Breaking the barriers

Organisational culture strategist Sihle Bolani is helping women of colour empower themselves in the corporate space. 

 

“We are the biggest demographic in this country yet we are overworked and underpaid.”

Sihle Bolani is an entrepreneur, author and content creator who is passionate about women’s rights, diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace. A pioneer in her field, she has forged her own pathway in the corporate space, creating a career as an organisational culture strategist – a term  that serves a crucial purpose within a company structure.

“I collaborate with clients to develop strategies for creating healthy, equitable and fair work environments for all employees. In order to achieve this, I first assess the current conditions, employee experience and sentiment against the context of business objectives and leadership’s consciousness of the culture as well as its impact on employees. My work is focused more on understanding the experiences of marginalised groups and ensuring that their voices, feedback and needs are a core component in the development of new strategies,” explains Sihle.

To expand on this endeavour, she has created numerous platforms to help people through different mediums – yet all with the same functionality: assisting people of colour – particularly women – to navigate the unique set of challenges and obstacles they face in the workplace.

Sihle refers to these challenges as micro-aggressions, given that they are often so subtle we might not even be aware when they occur. She mentions the over-sexualisation of black women as well as the common adage of “we have to work twice as hard to get half of what they have” mentality, as an example. “We constantly have to overthink what we do and say so as not to be labelled in any way – or perpetuate the narrative of ‘the angry black woman’,” she says. “We are the biggest demographic in this country yet we are overworked and underpaid.”

For this reason, Sihle has channelled her work as a cultural strategist into a book, titled We Are the Ones We Need, a podcast, called The Workplace Revolution, as well as her career development platform, Konnekted. The platform is a membership-based subscription app for black professional women.

The aim of the platform is to create a safe and supportive environment through which members can engage and learn from one another. There are monthly meet-ups and workshops as well as frequently shared resources that provide members with the specialised tools and skills they need to navigate the workplace, position themselves for promotion, learn the art of negotiation and understand corporate dynamics – to name a few.

In addition, her book draws on her own experiences, giving us a personal account of the victimisation and institutionalised racism she faced as a black woman at some of the top organisations in the country. The book touches on various topics including pay discrimination, the role executives play in sustaining discriminatory practices, corporate abuse, the suppression of black talent, and the emotional and psychological trauma suffered by black professionals as a result of this treatment.  “It creates awareness,” she says. “So people are able to recognise when they face similar experiences.” At the end, she provides her own insight into how we, as a society, can begin to change corporate culture in South Africa and its weaponisation against black professionals.

Transforming society, she says, first starts with making changes as individuals. Report unfair treatment, even if it feels uncomfortable. Speak up against suppressive practices. Have the confidence to call out subtle racist remarks. These things all contribute to a shift in corporate consciousness. “As an organisation, it’s important to re-look at HR policies, implement clear and efficient reporting mechanisms, and ensure you have supportive structures in place in the backend.”

At the core of her work, Sihle wants to give black women the ability to break down the barriers they face in the workplace, and dismantle the layers of trauma they unconsciously carry around with them, affecting their everyday life and future prospects.

Once women are able to do this, they will not only be able to thrive in the corporate space but also in their personal capacity, having the confidence to live their truth and pursue their passion, similar to the way Sihle has done with her cultural corporate work – a true testament on how to exercise creativity in business.

When asked about her tips on how to forge your own pathway and create a career out of your passion – even something that’s never been done before, Sihle had this to say: “Know your WHY. This is your compass. Focus on that and don’t focus too much on what others are doing. Invest in knowing and understanding your audience/market so that you can serve them efficiently and authentically. As they evolve, as their needs change, you will be right there, able to serve them in the ways they need, which gives your business longevity. Be open to learning from anyone. Your best lessons will likely come from unexpected sources – keep an open mind. There will be more tough days than easy ones. Slow and steady wins the race. Rest.”

In light of our Most Creative People in Business issue, she also imparts her pearls of wisdom to black professionals on the rise – particularly during these trying times: “Take this time to think about how you can leverage your offering with limited face-to-face interaction. None of us know what the future holds, but what we do know, before and after this pandemic, is that the need for convenience and the increased consumption of tech-driven services will only get higher. Also, be kind to yourself – there is nothing normal about what we’re going through right now. Lastly, consider collaboration. There is value in joining forces to maximise opportunities and gains for your business. You don’t have to do everything alone.”

Although this year has been unpredictable and riddled with challenges, Sihle has shown no signs of slowing down. Her next project is an exciting webinar that will be launching under the Konnekted banner and will be open to all women for free this November. The webinars will be running into 2021. She will also be opening up registration for the Konnekted Class of 2021 which, for the first time, will be going international and be available to black professional women in the US and UK.

In addition, she will be launching one-on-one coaching sessions, taking up to four clients per quarter. More information on Sihle’s projects, platforms and her work as an organisational strategist can be found on her website sihlebolani.com.

Sihle wants to give black women the ability to break down the barriers they face in the workplace, and dismantle the layers of trauma they unconsciously carry around with them

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