Visionary Woman Leader: Nompumelelo Mokou says empowerment should not be limited to gender
The Dimension Data MD believes that the empowerment of both women and men should be addressed.
It was an unexpected detour in primary school that set Nompumelelo Mokou, managing director of Dimension Data, Southern Africa, on the path of understanding what she wanted from life and expected as a woman growing up in South Africa.
“My roots can be found in Soweto, however, the detour after being expelled from a local township school for standing up to a teacher – about an ethical injustice I sought to rectify, made me question a few things about the world I was being raised in,” she says.
This candidness proved to be a setback with a silver lining as she then attended Parktown High School for Girls, which helped to formulate a strong sense of personal value, stripping away gender stereotypes. Moving from a co-ed to an all-girls school was a culture shift.
She says, “The shift to an all-girls school was not as daunting as one would expect. I enjoyed it. I didn’t have to worry about aesthetics. I had women around me who helped me orientate at school. I was able to be myself and be unencumbered by sexism. That’s where I learned to value myself as a woman.”
Nompumelelo still remembers the headmistress at the school saying that girls can do anything – and took that to heart.
“Participating in various activities throughout my school career, exposed me to several inspirational women, who without knowing it, actually still define my decisions and actions today. I fondly recall my experience as the choir chair and how we were always encouraged to value our skills, that we were capable of reaching the highest or lowest notes; that there was no limitation to the capacity of our souls,” she explains.
It was in matric that the novice cyclist realised that she wanted to be a CA. However, it would take two years, one spent studying tourism and another spent working, before she enrolled for a B Acc at Wits.
Empowerment is something you give to others
“I totally disliked my job at the time; it was repetitive and not challenging but more importantly I was not suited to it and it didn’t inspire me. So, I went back to full time studying,” she said.
After completing her studies, Nompumelelo joined EY and in her first year she had the unique opportunity of having coffee and a chat with Philip Hourquebie, the then CEO, about women empowerment, and how empowerment should not be limited to gender.
“At the time I was tutoring two men at Sun City prison, who wanted to become CAs. They had been imprisoned since their teens and were around 40 years old when I met them. Poverty is a catalyst to crime and in this case both these men had been victims of their circumstances and bad choices made out of desperation.
"However, in my engagements, and the consistency thereof, they were both empowered through the giving of time, of lessons, patience and of kindness shown. This is why I believe that empowerment of women or men, no matter the gender, should be addressed as such. We face gender challenges, this is not something that can be addressed in a simple action, however, with mutual respect, patience and openness we can collaborate across the gender-gap, the divide can be bridged and empowerment could be holistic,” she said.
After completing her articles at EY, the then 25-year-old decided to start her own business.
“It took about six months to land my first client. During that time, I minimised personal expenses by staying at home, renting affordable offices in the community thus keeping the cost structure lean. I learned so much about the practicality of running a small business, it was not about gaining financial support but about access to the market, meeting client’s needs and retaining business. I became the chairperson of the Business Women of SA Soweto branch, sat on the UJ Township Economies Forum and learned the art of networking. I learned to hustle,” she said.
Nompumelelo then joined a small audit firm, Ngubane and Co. where she flourished. She became “the business person who opened doors”, changed the company strategy and made an impact on the brand and its branding.
In 2016, she joined Dimension Data as senior finance manager for Managed Services, thereafter, moved to lead the Intelligent Customer Experience business unit for the Middle East and Africa.
“Dimension Data has a long legacy, growing from a local business to a global entity. The organisation is very forward thinking. My first year taught me about resilience, my capacity to learn new things and that I do enjoy a good challenge,” she says.
Resilience has also been a key theme during the pandemic and the Covid-19 waves that have been experienced in South Africa.
“During the first wave, we learned that our employees are resilient. Covid taught us that remote work has pros and cons, with some coping well and others not able to switch off,” she said.
To assist employees with the transition, Dimension Data ran a “Family is part of the Team” campaign, to humanise remote work. This included having children and pets visible during calls.
“At the peak of the second wave, our employees, our business and country saw rising mortality rates which started impacting mental wellness and general momentum. Despite this, most employees were focused on pushing sales to deliver a great year-end at 31 March 2021. We again appreciated that we have amazing people; committed and loyal,” she says.
The MBA graduate adds, “Now, during the peak of the third wave, we have to accept that Covid and uncertainty are part of our lives. We have to adapt, cope, survive then thrive. There are peaks and troughs through this season with positive market outlook but longer sales cycles as clients relook ways of work. This has put pressure and heightened general anxiety.”
She notes that some skilled people are opting for employment in other countries, both through emigration as well as better pay working from home. The company is consequently relooking its workplace model, to better enable a more efficient hybrid-work environment for their staff.
As a managing director, Nompumelelo is acutely aware of the challenges facing leaders.
“Business leaders face several challenges, some of which are specific to women. All leaders (male or female) are expected to perform, make the business thrive, meet shareholders expectations and ensure that the work environment is diverse, inclusive and empowering. Diversity and Inclusion is every leaders’ responsibility. I see myself as a business leader and not just as a woman leader. I do not want to limit myself to a gender stereotype. One of the challenges that leaders must get right is gender parity where women are paid on par with male counterparts. We need more women leaders to take up space, have a voice at the boardroom table and inspire others,” she says.
Nompumelelo adds, “As a woman in business what I see in society challenges me. GBV challenges me. Both these challenges limit the pipeline of future female professionals, professors and leaders.”
She believes that the solutions are multi-faceted and complicated and should include more businesses empowering women leaders, with the rules of the commercial corporate playground allowing all players, regardless of gender, the chance to achieve.