Netstar head of human capital Pamela Xaba's career has been a serendipitous journey of self-discovery

Like so many of her peers, Pamela found herself in the profession as if it was driven by fate.

Netstar head of human capital Pamela Xaba did not choose HR, it chose her. Like so many of her peers, Pamela found herself in the profession as if it was driven by fate. But, more than anything, her HR career has been a journey of self-discovery that made her a better person, helping her to overcome her aversion to conflict in the workplace and becoming a leader that pays more attention to the impact that she is making in the personal lives of others in addition to the value she adds to the organisations she has represented 

Her original plan was to go into finance. She studied Banking at Technikon Witwatersrand, which has since merged with the Rand Afrikaans University to form the University of Johannesburg. It all changed on the day she went for an interview in the financial services sector, where she had applied for an internship in the private banking division, and left with a job in HR. 

Says Pamela: "The interview didn't go well at all, even with the relevant qualification, I had very little real-world knowledge about finance, and it was a train wreck. I had already accepted that I would not be getting the job when I was offered a role in HR as a payroll administrator. One of the interviewers in the panel happened to be an HR Lead and she was convinced that I would do well in HR. It wasn't something that I had ever considered before that moment, but I jumped at the opportunity, even though I didn't know anything about payroll." 

A numbers person at heart, she learned the ropes very quickly but felt the job wasn't challenging enough. She asked for more responsibility, she was then put in charge of an entire payroll function for one of the divisions that her then employer had acquired through a business merger, and was in that role for about three years.

Pamela then set her eyes on becoming a compensation and benefits consultant and moved to another organisation also in the financial services sector.

Job-hopping phase

She was something of a job hopper in those early years, partly because she was so eager to develop herself that, as soon as she felt like she had learned what she needed to learn, she started thinking about her next step. Reflecting on that time, she realises that it was a misguided approach. 

"When you constantly move from one company another, you do yourself a disservice. Yes, it might seem like a good idea because with every new opportunity comes a higher salary or more responsibility.  But you also stifle your own growth when you don't stay long enough for the company to appreciate your value," says Pamela.

More than anything else, Pamela's job-hopping was driven by her inability to deal with conflict in the workplace. Whenever relationships with colleagues soured or became uncomfortable, her go-to solution was to leave the company. 

Dealing with conflict 

"It was something that I had to overcome because it really hindered my growth. It took me a while before I eventually realised I couldn’t run away from conflict forever, and that I was really running from myself” says Pamela, adding that she sees the same pattern of behaviour in most young professionals. 

“They probably don’t realise that they are robbing themselves of an opportunity to build their resilience. It’s also quite career limiting because every time you jump out of one environment into another, you have to start afresh in terms of building relationships, understanding the business and establishing yourself as a valuable contributor to the company."

Ah hah moment

It was when Pamela moved to the FMCG and automotive sectors that she had her ‘ah-hah’ moment. Through mentorship and workplace coaching, Pamela developed a deeper understanding of HR, learnt to lead with empathy and finally overcame her unhealthy attitudes towards conflict.

"I had to learn to stop taking things personal when being criticised or in a disagreement. Working in these sectors, where one is exposed to multinational organisations, you encounter people from all walks of life and you have to be able to engage constructively with them even if they don't share your views...it was as if a cloud had been removed from my eyes."

In the automotive sector, where she spent more time than with any other sector in her career thus far, Pamela was exposed to different and extremely challenging HR roles. She had to deal with trade union dynamics and male-dominated environments. 

“I recall going to a sector forum meeting for the first time, being the only female and feeling like an outsider and got a sense that they didn't think I belonged there,” says Pamela.

Pamela says it was the self-awareness and confidence in her own ability that she had garnered, which gave her the strength to persevere in those difficult circumstances. She managed those conflicts in such a way that, in the end, she had good working relationships with the stakeholders and became good friends with some of the males that had initially marginalised her. 

Says Pamela: “The key lesson for younger HR professionals that may have experienced what I did is to never let situations intimidate you. Rather, remember not to take anything personal and do your best to win people over. Don’t get caught up in a tit-for-tat cycle if you are feeling disrespected or mistreated because, when you take that approach, nothing gets done.” 

Now at a technology company Netstar, which she has recently joined, Pamela is more than equipped to face the challenges ahead and excited to absorb the knowledge and experience that the new role will offer.