Inspirational Women Leaders – Rumisha Motilal – Women’s Month 2022

Mon, 22 Aug 2022 10:52:51 GMT

Photo of a smiling professional woman wearing a smart white blouse, black blazer, and gold hoop earrings

During Women’s Month South Africa 2022, we are interviewing some of the most inspirational women leaders in the country. These women are killing it in their careers, changing their industries and gender expectations, and paying it forward to other women. Rumisha Motilal, a heavyweight in the South African mining industry and true ‘girl boss’, was one such woman who we spoke to.

Rumisha told us all about her experiences as a woman professional leader in the male-dominated mining sector, how she grew her career, and how she thinks organisations can tackle gender bias. She also spoke about how women can develop professionally and create gender equity for themselves and other women.

A strong advocate for women building one another up and acting as role models and mentors, Rumisha also told of the ways she works to empower her fellow women professionals.

Read on to see the full interview with Rumisha.

An interview with Rumisha Motilal: Being a woman leader in the mining sector

1. What is your current role & industry?

I am the Commercial Director of Mining MEA at Gilbarco (covering 71 countries.)

2. What is it like being a woman in the mining industry?

I think there are two different perspectives: one, being a woman in the mining industry now, once you have progressed in your career, is a bit easier to manage because you have the experience; and two, being a woman in mining starting out in a very junior stage and working your way up is way more cumbersome, challenging, and difficult to make it to the top.

That is why when women do succeed to some extent it is very important to pay that forward for the women that come after us – because there were many women that worked before us who made it possible for us to be having these dialogues. We owe it to the generations that follow us to do the same thing.

3. What did you wish you knew when you were 20 years old?

There are three things I would mention; [the importance of] focusing on the results, personal development, and embracing networking.

I wish I prioritised the importance of statistics, data, and metrics versus my focus on my gender as a young leader. I realised the importance of hard work and that nobody can ever take away your results and that’s something you can own as an individual. Once you prove yourself in terms of competency and performance in your career, no matter what people say about your gender, race, creed, and age, your success will speak volumes.

Something else of importance is the power of career networking and personal development. It’s a continuous process. You need to develop and leverage your strengths throughout your career. Men network very well; it is a skill women need to nurture early on in their careers.

There are so many opportunities and when women are in male-dominated fields it seems to be difficult to find women role models. Focus on these three things (results, personal development, and career networking). As uncomfortable as it may be, that is how you grow.

Can you elaborate on how women can network?

What I mean by networking is your results are not the only things that speak volumes. You need to know who makes the decisions in your organisation.

There are certain decisions that are made in the boardroom and there are certain decisions that are made before you get to the boardroom. So, it is important to network with the stakeholders in your organisation to succeed in your role and women often don’t do that. Usually, we just put our heads down, do our work, and that’s it.

Understanding the dynamics of networking, which men do very well, is very important. For example, men go golfing, which is a meeting before the meeting. So, when you [as a woman] enter the meeting, you do not realise that there was a meeting before this meeting. And this second meeting is just the formality.

Networking allows you to learn how to win over stakeholders and understand what the challenging questions will be before the meeting and how you are going to address them.

4. Have you drawn professional inspiration from other women? Tell us about someone who has inspired you.

There are so many, but one rock-solid woman that I admire is Alma Moses, the HR Director for Middle East Africa at Gilbarco.

What sets her apart is her humility as well as her drive to make decisions happen for diversity and inclusion, to recruit the right heads, and to make sure the right heads stay. Because it’s not just about getting heads into an organisation. It’s about making sure the environment is pleasant enough for them to grow in so that they can soar.

What is great about Alma is she is the kind of leader who believes diversity and inclusion is a strategic advantage – not a tick-box. From VPS to MD’s, recruitment is taken very seriously.

I cannot tell you how much Alma has done for women in the industry. She has created women’s groups, offers bursaries, advocates for female representation, and has offered different internships for more females to join Gilbarco. The coaching behind the scenes is another thing that sets her apart.

When I joined, she had multiple coffees with me to really expose me to the environment and the culture of the company and guided me with a little blueprint of what to expect.

Although this was not an easy career journey, with the right support [like Alma] you will be able to navigate your career more purposefully.

5. Which of your personal traits/qualities are you proud of /that you think helps you to succeed?

Having the ability to fail forward. I was not successful all the time. I failed multiple times. What’s important is that you are able to learn the lesson and move forward. That’s part of personal development. It’s key to fail, reset and persevere. I’m very resilient and that’s a quality most women need to have if they’re in the mining sector.

It’s even more of an advantage [to have resilience] when you are of a specific race in the mining sector, because [we are] a very scarce resource. Your competency is examined on many levels. So, you have got to be resilient and open to personal growth.

You also need to embrace leading as a female! The big “aha” moment for me was when I tried to copy my male colleagues because that is what I saw as a reference for leaders in the mining sector. I had to step back and fail at that to realise that it is OK to lead like me. It is OK to be emotionally intelligent and ask questions rather than command and be authoritative. You can succeed in leading if you have that ability as a woman.

6. What is an accomplishment you are most proud of?

For me, it was not about me succeeding on my own it. It was about how we set injustices to women in the workplace straight and how we get enough data and success stories to make it work.

I started lean-in circles [for women]. I started Women @ Work where we had a group of women who wanted to succeed in their careers, and I put together a course on how to be a good leader, how to have difficult conversations, how to negotiate, interview skills, and how to own your power in terms of presenting.

There were multiple different skill sets that I transferred to these ladies.

We held weekly meetings where I equipped them with skills on how to gain insights in interviews, and eventually, out of all the women we had [on the course], 50% that went through the programme were promoted within a year.

For me, that was so amazing. It was about the effort they put in to succeed. It was highlighting a small little niche of competency. Men and women in the industry started taking women more seriously and it became the new competitive advantage.

I also did my dissertation ‘Do women add a competitive advantage to the mining sector?‘. The statistics and research helped me build confidence in women [as professionals in the mining sector] and helped me emphasise that their competency is needed in the sector.

7. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

I think it has evolved. I started actively being involved in 2014. We have made progress, but there’s much work that we need to do.

One of the barriers is strategic stakeholder buy-in. It’s not a tick-box. When a company does recruitment for women in the mining sector based on ticking a box because it needs women in order to get more business and meet the triple BEE score ratings and the rest, that’s the wrong approach.

But when they truly buy into the insights of somebody’s ideas, their competencies, their professional experience, and drive that from the top, that’s when organisations really evolve. And that’s when [a company’s culture] becomes a culture of inclusion.

So, the two things that differentiate companies that are doing well and companies that are not are, firstly, having Vice President or Senior Executive involvement, buy-in, and participation in diversity and inclusion projects. [And these projects are] something that is close to their heart, not something that is a job. And the second thing is making diversity and inclusion part of a [company’s] strategic pillar. If it is just a document that you have in the corner and it’s shoved in the drawer, it doesn’t do anything. But when you live it as a strategic advantage, that is when you start seeing great things happening.

Also, when you have men and women locking arms to address this, it highlights the vulnerabilities, it is more authentic, and you have more people opening up about their stories. [This is] then [followed by] the company making the changes and putting programmes in place to raise an awareness.

The other barrier I think is that there are so few women we have as references or good role models in the industry. So, most university students do not even consider mining as a lucrative career because there isn’t much popularity around being a woman in the mining sector.

We need to target women in schools and universities and train, mentor, and prepare them for this sector before they join it, and make sure they know the barriers so that they can overcome them.

8. How do you balance your career, personal life, and passions? Is there really such thing as balance?

If you had asked me that at 23, I would say yes, indeed. The naive me thought I could do it all, but then unfortunately I burnt out. It is not possible. It is always a balance of what’s important and you’ve got to prioritise it.

In some cases, it’s your career that takes a preference, some cases your personal life, some cases the different hobbies you have.

What’s worked for me is having an understanding organisation that knows what my priorities are, and that also understands my competencies. Some days I work 12-hour days because work demands it. Some days I must be that mom watching my son play tennis and that’s okay.

So it’s always about having open communication [with your company] and having an organisation that allows women to have both personal life and career as priorities. I don’t think you get a balance. [But] I think it helps with the prioritisation.

9. What do you do to take care of yourself?

I love mentoring and coaching ladies who are university students in Engineering and Geoscience – I do that every Sunday.

I also work out every single day. I meditate. I love hiking, boxing, and photography. I also recently started learning how to do makeup and fashion design.

All these different hobbies have helped me to build myself up. I noticed that when you are able to be strong within your core, you are able to give back to others a bit more.

10. How can we stop gender bias?

There are a lot of statistics that really show you the value of women in the industry. I think that we need to celebrate that. I don’t think a lot of people talk about the successes [of] women.

If you look at all the Pepperdine University studies, and the Boston Consulting Group studies, it shows that when you have a diverse workforce with women and men you have about 19% greater innovation in certain companies. You have 9%-higher earnings in companies that have diverse leadership teams.

The thing that really hits me is you have an almost 53% increase in return on equity in Fortune 500 companies if they have a minimum of about three women directors on the board. What does this tell us? It tells us when you have a unique perspective and a diverse leadership team arguing about competitive advantages, and ways of working processes, you’re setting yourself apart because it’s not the traditional way of working. And many organisations are seeing that this is what studies are showing.

We need more buy-in on the stats. There are a lot of stats that back up the roles that women have. When it comes to gender bias, it’s important that men and women both stand up against gender bias. It then becomes something that organisations do not tolerate.

It is good to share stories. When you create an awareness in the form of training programmes, then somebody could even step back and realise their own biases.

So, I would say we need to create more success stories, use the stats as leverage, and keep on creating an awareness.

11. Do you experience resistance when you are leading men? How do you deal with it?

In my earlier career, it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never experienced such aggressive gender discrimination in my whole career.

I had to learn leadership skills. Emotional intelligence had to play a big role in how I responded and that is why I focused the most on my results so that I could build credibility. Once you build credibility, you can change somebody’s perception of you.

Something that also worked well for me was having a strong sense of who I was in terms of personal development, affirmations, knowing my strengths, understanding my goals, and why I was there. So, when I was faced with all this resistance, I knew I had to navigate through it, push through it, and focus on the end goal.

It was not as easy as I am demonstrating now. It took a lot of days in my car in tears, building myself up, going out again, and really pushing through the experience.

When you have those challenging experiences with no management support, it makes it much more difficult to progress in your career. I dealt with it by educating myself on the dynamics and deliverables, I focused on personal development, I worked out to mentally get myself in the right state, and then I focused 100% on results.

When I reflect on it, the men that went through that experience with me did not know what I was going through. I think that once you create more awareness and examples you can change the narrative behind it. I feel those experiences really built me up and I still send love and light to every single person because I don’t think it was intentional.

12. Advice to women in South Africa: How would you encourage women to not give up?

Achieving gender parity seems like a daunting, overwhelming, and impossible task, but even something “impossible” can be accomplished with gradual progress. I believe what’s important is that you set small milestones, and when they are achieved, celebrate them because it was difficult to progress.

For women in South Africa, I think it’s important that we all know we need to make a difference, and start small. If you have a few ladies in your organisation, you should share with at least five ladies exactly how you succeeded in your career. When you speak up for women in meetings when they are spoken over, when you encourage somebody’s idea when somebody talks over the idea, and you encourage that in a meeting that’s building a woman up.

There are multiple free resources and development programmes that organisations can utilise to develop and progress females in the sector.

I don’t think it’s a very big strategic plan that we need to put in place to create change. I think each one of us has our duties within our organisation and if we all do that little bit, we’re going to create a ripple effect later on for future generations [of women].

This Women’s Month 2022 in South Africa, we are shining the spotlight on South African women leaders and professionals who are changing the game and excelling in their fields.

If you want to be inspired by more female leaders like Rumisha, see what Raksha Naidoo, Megan du Plooy, and Linda Diedericks each have to say about their experiences in professional and leadership positions as women, the gender biases they have overcome, and their sage advice to other female professionals.

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