Wendy Luhabe, seasoned businesswoman, social entrepreneur and pioneer in the Economic Empowerment of Women, talks to Woman and Business about why women have what it takes to afford a change in our country.
We celebrated Women’s Day during the past month. Looking at the type of celebrations, do you think that they do justice to the origin of Women’s Day?
I don’t believe the type of celebrations, discussions and reflections do justice to the origin of Women’s Day and the intention of the 1956 march to the Union Building. I have been feeling for a few years now that we should use the occasion to speak to different audiences. Most of these occasions are about woman speaking among themselves. Secondly, we need to hear from policy makers what they are doing to achieve gender equality and what challenges they have. Thirdly, we need to hear from the Private Sector, why the number of women in decision making roles have not increased, why women continue to be marginalised and why they do not earn the same salary as men for the same job. Finally, we should hear testimonies of what is possible when women support one another. When they share stories and when they mentor each other, I suspect, magic happens.
After ten years in corporate positions, you left it behind in becoming an entrepreneur. Do you remember your fears? How does one overcome the fear of failing or not making the cut?
We must accept that not everyone can be an Entrepreneur. I became one because I had identified an opportunity that was not being addressed at the time, and as it turned out, became my passion. To become an entrepreneur you have to be able to take a risk, be patient, have discipline and be prepared to either succeed or to fail. When we fail, it is not so much that we become a failure as it is that the idea we thought was great does not succeed. We cannot allow fear to limit us, my view is that we must find the courage to try something.
Ultimately, what is the worst that can happen? We need to realise that our thoughts are a powerful tool to create. What we expect is exactly what we create. I generally am optimistic about life and have never been disappointed. So, the best way to overcome our fears is to feel the fear and go ahead anyway.
“Entrepreneurship: Think of it as an adventure. Even when we fail, we always learn something, so it is never a complete waste of time and effort.”
Did it help to have a strong and successful man behind you?
It helps to have a man who is self-made and self-assured because he is able to support you to pursue your own aspirations. It helps to have a man who does not get in your way and who is not intimidated or threatened by your success and achievements. These men are few and far in between, I am lucky to have one. Having said that however, women cannot pursue their aspirations at the expense of their duties as a wife. So I have always made sure I have a very good housekeeper to make sure that our home provides all the comforts that a man expects from a home. The comforts do not have to be provided by me, they just need to be provided.
What did entrepreneurship teach you?
I became an entrepreneur for a number of reasons. Firstly, I had been digesting the idea for at least three years. Secondly, I was overlooked for a promotion, this became a catalyst for me to find out whether I would grow more and achieve more in life as an entrepreneur. Thirdly, I felt under-valued and under-utilised, which means I had an idea of my self-worth. Fourth, I wanted to help black graduates get out of the victim mentality and to realise that they are not retarded, they have so much to offer, they just need to re-frame their attitude and believe in themselves.
Becoming an entrepreneur therefore taught me the importance of knowing what we want in life, and what makes me come alive.
What is your take on education? Do you view it as important?