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Sihle Bolani is a transformation specialist with a background in communications, PR and brand management. She’s also the author of We Are The Ones We Need: The War on Black Professionals in Corporate South Africa.

Fact: Many women stay in toxic working environments for years due to a fear of leaving. Sihle tells Ondela Mlandu about how she’s seeking justice in the workplace to make a difference for herself and other women of colour.

 

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“She spoke again of the perception of me being disinterested, going as far as saying she didn’t know if my ability to shine in my role was based on my interest, on the time of day or the time of the month. I was seething! But I struggled internally between expressing my anger and being restrained by the handcuffs that keep women of colour all over the world imprisoned – being called an angry Black woman. The three words that exist to control us and keep us from responding to corporate BS, men’s BS and white people’s BS in any way we deem fit, stripping away our agency.” Excerpt: We Are The Ones We Need: The War on Black Professionals in Corporate South Africa. Order your copy now via link in my bio.

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Exploring difficult conversations

“I was working in corporate at a bank until about five years ago, then I quit my job because of the abusive and toxic environment,” says Sihle. After spending almost a year trying to get her voice heard as a black woman in corporate South Africa, fighting for pay parity, she realised that there’s a far bigger conversation that needs to be had. Discomfort is a good thing, says Sihle, because it provides opportunities for people to start exploring difficult conversations.

 

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In March, I started working on my 2nd book. My plan was to have it completed by end of June. I was feeling so fired up about it. And then lockdown happened & my creative juices began drying up. I was uninspired. And then when the inspiration had left the building, the imposter syndrome kicked in 🙃 “What on earth am I gonna write? Will it even be any good? Where do I start? 🙆🏾‍♀️”. And then, the memory stick that had what I had already written decided to just not work anymore, meaning that I’d lost what I’d already written 🙃🙃🙃🙃 But, this weekend, something amazing happened. Clarity. I am ready to write again. I’m inspired. I’m sure of myself. I’m focused. And I’m powerful. Hello, Virgo season… I’m loving your energy, boo ✨ 📸: @nymless

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We Are The Ones We Need…

Sihle decided to use her platform as an opportunity to speak on behalf of black professionals by writing We Are the Ones We Need: The War on Black Professionals in Corporate South Africa.

“Essentially, the book uses my personal experiences as context, but really outlines some of the very real challenges that black professionals face in the workplace. These issues range from being discriminated against and being diminished when trying to articulate what it’s like to be excluded,” says Sihle.

More people are suffering from imposter syndrome, she explains, which is the result of being made to feel they’re not worthy of being in a particular position or organisation.

READ MORE: Melene Rossouw Founded The Women Lead Movement To Promote A Gender-Equal Society

Lessons Sihle has learnt on the job

Sihle’s previous job was a valuable lesson in being more courageous. “It taught me the importance of using my voice, whether I’m supported by people or whether I’m standing alone. That job reinforced the importance of remaining true to myself,” she says.

Operating from a place of integrity is non-negotiable. “Every space that I go into, I make sure I leave it better than I found it. As a communications person, I want to make sure that I leave someone with wisdom, whether it’s upskilling, bringing in new ideas or by creating a healthier working culture,” she says.

 

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The importance of self-care, and valuing your own time

The most important part of self-care is establishing boundaries with the people you interact with, in the workplace as well as in your personal life. Many of us fall into the trap of wanting to show up for everyone all the time, because that’s what is expected of us. But we’re actually do ourselves a disservice because we’re taking more time away from ourselves.

“We get so caught up in people-pleasing, which actually ends up working to the detriment of our own emotional and mental wellbeing,” says Sihle.

Sihle’s personal expression of self-care involves lying in her room in the dark with candles and music. “Sometimes it’s soaking in the bathtub and just enjoying the stillness of that moment. Other times it’s having a glass of wine by myself or taking myself out on a date and not having to have a conversation with anyone,” she says.

As women, we need to work with each other, not against each other

Instead of women working together in organisations, they create barriers and build walls that prevent those connections. Women should be supporting and amplifying each other’s voices, and recommending each other for opportunities.

“The reality is that our power and our ability to change anything really lies in us leveraging our collective power,” says Sihle. “As women, we don’t spend enough time investing. We get so caught up in competing against each other because we all believe that there’s only a limited number of opportunities that are available for women – and more so for black women.”

And always come back to remind yourself of your worth and abilities

“What I love about social media is that I post my work as I go, so when I’m having a bad day, I always go back and look at what I’m capable of doing,” says Sihle.

It’s important to document your achievements, celebrate your wins, she says – no matter how small they are. These are the things that remind us of our greatness.

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