Renowned on South Africa’s financial services scene, Babalwa Ngonyama empowers women so that they can fulfil their career and business ambitions. In the past, many companies have excluded women from senior management positions in South Africa’s financial services market. However, Babalwa has reset the tone for women across the country.
Here, Babalwa shares six mindset strategies for women entrepreneurs so that they can flourish in the financial services space. Her tips and personal story of improving gender equality on several company boards are invaluable to women who also plan to monetise their passions.
1. Embrace Tough Times and Failure
Babalwa encourages women entrepreneurs not to “be too hard on yourself, be gentle as you are a memory to someone, a home to life.” She reassures these women that life is a journey with winter and summer seasons. Many of us “grow up thinking that life should be good.” However, this belief is misinformed.
“There’s good, there’s bad, there’s long, there’s short,” Babalwa says. “It’s nature way, pairs of opposites. You are going to face tough times, but they too shall pass. When you face the tough times, embrace them, take pride in your struggles.”
She compares these tough times to a winter season in your personal life. Warmer times will follow. “So just work hard on building resilience, wear your boots and scarfs ,” she says. “Don’t take it personally. That’s life, and life challenges build us.”
As entrepreneurs tackle these winter seasons, facing failure is inevitable. “You are going to fail,” Babalwa says, “especially if you want to be somebody in life. You cannot avoid it. It’s going to happen. What matters, though, is how you respond to that failure. How you get yourself out of the cold.”
While many of us learn that failure is inherently “bad,” this stigma is unnecessary. Without failure, entrepreneurs can’t learn and re-route to the pathways that will bring them success. “Your success becomes much greater and much larger after you have failed,” Babalwa says.
“People who do not want to fail or avoid failing don’t go too far in life. You have to go through hell to become a hero.” She stresses that the word “hero” refers to “someone who has passed a number of difficulties.” Overcoming several difficulties is usually impossible without having encountered failure somewhere along the way.
Try this mantra when experiencing tough times and failure: Fail early, fail often.
2. Don’t Take on Others’ Anger
Babalwa has learned the difficult lesson of not accepting “other people’s baggage.” When others are angry, she reminds herself that this anger has nothing to do with her. I will not allow other people’s egos to ruin my peace”
It is always possible to articulate challenges without expressing anger. Therefore, this emotion is only representative of the person expressing the anger. “I make sure that I don’t allow other people’s emotions to affect me,” Babalwa says.
Other entrepreneurs can champion this mindset too. Try using this mantra to separate yourself from other people’s anger: I am only responsible for my own emotions.
3. Practise Forgiveness
Babalwa also works on forgiveness to strengthen her entrepreneurial mindset. “When I feel undone, when I feel sad, I really process things,” she says. She reminds herself that the challenges she experiences help her “become a better person” so that she “can do bigger things in life.”
“It’s necessary that I go through this pain,” she says. “If I do not go through this pain, I’m not going to achieve much. So once I process it, I accept it. I forgive and move on.”
“I accept that I cannot change people’s nature and, therefore, I should not fall prey to their inadequacies. I also know that hoarding anger is like taking poison and think that someone else is going to die. No, anger takes something from me; it destroys me.”
Try using this mantra when forgiving, whether forgiving yourself or others: I forgive to set myself free.
4. Meditate And Read
Calming your mind is crucial for success. A calm mind can think clearly; it can focus, strategize and lead the body to effective execution. Taking time for self-care and self-development is crucial to protecting your entrepreneurial mindset. That’s why Babalwa meditates and reads often.
In particular, Babalwa turns to her reading materials when going through difficult times. This way, she can learn how other leaders dealt with challenges similar to those that she’s experiencing.
“I even read the Bible where they talk about leaders like David and Goliath. How did they deal with their struggles?”
When reading, Babalwa examines how others have succeeded. She delves into the tools they used to reach solutions, how they fortified themselves. This way, she can plan her own strategies to overcome difficulties.
Try using this mantra when turning to books for advice or guidance: Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.
5. Consult Mentors
Babalwa encourages business owners to discuss their enterprises with trusted allies, from mentors to friends. Seeking guidance from others is a great way to enrich your business plans.
“I cooperate with a number of people,” Babalwa says. “I have mentors in my life, and I talk to them when I’m struggling to resolve some of the issues in my mind. They guide me in terms of how to navigate the space. And once I’ve navigated the challenges, I become much more relaxed, much calmer, and I can activate and execute better as a person.”
“You don’t necessarily go very far alone. You do big things with other people. Wisdom doesn’t just sit in your head. It sits in the room, and it comes out if it’s properly facilitated.”
Babalwa’s mentors include a spiritual guru and a board of business leaders who inspire her. Each individual brings different skills to the board and acts as a mentor. Some are currently successful business owners. Others are retired CEOs. They are all wealthy, whether in terms of finance, business acumen, and/or experience.
These individuals “really allowed me to sit on their shoulders,” Babalwa says. This has enabled her to develop her perspectives on business matters. “It’s something that I will pay forward” so that budding entrepreneurs “don’t have to repeat the mistakes that I have made. They can learn from my mistakes and move faster than me.”
Try this mantra when consulting your mentors or peers: Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.
6. Do What You Love
Babalwa’s favourite career advice that she has received is to do what she loves. “I must do what I’m passionate about,” she says.
“I know for example that I cannot be a doctor because I struggle with blood. When I see blood, it traumatises me. So even if I have the brains to become a medical doctor, this cannot be my fit. Being a chartered accountant and being a businesswoman is something I love.”
Babalwa suggests that if you’re not sure what your passion is, “ask other people, what is it that you do so well?” If you’re not in a room, what are these people going to miss about you? When they give you your answer, “you know this is what you must pursue.”
Once you’ve identified your passion, “you can make a lot of money doing what you love,” Babalwa says.
“The mistake that people make is that they want to become chartered accountants because they’ve heard that there’s money there. Not too many chartered accountants make big money. You make money because of how you impact others. People can feel your love.” This applies to any industry, whether you’re an accountant, chef, doctor, or teacher.
Try this mantra when seeking your passion: If it’s your calling, it will keep calling you.
How Babalwa Ngonyama Has Improved Gender Equality on Company Boards
Babalwa’s mindset has put her in a strong position to advocate for women in South Africa’s corporate world.
This year, she spoke about talented women being sidelined or excluded from leadership positions on the “Beyond The Headline” podcast. She described the men’s business world in South Africa, explaining that a male-dominated culture often infiltrates business policies and structures.
Babalwa asserts that this culture can feel lonely for women. However, she has built strong relationships with her male counterparts on the boards of several organisations. Since strengthening these relationships, her male counterparts have found it “much easier to accept women executives.”
When seeking an executive or the right person for a senior role, Babalwa encouraged these boards to recruit a woman: “Earlier on in my life, when I used to force it, I found a lot of resistance,” Babalwa says. Now, “when we do it together, and I raise it in a boardroom,” these boards are more likely to welcome women. Today, some of Babalwa’s male peers suggest women fill new roles.
“We started by agreeing that we must have at least 30% women on the board,” Babalwa says. “Now, on most boards, we are talking 50/50.”
Babalwa emphasises that “it’s important to support women, whether you are a man or a woman. In the world in general, women still need to equalise with men. There is a balance there that we need to shift in a strong way as a society. Let’s be deliberate about shifting that balance.”
About Babalwa Ngonyama
South Africa’s financial services maven Babalwa Ngonyama is the founder of Sinayo Group.
Sinayo Securities specialises in equity sales and trading for institutional investors. Its broad network and impressive experience in the private and public sectors position the firm to offer exceptional services in South Africa’s asset management space.
Sinayo Securities serves wider South Africa by democratising investments and delivering key insights. Its portfolio companies and clients can employ these insights to generate wealth streams and tangible social impact.
The Babalwa Ngonyama Foundation
Six years after launching Sinayo Securities in 2015, Babalwa created the Babalwa Ngonyama Foundation. This non-profit organisation improves access to leadership opportunities for people from marginalised backgrounds across South Africa.
In the past, many individuals have faced barriers to accessing these opportunities because of their sex, gender, or race. Thanks to the Foundation, these individuals can now join a network of young African leaders who are pursuing ambitious careers and business ventures.
As part of the Foundation, Babalwa has overseen a collaboration with the Golden Ark Centre. This collaboration supports 160 primary and secondary school students, helping these young people prepare for bright futures.
Babalwa is also the mind behind Project Funda. This two-year programme shapes graduates so that they can enjoy thriving careers in South Africa’s financial services sector.
With support from Sinayo Securities, the project focuses on improving Black people’s access to financial research and leadership roles. Project Funda has provided extensive training and mentoring for more than 80 students.
Babalwa Ngonyama’s Other Notable Positions and Accomplishments
Babalwa is also:
- The co-founding president of the African Women Chartered Accountants (AWCA) organisation. This organisation accelerates the development of Black female chartered accountants.
- A board member and audit committee chair of Kagiso Tiso Holdings and Vukile Properties.
- The chair of the integrated infrastructure construction service company Group Five Ltd’s audit committee.
- A board and audit committee member of Barloworld Ltd.
- The deputy chairperson of Brand South Africa.
Babalwa is a member of the Forbes and Choiseul top 100 Africa. She also represents South Africa on the B20 as one of the business leaders. She has received a Black Business Quarterly (BBQ) Business Woman Visionary Award. Enterprise Magazine has selected her as one of its Top Businesswomen of the Year. And The Star has named her one of the 20 Top Women to Watch.
Education-wise, the acclaimed entrepreneur and philanthropist is a chartered accountant with a Master of Business Administration degree. She has also completed Harvard University’s Women in Leadership programme.
Learn more about Babalwa Ngonyama.