Hidden Figures: Hillary Molefe
by Musaba Kangulu (@ThatTypeOfMoose) If ever you find yourself at The Zone@Rosebank in Joburg, pop over to Black River FC and ask for TV and radio producer, Hillary Molefe. With her infectious laugh and wicked sense of humour, I guarantee you’ll learn a thing or two, so it gives me great pleasure in celebrating an unsung heroine who believes we need more advertising movements that celebrate all women, for there is so much beauty that lies within them that the world still needs to see.
Molefe works in an industry where, according to global stats from Deloitte, 68.1% of female producers feel they have to work twice as hard and be twice as good as their male counterparts. A remaining 55.5% have indicated that they have felt discriminated against based on factors such as sexual orientation, religion, family life and income bracket. These kinds of statistics call for a meaningful and immediate fix. In order for us to tackle the challenge, we need to hone down on the why.
Musaba Kangulu: With the rise of transformation in the advertising sector, has the industry made enough of an effort to empower women?
Hillary Molefe: No, it has not; however, I truly believe that change can only happen if we as individuals share a common vision get together and take action. Like everything in life, things take time; however, I think we’ve all acknowledged that something actively needs to be done about gender inequality. Fortunately, there has been a start that I hope will inspire us to do and be more than our job titles. I’ll make an example of Open Chair. It took three women to say: ‘Hey, here’s an idea; let’s do this and go forward with it.’ We need more of these platforms for nurture and develop upcoming women and those already in the industry already.
MK: When it comes to female empowerment in advertising, what challenges do female producers face and how have you managed to overcome them?
HM: Definitely high pressure, and with high pressure comes a ton of follow-ups which can cause one to lose their mind. It gets challenging when there’s a formidable amount of pressure hitting you from every corner; however, it’s important to have a system of sorts. I’ve learned to overcome it by prioritising and asking for help. Asking for help does not mean you can’t handle what’s been thrown your way but making sure all boxes have been ticked.
MK: As a female TV and radio producer of colour for close on a decade, have you had to make any sacrifices to move up the ranks?
HM: I don’t believe I’ve had to. I have put in the time and work as any other. There hasn’t come a point where I needed to sacrifice.
MK: As a mother in the advertising industry, have you had to make any sacrifices to move up the ranks?
HM: I’ve always been blessed with a support system that has made the transition to being a working mom so much easier. I can’t say I’ve had to make big sacrifices. I mean, sure, there have been late nights but it hasn’t gotten to a point where I feel that I’m sacrificing to move up.
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?
HM: If there’s something that I hate, it’s when someone belittles another. Yes, I’ve been belittled, where a person in a more senior position in a different department felt that I wasn’t doing my job as well and decided to take things into their own hands, neglecting the fact that there are processes that needed to be adhered to. Yes, it got me down; however, it gave me the courage to tell myself “You know what, actually? I’ll show you why you’re not going to do that again.” In some instances, it’s better to let your work speak for itself because, at times, people see and hear what they want to. Let them investigate and come to the conclusion that you’re capable and know what you’re doing.
MK: What are some of the common challenges female producers face today?
HM: A big budget job comes far and wide. We’ve come to a time in the industry where small budget and tight deadlines are a trend and we need to work with what’s given to us.
MK: It’s no secret the representation of women behind the camera is receiving greater media attention; however, it’s also been noted the status quo has remained stubbornly resistant to change. Why do you feel this is taking so long to achieve?
HM: It’s taken long because we’ve come from waiting for change to coming to the realisation that we actually have to change the dynamics ourselves. I believe that we have been awakened as women and in no time it will no longer be seen as a myth.
MK: When it comes to women in advertising, what similarities do you find in the older vs now generation?
HM: There’s still a sense of wanting to get things done. An ability to develop relationships that will not only carry you through but make challenges seem less hard.
MK: What unconscious mistakes do women make that sabotage their careers?
HM: We’re naturally emotional beings and, because of that, we sometimes struggle with placing our emotions. Making emotional decisions as opposed to taking practical steps that work for the cause can leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. Constantly fighting for a place that’s already yours tends to cloud judgement and we end up working against the flow when we should be on the same wavelength.
MK: For an industry that has no trouble attracting women to the field, retaining them is a common problem. Why is that?
HM: Our industry is still heavily run by males. For retention to be as effective, we need some kind of structure that sees women in more female-run leading positions. At the moment, we just don’t have enough of these platforms.
MK: Do you find you need to put on a certain cut-and-dried attitude that lets everybody know you’re going to run a set a certain way?
HM: An older generation would tell you that it is ideal to have that kind of attitude in order for one to be taken seriously. I, however, take have a completely different approach. To me, each set has a personality of its own, which then determines how it wants to be run. I think in the past, because of the cut-and-dried attitude, many shoots would be tense. My main objective is to ensure everyone knows they have to come through me for any concerns/what will happen when to make them feel that things are being taken care of.
MK: If you were given the opportunity to introduce new laws to empower women and create the kind of content that changes perceptions of female stereotypes in the advertising environment, what would they be?
HM: It would start with something as simple as creating a movement where we celebrate each other. Every woman in the industry would partake. There’s so much beauty that lies within us that the world still needs to be shown.
MK: Despite the ongoing hitches women in advertising face, why do you then continue to work in the environment?
HM: Oh, where do I start? For the love of the job, I get to be part of bringing something to life from conception. To watch it develop from an amazing idea to put it together. Creativity is truly an inspiration. Just seeing how many people it takes and the amount of effort it takes for a consumer to view it in half a minute blows my mind every time. It truly takes a village. You know you have it good when creativity opens your mind to what’s out there.
MK: Having said that, what words of advice will you give to your daughter, should she wish to follow in your footsteps?
HM: Be confident in everything you do. Doubt can be seen a mile away and, when you doubt yourself, it’s hard for others not to. Dance to your own rhythm. Be YOU. Let it show in your work the person that you are. Open yourself up to learning new approaches in life. Being positive changes your outlook on things.
MK: What soft skills or steps should women maintain to survive in advertising?
HM: A can-do attitude will take you places. There’s nothing that can’t be done; it’s all about your attitude. There’s always a way to get it done — look at it differently to how you’ve been. If the can-do attitude doesn’t work, check other avenues or find alternative ways to handle or deal with the issue at hand.
MK: Big or small, what steps have you taken to eliminate gender inequality?
HM: I support women in business, whether in advertising or otherwise. It’s so important to see the gem that is a woman. We do things with passion and care. That support is through referrals, when a service they render is being sought after by others. Another way that is also quite effective is when views and ideas are shared amongst each other, just to let someone know that you either support the direction they are venturing into and will support in physical form by using their services.
MK: Finally, do men have a role to play in gender equality?
HM: Everyone has a role to play. I think we just need to get rid of the attitude that someone will replace you in the field that you’re in. There’s no space to be having that attitude as every person brings a different kind of value and approach that others may not have thought of or saw in the same light to take us to a new frontier.
MK: What are some of the soft skill traits that are often overlooked in a competitive environment?
HM: Staying calm under pressure — the calm gives you an opportunity where you can sift through the hiccoughs you’re facing. It doesn’t mean that you, too, have to feel the pressure when it’s elevated. There’s no need for panic as it creates noise and solutions don’t come easy.
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.