Itumeleng Makgato and Boikhutso Mokoto, both Bachelor of Commerce final-year students at Wits University in Johannesburg, are on a mission to empower any female student who feels she needs help in making herself heard.
They are the faces of the Businesswomen's Association of South Africa (Bwasa’s) student chapter programme, which was launched at Wits eight months ago.
During this stretch of time they have attracted nearly 200 student members. With only 40 being required by the university to start an organisation on campus, the duo are clearly filling a need.
“We have a good rapport with the Wits community already, as students ask us, ‘Where have you been all this time?’” said Mokoto (21), who comes from Brakpan.
“We’re not industry specific because students doing dentistry, education, psychology, journalism – anything – can join, as long as they’re women,” added Makgato (22), who grew up in Orlando West and lives in Midrand, both just outside of Johannesburg.
Both lively, assertive and confident young women want to impart what they’ve already learnt about workplace demands, “so we can devise programmes that will help our fellow students.”
“Schoolgirls struggle, even those of us who come from a private, all-girls school like I did, because we are not prepared for the challenges that a university presents,” said Mokoto.
These include the sudden freedom of being expected to express yourself and the change from school learning to university academic life.
“We’re not psychologically prepared before we leave school,” said Makgoto.
Furthermore, the move from university into the workplace, writing a CV, preparing for a job interview and deciding what to wear for it can be scary.
Makgato is already working at a private bank in Johannesburg and said that she wasn’t intimidated at all by the vast, sophisticated office. She said to herself as she rode the glass escalators, “I want my own company one day and I want it to look like this.”
Mokoto does not anticipate feeling overwhelmed when she first starts work, “thanks to the courses that Bwasa is organising for us”.
The Wits Student Chapter has organised panel discussions, in preparation for a speed networking event. Girls are offered advice on how to carry themselves in the professional world.
Makgato explained what these events entail, “We’ve had to prepare an ‘elevator pitch’ in which you summarise and present your attributes in the time it normally takes you to travel from floor to floor in a lift.”
Leading women in the South African business community from top banks such as Standard and Absa, from Unilever and Sasol have been invited to attend these events and share their knowledge and experience.
“Girls are shy on campus. They say ‘I’m sorry to bother you but…’ when they’re asking questions,” added Mokoto. “We’re even nervous about speaking to each other.”
In this first year of the Wits Student Chapter it has Fast Track to Success as part of its programme. Topics that could be covered include leadership, entrepreneurship and the lowering of fees.
As our interview flows, they discuss why men form networks so easily, are more “together-ish” and have a group synergy that women do not immediately create on meeting each other for the first time.
There is a need to unlearn early socialisation that insists girls perform certain duties at home, at school and even at university as stereotyped roles are perpetuated.
“I’m not confrontational when I’m expected to do certain ‘womanly’ things and I address the issue calmly. But some of us lash out in anger,” said Mokoto, adding “There’s a delicate balance.”
Makgato was drawn into creating the student chapter by her aunt, Matshepo Msibi, formerly head of strategy at the Gauteng Treasury and who now sits on the Bwasa Executive Committee.
“Leading Voices of Tomorrow is my aunt’s programme and I was one of four ambassadors for it. It empowers young girls through leadership training and mentorship.
“We met Kah Walla, leader of the opposition in Cameroon and she praised Bwasa for the work it is doing but suggested we could do more by empowering young women,” explained Makgato.
The chapter’s final event of the year was a Mentorship and Entrepreneurship Summit held in October. Bwasa hope to roll out the university student chapter programme at Nelson Mandela University, University of Limpopo, University of Cape Town and University of Pretoria.
There is, therefore, much riding on the shoulders of the Wits Student Chapter, but with an already thriving group, the future for young graduates on its programme will be given a great boost.