Hidden Figures: Kgomotso Seabe
by Musaba Kangulu (@ThatTypeOfMoose) It gives me great pleasure in celebrating an unsung heroine who believes a woman’s voice should never go unheard in the workplace: Kgomotso Seabe (@Kg_Koosh). Read more about her in this interview and consider taking it one step further by connecting with her.
It goes without saying there’s a new wave of brand managers who’ve developed an understanding of the new environmental context, and the role brands are now being asked to play in society. What kind of questions does one ask a young woman who’s managed to shake up the corporate industry as brand manager for one of South Africa’s most-loved and well-known beer brands, Amstel? As if that isn’t enough, she’s also the founder of Sneakers Only, a brand experience collective bringing together local music with urban culture.
Musaba Kangulu: With the rise of transformation in the corporate sector, has the industry done enough to empower women?
Kgomotso Seabe: I think in a lot of sectors there has been an active movement to empowering women with tools and opportunities to break into an industry, eg engineering and technology. However, I think that the marketing and advertising industries significantly lack tools or programmes that “open up the industry” for women. We still have a long way to go to provide spaces that empower women.
MK: As a woman, have you had to make any compromises in order to fit in and, if so, at what cost?
KS: I have been privileged to be a part of organisations where I have never had to compromise anything to fit in. But this is also in my nature — I’m not a very malleable person in terms of my character.
MK: As a young woman and woman of colour, what are some of the common challenges you’ve had to overcome and still face today?
KS: Most of the challenges I have faced are from suppliers or agencies — which are predominately run by white males. As soon as they walk into the room and see me, there is an immediate assumption of incompetency.
It is always difficult to be heard or to be looked at as an asset in the room, but I have to remind myself that I’m not in the room because someone wanted to give me a chance; I am in that room because I am good at what I do and I know that I add value.
MK: Can you recall a moment where you felt belittled or victimised in your working career and, if so, how did you counteract against that?
KS: There have been many — as mentioned above. I usually make sure that I have as many facts, [and] I hold onto email trails, so that no-one can catch me unawares. It is important to back yourself and have people in the room [who] back you.
MK: Why do you feel gender equality is taking so long to achieve?
KS: Gender equality in the workplace is taking long to achieve primarily because of who the gatekeepers of the industry are. I always note that it is important to have people who look like you in positions of power — but, if you walk into an agency or you walk into a marketing department of a corporate, your creative directors and your marketing managers are men.
The gatekeepers of the industry have taken too long to open the gate for deserving women and, furthermore, it takes far too long to achieve desired growth in the agency environment. Imagine being a junior strategist for four years when you know you can move to be a mid-level strategist after two years?
The industry is just not set up for women or people of colour to thrive within its current form. I think that’s why we are starting to see so [many] more black-owned and female-run agencies, consultancies and initiatives — because, if we don’t create these spaces, we will come up short for a long, long time.
MK: What soft skills or steps should women maintain to survive in corporate?
KS: 1) Be very confident in your abilities; do not question how good you are and whether or not you deserve to be where you are. 2) I find it helpful to have a mentor — male or female — who will help you map out your growth path; it is so important to know where you are going. 3) Respect time — yours and other people’s time. 4) Ask questions if you don’t know.
MK: How do you counteract against discrimination?
KS: Sometimes I am taken aback by it but, most of the time, I attack it head on. It is so important to let people know when their words or their actions are wrong and offensive. In order to move forward, we can never argue that it is what it is.
MK: Do men have a role to play in gender equality?
KS: Men have a fundamental role and a responsibility to play in gender equality. Men experience so much privilege in the corporate world that, without their active participation in initiating change, and creating space for women in the corporate world, gender equality is going to take longer than anticipated.
MK: The office environment can be a hotbed for all sorts of pressure, and it doesn’t help that certain workplaces carry double standards that place extra loads on women’s shoulders. What unconscious mistakes do women make that sabotage their careers?
KS: The main thing is that women take on too much — and try and be everything to everyone. [These result] in under-delivery in the work place and therefore make it seem like women are incompetent. It is important to know when to say “No” or “I can’t do that right now”. Saying that you can’t do something right now does not make you lazy or ill-equipped to do your job.
MK: Do women in your industry who have been around a lot longer than yourself have a responsibility to actively serve as a change agent to pave the way for the next wave of youngsters?
KS: To a certain degree — yes. However, I think it is important for younger women to act as change agents themselves. You cannot always rely on those before you to make your life easier. This is your career and your future, not theirs.
MK: If you were given the opportunity to introduce new laws to empower women in all working environments, what would they be?
KS: “Laws” in the corporate world are quite restrictive. However, I would create an initiative for women in corporate or particularly in marketing that provides women with tools to break down doors in order to create opportunities. I think this is an important foundation that needs to be put in place in order for women to thrive.
It would be great to have a certain number of women in decision-making positions — because, as mentioned previously, it is important to have someone in a position of power that looks like you in order for us to feel like this is an industry or a space in which I, too, can flourish.
MK: Big or small, what steps have you taken to eliminate gender inequality?
KS: I always make sure that a woman’s voice doesn’t go unheard in the workplace, whether it be in a meeting or in general conversation. This is a tiny, tiny step but, in rooms filled with men, it is important to be heard.
MK: What are some of the soft skill traits that are often overlooked in a competitive environment?
KS: 1) Attention to detail. 2) Relationship-building. 3) Compassion and empathy.
Musaba Kangulu (@ThatTypeOfMoose) is a firm believer in women using their diversity to push different thinking and bring new insights to the table. Playing in the digital space has taught her to be unashamedly confident in using her expertise and experience to encourage women in their digital career pursuits. Perseverance and self-worth are important messages we need give to younger women. She contributes the new “Hidden Figures” column, which celebrates the unsung heroines of the South African marketing and advertising world.