutional democracy has been advocating for gender equality for the past 24 years, the level of entrepreneurship among South African men and women is still far less equal than the country’s economic peers such as Ghana and Uganda. This is an indication that a progressive constitution alone is not enough to ensure that women join the local community of entrepreneurs in equal numbers to men.

Illustrating this, are the latest figures from the 2017/2018 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) which show that 13 out of every 100 South African men are involved in total early-stage entrepreneurial activity, compared to just 9 out of every 100 women. 

This research shows that the inequality goes deeper than just the headline figure. A higher percentage of women who do start their own ventures do so out of necessity (34.3 percent for women vs. 18 percent for men), whereas South African men, on the other hand, are more likely to start a business in response to an opportunity (82 percent for men vs. 65.7 percent for women). As research indicates that opportunity-driven entrepreneurs are more likely to create wealth than necessity-driven entrepreneurs, this is definitely an area for improvement for our country.

The GEM study is an annual survey, and dishearteningly, a look at the GEM figures over a number of years shows no discernible trend towards closing the gap, while some of South Africa’s economic peers such as Brazil and Vietnam consistently show an equal number of men and women starting businesses. 

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Gender parity in entrepreneurship needs a consistent stretch of truly high economic growth, north of 6 percent, to shake lose any remaining cultural, psychological and economic chains that are keeping women back. Unlike its counterparts, South Africa’s economic growth over the past few decades has seldom breached 4 percent – hovering around 3 percent since 1994. 

This might also explain the general low levels of entrepreneurship in the South African population, among both men and women, compared to its economic peers – 11 percent of the South African population is involved in entrepreneurial activity. Wealth creating businesses start in response to opportunities, which multiply when economic growth is strong.

Short of a massive economic stimulus needed to propel South Africa’s economic growth upward, is there anything that can be done on an incremental level in order to establish entrepreneurial equality between men and women in South Africa? 

I believe that there are many low-key ways in which to entice more women to become entrepreneurs. One place to start, is to focus on the income-generating side-lines that many South African women are engaged in. A scan of social media shows that South African women are not short of ideas nor initiative. From activities that are traditionally seen as female-oriented such as baking and sewing, to truly innovative social clubs and online initiatives seem to provide an outlet for many women’s entrepreneurial urges. Yet too few of them develop into proper full-time careers.

Programmes focused on women and their side-hustles might find fertile ground to grow them into fully fledged businesses.

Another factor that might entice more women to start businesses is more accessible finance. There is no easy solution, however, as research shows that men are more likely to start looking for finance early when they launch their ventures. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to use their own funds to start a business and thus delay seeking finance until their venture is potentially in trouble making it more difficult to secure finance. 

The solution, if any, lies in education and training deep enough to effect a significant shift in mind-set. Given the poor state of the educational system, South Africa still has a way to go, but it could be argued that any incremental improvement in the education system would boost the country’s levels of entrepreneurship. 

It remains to be seen if an increase in gender equality and representation among bankers and financiers may lead to improved access to finance for female entrepreneurs, but because it is a good thing in itself, gender parity in the finance industry is worth pursuing. 

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

The celebration of female entrepreneurship in popular culture, social media and as part of cultural events remains important and probably cannot be overdone. Awareness of the possibility of success in the business world for females remains fundamental to any young woman’s decision to choose entrepreneurship.

Finally, a strengthening of the profile of women’s business associations in South Africa can become an important factor in increasing the number of female entrepreneurs. Organisations built by business women and that speak loudly and assertively for business women will send an unambiguous message that women belong in the community of entrepreneurs.

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