JOHANNESBURG – A publicity shy executive in the public sector is making waves because of her dedication to hard work.
Nonkululeko Dlamini, the chief financial officer (CFO) of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) continues to do her work behind the scenes despite her bagging the public sector CFO of the Year in May.
Dlamini is extremely modest and stays away from the spotlight, liking to concentrate on her work.
"From the work front, again, it is not as if I woke up and said I am going to be a CFO. For me it has been about doing the best in whatever role I am in."
Dlamini has been in the public sector for a while, having worked for diverse entities such as Eskom.
She says she ended up at Eskom after first working at a small firm.
"Before I knew it I had spent 14 years there. But I had grown from an entry level managerial role."
By the time she left Eskom in 2015, Dlamini had risen to the role of acting CFO.
"This prepared me for the opportunity of becoming a CFO, which I was ready for. It was the right time to move.".
It has been a long way for Dlamini, from the tranquility of the rural Eastern Cape villages to some of the most sought after boardrooms in the country.
Dlamini describes her upbringing as shaky like most families experienced under apartheid.
Her father passed away when she was 13 and her mother unemployed.
She says she had no idea that one day she would reach such a prominent position.
But after matriculating she went to Wits University after a teacher who had done honours at the institution helped her with the bursary process and applications..
At Wits she met people from different backgrounds that had also faced challenges in the past. They shared ambitions and interests.
Dlamini completed her degree and subsequently did her articles with Ernst & Young – the very firm that offered her a bursary to study accounting in the first place.
In 2015 she was offered an opportunity to take over the CFO position at the IDC.
"It’s been four years of growth. Coming in I was nervous, but there is a huge, strong skills base at the IDC. You are supported by 800 plus knowledgeable people. So you don’t come into a sink- swim situation. You swim."
She says her best advice to young girls is not to aim for vertical growth but to be their best at whatever work they are given.
This, she says, helps in learning the ropes that can eventually help them in working themselves into new positions.
She says support and perseverance are equally important.
"Support others that are behind you and that are part of your team and out of it. For may women we take an exit and don’t push our way forward. Women have a lot to offer."
Dlamini does not mentor others professionally, but a lot of women ask her for advice both in the IDC and outside.
"You find ways to help and support and they grow out of those conversations and you grow as well. It is not easy for someone to open up to you about many things. That trust – that makes them come and request for input in whatever they are going through – is an honour. You hope they get something out of it, in whatever situation they are in."
One issue she encounters is that people feel they do not get recognised for the work they do or feel misunderstood.
"Because of cultural differences, sometimes it is a case of misunderstandings. You have to learn to say ‘this I don’ t like’. You move on. It’s about building stronger relationships. That grows you. Once you confront it once it never happens again. You get the strength for the next confrontation."
Dlamini says it is critical to stand for the truth and facts.
"Sometimes people step on you and don’t even realise. You become more assertive by saying what you think and feel in a respectful manner. Once you practice it once, you get better at it."
Dlamini has not forgotten where she comes from.
She says she and some colleagues have organised a careers day in the Eastern Cape to inspire school kids and shared their experiences.
"The kids see you have come from that. You tell them I used to stand at that same assembly line at the school next door to you."
As regards women in accountancy, Dlamini says the numbers are growing but not enough to alter the gender imbalances.
"South Africa today is more enabling to women," she says. " You get to a point you want to be seen as a human being rather than gender. Exams don’t look at gender.”