MakeEquality — a focus piece on the women in our workplace.

Imagine being compelled to carry a pass with you at all times to prove your permission to be anywhere other than your home…

Maxine Wilcox
Aug 21, 2019 · 8 min read

In 1956, South African women marched in masses to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest this extension of pass laws that completely defied the logic of basic human rights. Their mission was seemingly simple: demanding equal rights so their daughters could have a fair shot at the opportunities previously denied to generations of women before them.

Their success is shown through our own — all South African citizens have inherent equal rights and the female presence is growing stronger and stronger in the corporate world. We commemorate this historic event throughout the month of August by celebrating and acknowledging women and their contributions.

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With more than half our team made up of incredible women, we thought it only right to dedicate an article to these wonderful ladies. We asked a handful of the women in power at MakeReign some questions about their personal experiences climbing their career ladders as women in a male-dominated industry.

The future is female: let’s meet them.

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Nicole Swanepoel

Previous job: Project Manager at King James Digital

Qualifications from Rhodes University

Currently: Digital Project Manager

Chow-of-choice: Italian

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Elize van Staden

Previous job: Head of Project Management at HelloComputer

Qualifications from the University of Johannesburg

Currently: Director and Head of Project Management

Go-to-grub: Everything*

*Except for brussels sprouts and the food from a certain vegan restaurant not to be named…

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Britta Graewe

Previous job: UX Specialist at Integrative Enneagram Solutions

Qualifications from Maastricht University

Currently: Head of UX

Valued-vittles: Pancakes

Q: What inspired you to do the work you do? How did you get started?

Nicole: I’ve always wanted to work in a creative environment as I have an unwavering appreciation for the arts. So, I made my way to the arts capital of South Africa, Grahamstown where I studied Journalism and did my post-grad in Media Management. After university, I went into a traditional media environment, radio broadcasting, starting as a producer before moving into the operational side of the business. So, it was a natural progression for me to move into Project Management in the exciting world of advertising. And, in 2019 — Digital Project Manager at MakeReign. It’s been one heck of a ride and I couldn’t be happier to be here (insert rad emoji).

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Q: How do you balance work and personal life?

Britta: I love trail running and the beach. Running in the morning is my favourite way to start the day — and chances are low that work commitments or other last-minute plans will get in the way.

Nicole: You have to prioritise your personal life as much as you would your job. When I arrive at work in the mornings, I’m all in — giving 100% of myself and focusing on getting the work done. But, it’s important for me to leave work behind when I walk out the door at the end of the day. I used to find myself working until 9 pm Monday to Friday, working all of Saturdays — all alone in the office. This was while everyone else was out fostering meaningful relationships, having downtime or spending weekends away, having new experiences. I didn’t realize how much harm I was causing myself by not balancing the two because I was too scared that I might lose my job, or make my boss angry. It resulted in me losing out on crucial time with myself and the people most special to me. Burnout. They replaced me in a week. I promised myself I would never take my personal life for granted again.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration and motivation from?

Britta: I actually draw the most inspiration from meeting people, understanding their thinking, or by just observing how they use digital products. The most motivating thing for me is to see ideas come to life and actually make a difference in peoples’ lives. Knowing that the product you worked on and the decisions you made reached millions of users is quite cool.

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Q: Who’s your top female leader or role model, and why?

Nicole: Normally I don’t differentiate between male vs female. We’re at a time in our lives where whatever a man can do — we can do too. Yeah, the road might be a lot rockier to get there — but it’s totally possible. But if I had to pick my top leader/role model (who also happens to be a female — lol), as cliché as this may sound, Oprah-Frikken-Winfrey. Yup, Oprah. She is a total badass. She lives her life unapologetically on her terms and without any predisposed idea of what a woman should or should not be.

Who cares if she’s not married or has no kids, she’s done away with the taboo and made it okay for women to be emotional. She’s written books, she’s been a source of entertainment, and through her philanthropic endeavours, she’s helped millions of people. Emotional and all.

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Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

Elize: Everything is possible: if you believe you can’t then you can’t. If you believe you can then you will.

Nicole: Don’t hold back. You can literally be whoever you want to be. You want to be the CEO of a huge conglomerate, partner at a global law firm, start your own small business selling scented candles on Instagram, be a mom to three children? Heck — do it. Don’t hold back. But whatever you do, give it 100% and don’t let the thoughts of others interfere with how you see yourself in that role. Be vocal about the things you are passionate about, stand your ground and never back down to any man or woman, or either of their perceptions of what type of (insert role here) you should or shouldn’t be.

Q: An article published in Invision’s Inside Design blog states that in 2019 that 53% of designers are women, but only 11% hold leadership positions. They posed the question as to where women fall off … They spoke about a lack of mentorship, support from peers and unequal pay versus their male counterparts. How do you feel the industry and its players could work towards improving this?

Nicole: A colleague once told me that she was denied a raise because her husband was a doctor and she had no children. She resigned shortly thereafter. Can you believe that? I can. Women are scared to speak up, to back themselves, to accept the non-raise, or to own their creative ideas. Instead, we’d rather pass them off to our male counterparts, and for what? So they can take credit for our ideas? So they can get a salary that is double ours? Why? Because we’re too scared to say, “no, actually John, that was my idea!”.

Q: How do you think women in leadership benefits a company?

Nicole: I’m going to say it, and I might get slated for it, but here goes: we are emotional. And being emotional is not a bad thing. We bring a sense of understanding and an empathetic style of leadership to the organization. It’s also important to have women in leadership roles to straighten out the inequality curve and fight for the rest of us.

Elize: I feel, generally, women are more focused and give more attention to detail. Sometimes I think they just care more about doing things right (sorry, men!)

Britta: I guess the most important thing is that a leadership style matches someone’s personality. The person needs to be able to apply her individual strengths to do the job, irrespective of a pre-defined leadership concept. With women (or anyone really) creating their own authentic leadership styles, companies can definitely benefit from having more diverse perspectives on problem-solving, risk management, people management, etc.

Q: What advice would you give to young women wanting to enter the industry?

Elize: Don’t expect — your work speaks volumes.

Nicole: Work hard. Never stop learning. Never stop wanting to learn. Don’t take it personally. Speak up. Maintain a work-life balance. Take holidays when you need them and when you don’t. And finally, avoid office gossip (it always comes around to bite you in the ass!)

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We’re sure you’ll agree that we’re pretty darn lucky to have these women on our team.

It’s shocking that in certain instances, so many women still need to work harder than their male colleagues to receive the same level (or even less) of recognition, respect, and remuneration! A study conducted in 2014, the most recent year with sufficient data, found that (full-time working) women in the US earned only 79 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts.

Considering this is the reality of a developed country, one can only imagine the inequality in developing countries. Spreading awareness is the first step in addressing these issues. We can only hope that ripple effects will result in changes in legislation and transparency in corporations.

Women marched in 1956 so we could all have equal rights — now it’s our turn to end all forms of inequality as we know it.

MakeReign is a digital product design studio based in Cape Town, South Africa. Don’t be shy, get in touch: info@makereign.com.

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