Norma Teyise, Takealot’s head of DTI, talks about her niche in the HR space

Norma wanted to focus on something where she could truly make a mark.

After years of working in HR, Nomaxabiso (Norma) Teyise, Takealot’s head of diversity, transformation, and inclusion (DTI), wanted to explore entrepreneurship and go independent. So, she left her job at Oceana and started her own HR consulting business.

Norma explains that she started off with broad introspection; asking herself what she could really do to make a meaningful impact and whether HR was the obvious answer for her.

“After going through that 18-month period of flying solo in a corporate job – and digging deep – I thought to myself, I really wanted to focus on something where I could truly make a mark,” she says. “I started having conversations about what my purpose is in life, what God put me on this earth to do, and what is the legacy I want to leave behind.”

Norma says she started retracing her career journey and thinking about helping hands along the way.

“The fact that I grew up in a township, with my father a blue-collar worker, and getting a bursary and studying thanks to his work really moved me,” she says. “I thought of my graduate programme, which was also a springboard for my career, and the coaches and sponsors that helped me throughout my career.”

These are the reasons she chose to work in diversity and inclusion. “I landed in the diversity, empowerment, and inclusion space,” she says, “and I know some people call it diversity equity and inclusion, but for me, the empowerment is what really draws me to this portfolio.”

Norma explains that her personal mission in life is really to create opportunities and connect people to those opportunities like she had.

“There are a lot of people with great potential who come from a similar background to mine; who, I suppose, by circumstance and the history of our country, are still stuck – unless progressive companies like the one that gave me a bursary, or progressive leaders like the ones who sponsored me and coached me, put up their hand to offer help by identifying and nurturing that talent.

“And for me, it’s more about how we systemise that, so that it’s not just one person here and another one there, but there is a mass of us, which starts closing the gap around economic inclusion within our country. It starts by giving hope and really showing people that the freedom that our heroes fought for, was not just for democracy, but for a better life.”

Finding purpose
Norma says she found her purpose while running her own independent consulting business, as she had to ask tough questions regarding what her unique value proposition was.

“There are a lot of consulting businesses doing amazing things, but you need to decide what is going to set you apart from others, and what sets you apart from others, is what I believe you were called on earth to do,” she says.

She explains that her own experiences influenced what she wanted to focus on, “I wanted to focus on diversity and inclusion because of the legacy of economic empowerment I wanted to leave behind.”

Norma says that just after three months of having an epiphany that she didn’t want to be a jack of all trades, the role at Takealot presented itself.

“It’s amazing how when you get clarity the universe aligns and the type of opportunities that were meant for you come up, and all your experiences leading to that point were preparing you for that opportunity” she notes.

Working with people
“When you work as an independent consultant it gets very lonely and I am very much a people person. I get my energy by engaging with people and that’s why you will often find me in the office,” she says.

“I do have the option to work from home, but I choose to come to the office because I want to connect with people. The type of work I do is most effective when engaging with people.”

Joining in a pandemic
Norma joined Takealot during the pandemic, just as a new Covid-19 variant had been discovered. “I joined in January and the office was closed. It was tough, frustrating, and very slow for me to connect with the people,” she says.

“It’s very difficult to onboard and connect into an environment working remotely where there is a set time to do everything, and meetings are strictly focused on the agenda, there is not much of that freedom and laughter and joking you get in the office, and it makes it very hard to get to know people on a personal level – what they like and how they like things done.”

You have to be conscious about setting up ways to interact, she adds. “Luckily now my team has created an ‘Office Tuesday’, where we all go in on Tuesdays and have our meetings in person and connect, obviously with all the Covid-19 protocols observed.”

Outside the HR space
Norma says she is the eldest of three girls and is a cosmopolitan, career-focused woman, who is modern but also traditional.

“I am someone who is very steeped in tradition. I honour my role as a wife in the Xhosa culture, as an aunt to my nieces and nephews, and honouring traditions from a family perspective, and all that is rooted in being a Christian.

“I am a big believer in being aligned with the purpose God has created me for and to be the light and salt that the Bible says we should be.”
She is the mother to 15-year-old twins and says they get her out of her comfort zone. “It’s amazing how kids can hold up a mirror for you: they challenge your thinking and some of your long-held beliefs about religion, diversity and inclusion, and identity. I lead a life that is full of conversations,” she reflects.

“And I suppose that is who I am: a person who really likes to create a safe space, whether it’s at home or at work, where people can feel safe and be who they really are. And challenge their own thinking and learn,” she concludes.