At our first Inspiration Session for 2018, we heard from Nene Molefi, esteemed author and business, diversity and transformation expert. The session was hosted by Allan Gray and Nene shared some very interesting insights with us about her journey to becoming a successful businesswoman:
A diverse, socially cohesive society: Nene highlighted the importance of this theme, saying that we should strive to become a society that works towards the well-being of its members, fights exclusion and marginalisation, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust, and offers the opportunity of upward mobility.
Head, heart and hands: While many leaders believe that diversity is important and good for business (head/intellectual buy-in), Nene said that in her 19 years in the industry, she has never seen a spreadsheet transform organisations. While the intellectual buy-in to transformation is important, it must translate to inclusion (heart/emotional buy-in), which will ultimately lead to successful implementation (hands). Nene emphasised the importance of the head, heart and hands being aligned, saying that it is a sustainable approach to meaningful transformation.
“Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists”: Referencing the issue of race, Nene said that this is a highly emotive issue, especially in the context of South Africa, and she reminded us that running away from a difficult conversation, does not make it go away. In business, we need to have difficult conversations and confront the discomfort.
The pain of exclusion: Nene shared some research with us saying that the physical feeling of pain and the social/emotional feeling of pain, overlaps in terms of how the brain processes it. She urged young professionals to be aware of their behaviours and encouraged those who are experiencing exclusion, to recognise it for what it is.
Bias: People experience exclusion as a result of bias. Nene reminded us that biases are a fact of life – we all have it, however, she reassured us that having bias does not make us bad people, it makes us human. While this is part of our human nature, Nene urged us to become aware of our biases and said that we should take the time to consider the potential impact that this could have in the workplace, and look at ways to eliminate it.
Influencing change: With respect to how professionals in the workplace can bring about change, Nene said that we should “be the change you want to see in the world”, in an effort to influence change. She encouraged us to speak up against discrimination and injustice in the workplace, saying that we should not be bystanders, but rather “upstanders” who use whatever influence and power we may have, to bring about the transformation our organisations need.
Closing remarks: In closing, Nene encouraged us to find our anchors, adopt a values-driven life, show up with intentionality, aim for excellence and to remember that falling down is a part of life, and we should get up every time.
The evening ended with a lively Q&A and young professionals were inspired by Nene’s insights. We are looking forward to our next Inspiration Session in Q2 with Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu, the new board chair of KPMG – please continue to visit our website for further details around our guest speaker.