Many of the characteristics of empowered women aren’t inherent. Their effortless nature of self-determination and freedom from societal boundaries has been learned and practiced over years. This teaches us that to be an empowered woman doesn’t require any amount of resources or a special social standing.
To be empowered is to work on ourselves, recognising our own worth so that the negativity of others or the gloom of our circumstances don’t take control over our choices or our efforts to achieve our dreams.
It goes without saying that confidence is key to becoming an empowered women. This individual assurance comes in the form of self-conferred kind words and deeds. We see the outcome of inner kindness through empowered women who are comfortable in their own skin and secure in their capabilities, always maintaining the outlook that they are worthy and capable of success.
Founder of African Fashion International (AFI) and globally recognised philanthropist, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, began her career as a medical doctor. On a continent that, at the time, was only recognised for its enriching inspiration her self-confidence led her onto a new path building the contributions of Africa in the trillion dollar fashion industry.
During her keynote, delivered at the Business Women’s Association of South Africa (BWASA) Summit, Dr Moloi-Motsepe explained, “Coming from a township, it was common for people to brush off the dreams of others, because of our circumstances… I listened to my inner voice. I refused to place limitations on myself or let anyone dictate what I could or could not do. These experiences grew my confidence to overcome the negative thoughts that we all have, and the negative perspectives of others”.
Confronting failure, uncertainty and intimidation comes with the territory of being courageous. Empowered women brace themselves for all situations, maintaining their grace in the face of all odds, and unafraid to stand-up for themselves in order to keep forging ahead toward their goals.This inner strength sets them apart as they enter spaces where few have gone before, setting new precedents for the women who will come after.
Leila Fourie, the Group CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), has spent her career occupying various positions in the banking sector – an industry where male-dominated leadership is common. With a PhD in economic and financial services and as a mother of two boys, she followed her dreams by allocating the hours of 10pm until 3am to herself and her studies to drive the point that no barrier to her success could get in the way.
In an interview with Dr. Amaleya Goneos-Malka from Womanity, Fourie explained: “I remember turning off the lights at work and all my male counterparts had long since left the office, many of whom either had no children or their children were much older and I think oftentimes women are just simply not assertive enough to manage those boundaries more effectively and so it’s a fine balance again between the organisation’s consciousness and their willingness to manage protocols and to manage the unspoken rules in the culture, together with women’s willingness to be a little bit more assertive and to stand up for their needs”.
Vulnerability is a different kind of strength that asks us to share our thoughts and feelings with others. Expressing the more intimate sides of ourselves is not always appropriate but practicing vulnerability in the right context enables more meaningful connections with others. This sensitivity to ourselves, to outwardly express that we are not perfect people, builds self-acceptance and self-worth and it inspires the same amongst those around us.
Nolitha Fakude, the Chairperson of Anglo American and affectionately deemed corporate activist, has championed inclusion in the private sector.From humble beginnings, she has worked her way up to senior roles at companies including Woolworths, Nedbank and Sasol. In her memoir, Boardroom Dancing, she cites vulnerability as a tool that drives organisations forward.
In an interview with commerce students at the University of Cape Town, Fakude offered some advice: “I believe very strongly that one of the foundations of any person, woman or man, in being able to thrive in your organisation is the ability to work with teams and work with colleagues… People are able to compare notes in terms of what’s working for you, what’s not working, and you realise [whether] your situation is unique or not depending on how you engage with your peers… Where I know that I’ve got weaknesses then I always make sure that I surround myself with colleagues and peers who have strengths around the areas that I’m not as strong”.
Passion extends beyond romantic relationships and empowered women carefully nurture their interests, putting their heart into most of what they do. While not everything we are passionate about can bring in a steady income, empowered women understand this and find ways to incorporate their passion into daily life. By not losing their enthusiasm for life, they are able to find pathways to success that are unconventional.
FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura didn’t always work in sport. During the years prior to her appointment at FIFA she worked at the United Nations, supporting peacekeeping and gender equality efforts in disaster-prone countries.
In an interview with Juliet Bawuah, Madame Samoura shared: “I was a football lover. I have been married to a former footballer for more than 30 years so football was already part of my life but when [I was] appointed FIFA Secretary General, the transformation was very gradual because one thing that really happened to me was the fact that the new president wanted also to embrace more diversity. And that was exactly what I was doing day in and day out when I was serving as a UN official for 21 years”.
As empowered women break glass ceilings in industry, they are simultaneously enlightening the lives of those in their family and community. For all the women highlighted above, their most notable achievement along their journey has been their proximity to emerging young women, to whom they are able to impart their secrets of success and self-determination.
To launch AFI’s mentorship movement Power to Empower, the upcoming webinar on 31 August will feature these four empowered women who each share in the mission to empower more young women toward individual and collective freedom.