Multi-talented business strategist and entrepreneur Jane Stevenson opens up about her path to success, her work passions and what needs to be done for women in South Africa to have a level playing field in business.
Stevenson is Business Development Director of Boomtown, a national, strategic branding agency, and has an impressive track record for providing strategic business and brand guidance to some of Africa’s largest corporate companies.
She is passionate about unlocking the potential of teams and individuals for wider success. Here are her insightful answers to our questions.
ABR:Is there really any difference between becoming successful in your own business whether you are a woman or a man in the continent today?
JS: Sadly, yes
ABR:If yes what do you think those differences are?
JS: I guess the gender equality debate is always alive and well and statistically it does show inequality in role, salary, promotion, etc. However, there are many women who are extremely successful despite this. For me it is all about your attitude, your belief in yourself and your ability to deliver on your promise. If you can achieve these three things, you stand head and shoulders above the rest. As women, we need to work on seeing ourselves as equals too. If we don’t, why should others?
ABR:What needs to be done to address this situation?
JS:Empowerment of women starts with the individual. In fact, it starts at home. As parents we need to be mindful of how we raise our children. What belief system we create that later sets the tone in the business environment. Equality in the home will go a long way to changing the mindsets of our future leaders. Companies need to be brave enough to encourage women at Board level. Not as a token, but truly for their worth and value in the workplace.
ABR:In terms of getting to board level, it is still heavily weighted towards men in South Africa, what needs to be done to redress that balance and establish a level playing field?
JS: Women need to fight for their place on Boards, prove their worth and prove their value to the team. Companies /Boards need to embrace change, breakdown institutional barriers and embrace equality, and truly allow women to have a voice into the strategic advancement of business.
The Census shows that more women are being placed in executive roles however, gently nudged to the side when work and family invariably clash. Again, this need not be so. We need to create business environments that embrace a balanced approach. Although companies have created programmes for advancement of women, and initiatives that remove the threat of lawsuits /negative publicity, we need to focus on successfully, leveling the playing field.
Organisations / Countries /Homes need women in leadership positions, not because they can manage better than men, but because we manage differently to men. The collaboration of the two is powerful. If we stopped playing games long enough to realise it, we could revolutionise the way the world operates.
ABR:What you think about childcare provision in your country and what do you think might happen if working men were responsible for making the childcare arrangements?
JS:Childcare is always a challenge for a working woman. The best person to raise a child is the mother. However, particularly in today’s economic climate, that is rarely possible. We have fantastic skills available in the form of trained domestics who love and care for children, as well as child care facilities/ crèche’s. I do feel that companies should embrace more childcare facilities on site.
If working men were responsible for making arrangements? I shudder. Many would step up and make it work, while others would simply call a woman to help.
ABR: What influence did your parents have on your career choices?
JS:They gave me the freedom to choose my own path and the encouragement to believe that I could succeed.
ABR:Who in your career has been your biggest influence?
JS:Internationally from a business perspective Richard Branson. HIs bullish tenacity to achieve is admirable. I enjoy his “can do” attitude. But most of the accolade here goes to my husband who enables me to chase my dreams.
ABR:What does success mean to you?
JS:Knowing that I have made a difference in the lives of those around me. It’s about making solid choices and about integrity, no matter what.
ABR:What motivates you?
JS:Making a difference in a person’s life. If I cannot do meaningful work, I see no value.
ABR:What do you consider are the main ingredients for business success?
JS:A. The right attitude. B. The ability to listen and care - operationally but more so inspirationally. C. Cast vision. No one likes to feel they are just floating in space, we all like direction, something that grounds us and motivates us. D. Inspire, motivate, lead and be part of the teams you work with. E. never confuses activity with progress.
ABR: What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
JS:Don’t try doing it alone. Surround yourself with wise people who can guide you
ABR:What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
JS: Believe in yourself. Fight for your dreams. Recognise the importance of failure. It’s simply the bridges between successes.
ABR:How important is mentoring to women?
JS:I believe mentoring / coaching is extremely necessary, for all genders, in particular women. It is an empowering and enriching experience that can change your world.
ABR:What was the biggest mistake you ever made?
Building a business around someone else’s need when it didn’t make economic sense. My need to make a difference in someone’s life (in this case my business partner) superseded the economic viability.