In South Africa, August is celebrated as Women's Month, in recognition of over 20,000 women who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria – the official seat of government – on 9 August 1956, protesting against the extension of apartheid pass laws to women. Women's Day, on 9 March, is a public holiday recognising the contribution these women made to the liberation struggle.
Despite significant advances, women in South Africa remain under-represented in corporate leadership positions. Only 23% of senior leadership positions are held by women, while 39% of businesses have no women in senior management roles, according to a report by Grant Thornton.
GE has made it a priority to actively build up women leaders who are empowered and motivated to make a difference. This year, GE held a special event to inspire and motivate around 200 women. High-profile speakers included singer and songwriter Yvonne Chaka Chaka, actor Sello Maake ka-Ncube, and True Love magazine editor Dudu Mvimbi. Thomas Konditi, President & CEO Africa for GE Transportation, also attended.
Each attendee received a copy of the book "Own Your Space: The Toolkit for the Working Woman" by Lori Milner and Nadia Bilchik, which provides techniques, tips and advice to women looking to boost their careers and enhance their confidence.
Dudu Mvimbi, editor of True Love magazine, spoke about her personal life and how she overcame her challenges, from failing matric and becoming homeless until one woman rescued her and offered her shelter.
Mvimbi said she believed in herself while everybody around her was telling that she was a failure. Her determination has helped her be where she is today, and she refused to dwell on mistakes.
"Most of us prefer to take the easy road. Women should not be afraid of challenges but they must face them and not choose the easy way," she said.
"Women should aim high and need to have vision about their own life and keep the standards high. Women should help each other," said Thomas Konditi, President & CEO Africa for GE Transportation.
Konditi said GE had changed significantly in the last 20 years, when it had been a primarily male-dominated environment. Now, women were holding managerial and senior leadership positions in the organisation, and GE was actively supporting female leadership initiatives.
Keynote speaker Yvonne Chaka Chaka said that GE women need to work with their male counterparts not to compete with them but to work with them and complete each other. Women should not put each other down but pick each other up.
Chaka Chaka became a mother at just 19. Her mother was a domestic worker and they lived on her employer's property, where they were harassed by white neighbours and attacked by dogs while walking in the street. She still has scars from the attacks, but refused to give up. Today, she says she's proud to be an African woman.
Molebukang Kosimang, one of the attendees, said she enjoyed the event. "GE has put women first and to have such an event is something really exciting."
Kosimang said she was particularly moved by Mvimbi and Chaka Chaka's messages as she could identify with them, having herself experienced challenges following her divorce. She consciously chose to redefine herself and further her studies, which had enabled her to follow her current career path.
This article first appeared on GE Reports sub-Sahara Africa