Mandisa Makubalo, 43, sits in her office overlooking Philippi township, with Table Mountain in the distance covered with a thick cloud. In a male-dominated business sector, Makubalo believes that being a woman is exactly what gives her a business edge.
As the founder and principal consultant of the globally successful Unlimited Experiences SA, time is flexible. She travels the world and crosses multiple time zones daily.
Makubalo does not separate her role as a mother and life partner from that of a business pioneer.
“There are certain characteristics and qualities that we, as women, have that we think are not relevant in business. As women, naturally, by our creation, we are nurturers. As a woman, you have this gift of being a nurturer, and that is also required in business. You need to nurture what you are building,” says Makubalo.
“We are very devoted as women, and there is a level of devotion required in business, especially if you are married and you have a family — you are running an ecosystem at home and that principle applies in business. The qualities you have as a woman, that men don’t have, is what’s needed in business.”
After being in the corporate world for almost 20 years, Makubalo found herself unemployed in 2016, when the company she worked for was liquidated. She struggled to find work.
“I was told I was too expensive, and when I applied for a lower position there was the question [of] why I was applying for a lower position,” she said.
“I was comfortable with my salary, I had a private client in the bag, I had my SUV, got my house. So that lifestyle for me was safe, and I was not ready to deal with the uncertainty of being an entrepreneur.
“But here I am, five years later,” laughs Makubalo, “the proud owner of a business”.
When she is not managing multi-million rand projects, she writes blogs for a global audience, records podcasts, delivers keynote addresses at international events or leads global panel discussions.
Is she scared? Of course, but not deterred.
“I write blogs, scared. I write reports, scared. I go speak, scared — and it’s been working. That inner critic is needed, you should not silence that inner critic but just lower the voice. If that inner critic is not there you might step into a space that is arrogant. It keeps you humble,” says Makubalo, who ranked in the top 100 of the Global Thought Leaders’ customer experience management last year.
She believes women must break free from a mindset altered by external forces to unlock powers inside themselves they did not know were there.
Makubalo acknowledges how fortunate she is that the stigmas often experienced by people who grew up in Gugulethu on the Cape Flats did not bother her. “I’m very strong in terms of my identity. I know what I can do. I know what power I have, I know my intellectual property and, as a result of that, it is not easy for outside things to really affect me.”
Driven by her experience in the corporate world, Makubalo understands the emotional and psychological muscle needed to operate in a competitive and often male-dominated arena. But she believes a mindset shift from women is necessary to free them from pre-defined societal and cultural norms.
“The mind has to be freed. If the mind is not freed, you cannot do much. There is a mindset shift that needs to happen, and when that happens, you would actually see that the sky is the limit … you will start unlocking layers of yourself you did not know were there.
“You will often get powerful women, and they have this little voice inside of them that is telling them crap, you know, but it is so bad that they believe that. It blocks them from reaching their full potential.”
And that is what she continues to strive for: reaching her full potential, and helping others reach theirs.
Besides managing her own consultancy, Makubalo leads the African Continent Women in CX (customer experience) where she oversees 30 women. She is also about to complete her master’s in business administration.
“As a black female in business, having education opens up your thinking and broadens your horizon,” says Makubalo.
And she cannot wait to kick off her latest initiative, titled “Growth mindset, career leadership and business”. It includes a series of round table conversations with women of all ages. The discussions aim to cut through stereotypes and to encourage women into believing “they can do it, it can be done”.