The month of August marks the commemoration of Women’s month in our country; and I view this time as not only poignant in our history, but also as an opportunity to celebrate the strides we have made as women in this great country of ours.
While women continue to bear the brunt of gender-based violence and inequalities in the corporate arena, we are starting to see some sort of transformation in this sector; as women are slowly being recognised and rewarded for the contributions they continuously make.
This women’s month, I pick up where I left off in the #Womenomics series. Today, we chat to Nonhlanhla Mbongo, an Associate Relationship Manager for one of the largest international financial services company.
Noni, as many affectionately refer to her, describes herself as a God-fearing individual with an enquiring mind. Read more below, you’ll be blow away.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am very passionate, resilient, head strong, God-fearing and have an enquiring mind that loves to explore given the chance. I believe these qualities have helped me keep my head above water. We live in a world where self-reliance is key and if you do not possess strong qualities and a heart full of faith – it will be very difficult to navigate through the ebbs and flows of life.
In the same breath, I am also soft in nature; as much as one needs to be self-reliant, I believe you need to be humble enough to be teachable; ask when you don’t know because the moment you think you know enough then you have stopped living. So, all in all I would like to think I am a balance of strength and softness (note: not weakness).
What are some of your main passions and why are they important to you?
My passions lie in serving and enriching others as well as enriching myself through actively and passively participating in activities that allow me to be a better person for myself. I am actively involved in forums in and outside the workplace, I do believe in living for something and not being stuck in routine. I often say if you are operating from an empty of half-full vessel you will not be able to serve those around you at your highest potential. I have a passion that lies in enriching the lives of young males and females, especially in the finance sector as it is very much white male dominant.
I am a believer in excellence so despite one’s gender, we all have the capabilities to breed excellence and this can be birthed through the support of our societies as well as collaboration efforts from both genders and all backgrounds. In order to have a thriving society we cannot work in silos as men and women or even isolate the idea of collaboration. Gender parity is fundamental to building strong economies. Ensuring full development and deployment for half of the world’s total talent pool and gender gaps across the industry talent pools and occupations has a positive impact on the growth and future readiness of economies worldwide. To ensure success of this we need to think of the long term and ask ourselves “how are we going to stay here”.
You’re in Financial Markets. What does your role entail?
I am an Associate Relationship Manager for one of the largest international financial services company, providing market data and analytics. In our region, the territories we cover are across Sub-Saharan Africa providing services to the financial sector players i.e.: private equity companies, investment banks, reserve banks, asset managers, corporates etc. My role requires me to travel a lot, find viable fin-tech, market data and analytical solutions for clients as well as finding cross sell and up sell opportunities within the market. I also have multi-faceted market related discussions with the different players within the financial sector and meet some well-respected individuals within the industry thus allowing me to build a strong network and gain credibility but more importantly it allows me to also take stock of my personal and career goals.
Have you always wanted to pursue a career in Financial Markets?
Hahaha. When I was younger my parents treated my sisters and I and flew us to Cape Town on holiday and that was my first experience on an airplane and from then on, I was convinced that I was going to be an air hostess. My dad also traveled a lot on business and being young, I thought instead of traveling for business I would rather be an air hostess and have fun (little did I know that my life would turn out to be the former).
I later started realizing my passions with the help of my mom and dad and thought I’d study Psychology then I did the Maths and thought I actually want to make a lot of money and earlier as well as have some flexibility so instead opted for a BCom in Industrial Psychology and by God’s Grace I started my career at an international investment bank after a few internships at other companies, from there I later qualified with the Chartered Institute of Management Accounting and with the help of my now friend and senior mentor who took me under his wings and gave me a chance I gained confidence in that this is where I want to be and belong. I worked really hard in the bank and made sure I utilized the access to my local and international network.
I gained respect and credibility with my seniors and peers, I learnt as much as I could and worked long hours, as this was also the nature of the bank. After having grown and spent time in the environment it was time for me to explore other opportunities within the sector and I must say I am really happy here and I feel challenged every day to be better. I am also working on pursuing a PDM and later by God’s Grace getting into Business school abroad and living abroad, till then God decides when where and how!!
As a young, black female professional, what are some of the challenges you encounter in your current role?
Being young, female and black is a challenge on its own already. This sector is white dominated as well as male dominated. When you do get the opportunity to “sit at the table” you have to ensure that you are well equipped and prepared, of not for yourself then do it for those that came before you and those coming after you like you! Ultimately, we need to see these “challenges” as opportunities otherwise we will be in a constant state of discouragement and disappointment.
What has been the most rewarding experience in your career?
I cannot name one to be honest. I do not prescribe to being a “wall flower” or a “paper pusher” so all the moments I have had where I contributed, sought help, made my voice heard and put my head done and did the work have all yielded great rewards and continue to do so.
Women today are invested in building successful careers, and creating legacy they can be proud of. Some, however, still suffer from criticism if they have not been able to get married by a certain age. What are your views on this?
I think as human beings we need to turn off the unnecessary noise and focus on ourselves. There is no book that tells us that you ought to have been married at X age or achieved a certain career or life outcome by X number of years. As human beings, we are our biggest downfall and we create these challenges ourselves and in turn future generations inherit this archaic mindset, which I find to be toxic by the way.
I have fortunately been blessed with parents that identified my strengths and nurtured them and continue to do so till this day and encourage my pursuit of independence as well as being the best Nonhlanhla Mbongo I can be before expecting me to bring a man home to marry. This boils down to keeping an open-minded circle around you that celebrates you and encourages you to make sensible, well thought out decisions pertaining to YOUR life.
What was the best financial advice you’ve ever received?
Apart from my investment manager telling me to not be conservative my parents have always encouraged us to invest and save from an early age, so saving is embedded in me. I often say if the purchase isn’t going to matter days/months/years from now then reconsider it. It is good to spoil yourself but don’t over indulge unnecessarily. People often say life is short but the reality of it is that it isn’t and you do not want to grow old years from now and have no wealth accumulated for yourself and future generations.
In your opinion, what are some of the barriers that prevent women in our continent from participating fully in their respective economies?
There is definitely a strong gender gap and a lot of cultural ideologies sometimes seeping into the workplace. You will find in some organizations women are not being fully integrated and thus lose out on skills, ideas, and perspectives that are critical in harnessing new opportunities. It has been estimated that by improving gender parity, economies like China could see a USD$2.5 trillion GDP increase and the world as a whole could increase GDP by USD$5.3 trillion by 2025 and this can all be done by closing the gap in economic participation. Policy makers also need to be instrumental in making the change.
It is no fortunrise that women still earn less than their male counterparts, while doing the same amount of work. Add to that, we take time off to raise and nurture children. Equality is long overdue! These challenges require radical solutions. What do you think is the first step in achieving equality in the workplace?
The first step would be for employers to consider their biases and understand the concept of unconscious bias and ensure everyone has the same access to opportunities and equal pay. The employees also have a responsibility towards themselves especially us Africans in that we need to stop operating from a place of modesty in the workplace and speak up as well as enquire.
You’re a very stylish lady. What inspires your style?
My mom influences my style, she is timeless, elegant and stylish. I also draw inspiration from a lot of women in Europe; they have an understated elegance, very chic and effortless. Queen Rania is another source of inspiration; very feminine and elegant.
What is your favourite quote and why?
“Everything happens for a reason” I like it because it brings a lot into perspective.
I love reading, other than the news publications I’m subscribed to my bed time read is currently “Princess: More tears to cry” by international bestselling author Jean Sasson. This book is about a Saudi princess speaking about the struggle for women’s rights. The book that made the most impact on me was one my mentor gifted me “what I know for sure” by Oprah.
Name a book you’re currently reading / name a book that made the most impact on you.
Favourite holiday destination.
I am fortunate that I get to travel for work and leisure and so this is a difficult one but I would say Paris, NYC and most recently Cairo. London has a very special place in my heart too and I’ve frequented it so much that I think that is where I will most likely end up living.
One fun fact about you.
My older sister and I share the same birthday but 6 years apart and so does Kourtney Kardashian’s sons and their birthdays are also on the same day as us. (chuckles)
Well, there you have it! Noni is truly, truly phenomenal.
How will you be honouring the women in your life this Women’s moth, and beyond? Be sure to leave tour comments below.
Until next time, love and light.