Only in recent decades have we seen rising numbers of strong, powerful and influential women – and notably black women – role models. From Serena Williams to Wendy Luhabe, Oprah Winfrey to Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita, Tumi Morake to Graça Machel, these women provide a blueprint for young women to emulate. Such is the power of role models.
In her memoir, Becoming, former United States First Lady Michelle Obama speaks candidly about the women mentors in her life and career. While Obama stands aloft now as a role model for women around the world, as a young black lawyer in Chicago she had few professional examples of what black, female excellence looked like. So, when she did find it, Obama recalled such encounters in glowing terms: “I’m sure I was only capitalising on what felt like a rare opportunity to speak with a woman whose background mirrored mine but who was a few years ahead of me in her career trajectory. Valerie [Jarrett, then deputy chief of staff to the mayor or Chicago] was calm, bold, and wise in ways that few people I’d met before were. She was someone to learn from, to stick close to.”
Imagine the impact that early access to a senior manager or leader who looks like you, who comes from the same educational pipeline and who worked the same challenges can have on a young graduate?
Recognising this, WDB started an internship programme in 2017, taking in 10 graduates (six women and four men) with the primary aim of giving them a year or two’s exposure to the finance and investment space and, hopefully, making it easier for them to secure employment.
As Rose Mamabolo, Business Manager of WDB Investment Holdings, explains: “I didn’t have a role model and this is why we did this. We are an all-female, black female entity and we didn’t have these role models and I can tell you that it’s hard to build a picture if you don’t know what something is supposed to look like. We wanted to be the generation that did it differently, after all how can an average black child know they want to be a CA if they’ve never seen one?”
The decision wasn’t taken only as a result of the personal experience of WDB’s executives but also thanks to a growing body of research which points to the value of same-sex role models on a woman’s career. Often these young university graduates need guidance more than technical skills, and a network to help them get their foot on the ladder. Says Mamabolo: “This is why we also started a complementary youth mentorship programme, because we realised the graduates needed guidance through corporate life. The internship and mentorship elements work together, which means we focus on how to manage your finances and even how to deal with the expectations from extended families in this regard. We help them navigate through life and their careers.”
Already, from the 2017 intake, six graduates have secured permanent employment with either local banks or asset management firms; a clear indication of what a little additional investment in young talent can make.
“The change is tangible and the transformation of these youngsters is deeply encouraging given the challenging environments they come from.” – Rose Mamabolo
Over and above the impact such programmes can have in breaking the cycle of poverty, it also has potential to keep fostering change within the sector. Mamabolo explains: “Peer pressure, peer learning and support are integral to this programme, so we were particularly gratified to see how tight knit this group became and how much of a support structure they provided one another. We hope this will have a ripple effect when they enter the formal workplace, and that this group will go on to positively impact others.”
In the process, a new generation of role models will start to stand out as beacons for those still to enter the workplace or even select a future career.