As we celebrate Women’s Month, we speak to Founding director, Women in Planning SA Gugu Sithole-Ngobese who has faced challenges in business, particularly within industries believed to be the preserve of men.
But she is proving that determination, integrity and empathy can move mountains.
The idea of a career in town and regional planning was introduced to Gugu Sithole-Ngobese by her school principal in her matric year, about 15 years ago.
She enrolled at the Durban Institute of Technology to complete her National Diploma in Town and Regional Planning and, from there, completed a BTech Management degree. This was followed by a Master’s degree in town and regional planning.
“I started my professional career in 2008 and a year later started my own practice Ziphelele Planning and Environmental Consultancy (ZiPEC). Based on my experiences, and through conversations with other women in the industry, I started an initiative called Women in Planning SA (WiPSA).”
What are some of the challenges you, as a woman, face constantly, or have faced?
I have had to constantly prove my worth to my peers in the industry, not only men but to other women who believe that if a woman is successful, she must have “bought” her achievements. This is a result of not only being a woman, but also a black African, and one of the youngest in the private sector. This is still a challenge, although we are seeing some changes.
As women in the private sector – particularly the built environment sector, we are still not given the same opportunities and acknowledgement as our male counterparts. And even when these opportunities are afforded to us, it is not followed by the appropriate recognition of our contribution to the sector. It’s as if we are fulfilling a mandate to tick the compliance checklist.
How have you overcome these challenges?
By constantly believing in myself and accepting that every challenge provides an opportunity to learn.
What advice do you have for other women getting started in the industry?
It is important to accept that success does not come overnight. I am still on a journey of trying to better myself. We should never stop learning and finding better ways to improve our skills. We should strive to be the best at what we do.
Who is your female role model?
I have great respect for women who are pushing hard to bring about change in the various sectors in which they are involved. It’s mostly those who are not in the public eye who are doing great things. Several women have helped to sharpen my skills and pushed me to work harder, including my mom from whom I have learnt a lot. From a humble background as a teacher in a rural school, she established a school in a very impoverished community in Msinga – a school that has now grown to be one of the best primary schools in the area. It is my dream to get funding to establish a technical school in Msinga to focus on scarce skills