30 Inspiring Drum Women | Giving women a seat at the table is only half the job – Rorisang Lebethe

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Finance director Rorisang Lebethe CA(SA), ACMA, CGMA, says, as a ‘village girl’ who made it in corporate, she wants to make sure that her career story is not unique. She wants to see it be the story of every village girl.
Finance director Rorisang Lebethe CA(SA), ACMA, CGMA, says, as a ‘village girl’ who made it in corporate, she wants to make sure that her career story is not unique. She wants to see it be the story of every village girl.

She became a board member of Distell Southern Africa in Botswana when she was just 28.

When she got that appointment, Rorisang Lebethe (36) says she felt an incredible sense of responsibility.

“I was the only female, I was one of only two black people, and I was the youngest,” remembers the Unilever Southern Africa Customer Development Finance Director.

She says she is acutely aware of the duty you have to the underrepresented people that your success stands for when you get to be in senior roles that give you power to change the status quo.

In her current role, her job is to help the business make decisions about how to get Unilever products to the Southern African consumer – +/-250 million consumers, just about.

Rorisang has to rephrase the gist of her role a few times before it fully makes sense, because it is not the kind of job whose scope the average Jabu who’s a journalist, police officer or nurse can immediately grasp.

We joke about this when Drum speaks to Rorisang, but as a self-described MoTswana village girl, the finance director seriously understands how unique her career journey is.

“I feel a huge sense of responsibility towards the African child, towards the African girl child, and towards every single young individual coming from a disadvantaged background, especially coming from the villages around South Africa,” she says. 

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“I know that not too many people can share the story that I have. And that bothers me. So I hope and I wish (and what keeps me awake at night is how?) to get more and more people to tell an exceptional career story such as mine.

“How do I get more people to get included in the economic development of this country? How do I get more people from villages, more black children, more black people to be successful at roles like the one that I have?

“So more than anything, these senior roles have meant to me just this huge sense of responsibility to make room at the table. And to ensure, after they have a seat, that they succeed at the table – I’m super intentional about that.”

She studied accounting and also obtained a Certificate of Theory in Accounting (CTA) at Wits, then passed her SAICA board exams to be become a CA(SA) before studying to become an Associate Chartered Management Accountant, which is a qualification with CIMA (the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants).

The people she most looked up to most as child growing up in a village in Bethanie, North West, were her parents and grandmother.

Her parents because they worked hard to make sure that she remains rooted and never forgets where she comes from and because she saw the kinds of sacrifices they made for her and her two siblings to get a good education so they could be successful. Her maternal grandmother because of her kindness and goodness to others. Together, these three role models in her early years made sure she grew up with a huge sense of being part of a community.

So, yes, she has siblings from her parents. But, like many of us, her cousins, neighbours, parents’ friends’ kids – those are also her sisters and brothers, and in the very real sense that some people find it hard to refer to a sibling who is not a biological sibling as a cousin-sister or cousin-brother.

It is this community of extended siblings that she is mentored by and also mentors.

“I go back to what I said about my grandmother and I think, first and foremost, it’s about being a good person. And just meeting people where they are because when you are a good person, you will see people for what they are.

“And I think what’s been very interesting, most recently in my mentoring career, is I’m seeing a lot of variety in my mentees. So if I had to profile my mentees, there would be very different profiles of people – people still starting out in their careers, people in the middle of their careers, people facing different challenges in their careers, people facing different challenges in their careers, and people feeling stagnant.

“What has helped me to be able to be empowering to them as a mentor is that I am able to meet them where they are. As a mentor, I think one of the key things is you’ve got to be able to hear what people are not saying to you in words.”

“The success of a mentorship relationship is: is a mentor able to help to take you from A to Z? Otherwise it’s not successful. If there’s no improvement, either personal, career, life or any other aspect, then we can’t say that mentorship is empowering.

“For me, a successful mentorship relationship is successful when I have taken my mentor from A to Z or sometimes help a person see that they can go even further, because sometimes people don’t see that.

“Even in my leadership style, I make sure that I give opportunities to every single person – not just those who are the best personality. I don’t look at that.

“I really do give an equal ear to everybody and I think that’s also how I’ve been able to, a lot of times, spot talent when other people didn’t spot talent.

“When you look at people either in their rank, or you look at them as they are lower than so they can’t be capable of X, Y and Z, you will miss out on talent. And you will miss out on fantastic opportunities to develop people and to give people a seat at the table and ultimately grow.

“For me, that’s how I obtain my results. I give people a seat at the table to more people, and I make sure that when I have given them an opportunity to be at the table that I set them up for success at that table.”

“It’s not only about I’m going to give someone an opportunity to be at a XYZ meeting or be part of a certain project. But it’s also about making sure that I deliberately help that person be able to succeed a well.”

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That’s why “Brand Rorisang” for her is about authenticity, connection and paying it forward.

Asked if the idea of personal branding isn’t a bit superficial, Rorisang vehemently disagrees, saying thinking about how you show up in the world, and being clear about you want to stand for, is how you remain true to your core values and your beliefs about yourself and the impact you want to have in the world.

“The idea of a personal brand is not shallow at all,” she says.

“For me, your brand is your signature. It is how you show up.

“So if I were to leave the room and you were to ask anybody who has interacted with me, ‘What is Brand Rorisang about?’ They should be able to tell you, because that’s how I show up.

“They should be able to tell you that Brand Rorisang is about authenticity and about impactful leadership.

“Your brand links very well with your purpose as well, and my purpose is to leave a legacy of authentic and impactful leadership.

“That’s how I show up in everything.”

If you are clear about your brand and clear about your purpose, she concludes, you’ll show up in a way that makes you feel alive because you’ll do things that are aligned to those two things.

Rorisang is one of the speakers at the 23rd annual Women in Business Conference by UCT Graduate School of Business on Friday, 26 August 2022 under the theme: The Butterfly Effect: Redesigning our present. Reimagining our future.

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