Thandeka Ndlovu, 23, is a go-getter from Tembisa. In the male-dominated workplace of sound engineering, Ndlovu’s on fire. She’s been at SABC for three years, and currently works as a technical producer. ‘I basically make sure the presenters always sound good, do their promos, make sure there are no dead ends,’ explains Ndlovu. In radio – a fiercely competitive space – Ndlovu has risen quickly up the ranks.
So, what does it take to rock it in a male-dominated workplace? And what can you learn from her trailblazing example? Read on!
Take Yourself Seriously
‘You need to take yourself seriously before you can expect others to,’ says Ndlovu. And that’s especially true when you’re a woman. ‘Women can be perceived to be the assistant, the person who doesn’t have authority – especially in a workplace filled with men,’ she continues. ‘So you have to show that you mean business – that starts with how you think of yourself.’
People tend to be responsive to a manager or leader if they project an air of authority. That doesn’t mean being ego-driven or rude, but it does mean believing – and behaving – like you know your stuff. Don’t be overly apologetic, and speak up when you have something valuable to contribute. Take credit for your good ideas and hard work, and put yourself forward for tasks. As Sheryl Sandberg (CEO of Facebook) constantly hits home in her bestselling book Lean In: put your hand up. Make yourself known.
Invest in Your Understanding
‘Being taken seriously isn’t just down to speaking louder,’ says Ndlovu. ‘You’ll gain respect from male and female colleagues and managers alike if you show you actually know your stuff. So start by studying up. I studied my trade before I went into it – I made sure I had a solid understanding of the skills I needed. That way, when I spoke up and put my hand up for tasks, I could actually deliver.’
Proving your competency day to day is a surefire why to earn anyone’s respect – and in this case, actions do speak louder than words. Put in the extra hours, study further in the areas you want to excel, and do everything you can do to keep getting as much experience and exposure as possible.
Do It Because You Love It
It’s hard to be amazing at something you aren’t excited about – and it’s even harder to stick at it and continually get better. ‘Don’t be the girl who wants do a thing. Be the girl who loves what she does and gets on with it because it’s her passion,’ explains Ndlovu. Even in a tough, male-dominated industry, passion will get you noticed.
Know What You Want
‘Take time to understand and explore what your dreams and ambitions are,’ advises Ndlovu. ‘It’s vital for reaching goals.’
It may seem obvious, but how many of us actually sit down each year and assess not just our goals and vision, but also the practical steps we can take to reach them? Yep, thought so.
This point also touches on loving what you do and being passionate. So often we get stuck in ruts without stepping back and asking ourselves, ‘Do I love this? What do I actually want to do?’ Finding your passion takes concerted effort – and often our passions change (because, y’know, we’re all always learning and growing). As your passions change, so should your career.
Men and Women Are Equal, But Yet Not
In theory, men and women should have the same rights. And women have shown in the last few decades that, with fairer laws and education, we can do just as good a job as men in the same positions.
‘But the reality is that education and workplaces aren’t always equal in practice,’ says Ndlovu. ‘Go into a job or workplace with the attitude that you will work harder than everyone else, and it’ll serve you well. In an industry like mine that’s full of men, I know that I need to prove my value. It might not be fair or right, but it makes me determined to succeed – and that’s super powerful energy to harness for your success.’
Play to Your Strengths
‘Whether you’re a guy or a girl, we’re all so different,’ adds Ndlovu. ‘Each one of us has qualities and skills specific to us, and it’s ultimately these that will make you shine. Know your strengths, and play to them.’
Yes, it’s also good to know your weaknesses and work on them continually – but don’t get so focused on these that you forget the parts where you rock. Take time to assess your strengths so that you’re conscious of them – then make sure you take on roles and responsibilities at work that specifically suit you.
Share in the Sisterhood
‘One of the most powerful things we can do as women is to share our experiences,’ explains Ndlovu. ‘Not only is it incredible to learn from others, and to see things from their perspective, but it’s a great way to build one another up.’
This can involve anything from sharing encouragement with co-workers for a job well done to finding a female mentor who can offer you guidance and advice. ‘Ultimately, whatever kind of workplace we’re in, as women we need to have a more supportive spirit – building each other up instead of competing with one another. Teamwork always wins.’
Be Professionally Stubborn
Not, not as in be difficult or arrogant: ‘When you know your stuff, stick to your guns,’ says Ndlovu. ‘Learn not to take ‘No’ for an answer and to be confident in your decisions. Don’t be intimidated by strong personalities or louder co-workers.
‘And know what to filter out in terms of feedback, and what to take on board as constructive criticism. Bottom line: trust your gut and be stubborn with that. I don’t remember ever paying any of my bills from anyone else’s opinions. It’s my hard work, and my professional stubbornness, that got me to where I am today.’
Through the Academy of Sound Engineering, Ndlovu is helping to offer a bursary to women who want to study sound engineering. Find out more at ase.co.za.