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Glamour Women’s Month Series: Getting to know Marilyn White Radebe

Marilyn White Radebe is the CEO and Founder of the Soma-Solutions Group of Companies.

Soma-Solutions is a 100% black women owned information and communication technology(ICT) company based in Johannesburg.

The company has launched two new digital platforms this year; Edu-Supply, a platform designed to help schools and parents save time and money when shopping for stationery, and SmartSaver, an online goal-based saving platform created to inspire communities to save and achieve their short-term and long-term financial goals.

Through these platforms, Soma-Solutions also aims to showcase the power of technology, and how it allows women to break into any industry.

Marilyn believes the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of future-proofing businesses, and through these two platforms, Soma-Solutions is showing entrepreneurs how this can be done with the help of technology.

She says women can now break into any industry, and grow existing business operations through harnessing the power of digital.

Marilyn is also a Deputy President of Black IT Forum and together with her colleagues have recently compiled an ICT Survey Report in response to Critical Skills Report by Labour Market Intelligence Research Program.

Happy Women’s Day, and we hope you do enjoy the feature below.

GLAMOUR: Tell us a little bit about your entrepreneurship journey?

Marilyn White Radebe(MWR): My entrepreneurship journey has been an interesting one for me. When I began my career in the ICT industry, I started off as an employee for corporate companies just basically learning all the ropes about the industry.

Then later on, I decided that I wanted to go independent that’s when I started consulting for clients independently and in doing so, a potential client asked me to do data analysis for them, but the service needed me to bill through a company.

Since I didn’t have a registered company then, I went on to start my own company, registered it and that’s how Soma Solutions was born and how my entrepreneurship has been.

GLAMOUR: When did you know you had the knack for it?

MWR: Two years after taking the plunge into full time entrepreneurship. I started slowly after many years of independent consulting.

GLAMOUR: What or who inspired you into this journey and how did that person/s do it?

MWR: I have been inspired by mom and older brother; they were both so entrepreneurial so I always observed how they went about operating their businesses.

I was also further inspired by Basetsana Khumalo for being one of the first black women to successfully take her space in business and being highlighted and profiled for it – it confirmed that it is possible.

I was also inspired by Ms Irene Charnley for taking up space within the ICT industry as a female business leader.

GLAMOUR: You have set yourself targets, would you please tell us what these were and how you have managed to achieve them?

MWR: The scariest target was to go into full time entrepreneurship in the ICT industry.

As I’ve mentioned, I started slowly through independent consulting until it was not fulfilling anymore.

That’s when I decided to go all in entrepreneurship and by starting my business is how I managed to achieve it because starting is often the stage where most people struggle.

The second was to take care of my mental wellness by surrounding myself with people in my personal and professional space who are aligned to my goals and who believed in me and gave sound advice and guidance.

The third was to ensure that I allow an environment to create, happy and purposeful children…this is a moving goal or target as both my children and I learn to navigate the parent/child relationship in a post covid world.

GLAMOUR: In your long journey as a business woman, what would you say is the starting point to become a successful business person especially in a world where your gender “often” determines how far you would go?

MWR: I would say the starting point is to set your goal, revise and adapt as you go through various experiences along the way, but don’t lose sight of it.

I would also say having a big why and constantly remembering why you started – this will keep you on the journey of entrepreneurship, especially during the difficult times

GLAMOUR: As an influentially “powerful” woman do you think we’ve managed to achieve women’s equality?

MWR: Definitely not and I believe that we still have a long way to go. For example, the Leaky Pipeline Report that was released by Syson Kunda in 2020 highlighted the following in the South African context:

•In 2016 there were just over 100 000 women vs just 300 000 men in the industry. Less than a third.

•Top 3 reasons for women leaving the industry were either because of family responsibility, opportunities in other industries and entrepreneurship.

This highlights that women are yet to achieve equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities as their male counterparts.

We’ve seen a growing number of women who are interested in starting their own companies but face challenges such as receiving venture funding due to bias.

Although we can acknowledge the meaningful progress made so far, we do have a long way to go in achieving women’s equality.

I believe that all companies need to make equality a performance imperative, by making diversity/transformation/inclusion a key performance area for each manager or leader.

GLAMOUR: What has been your most unforgettable moment as a successful woman and how has this impacted your life?

MWR: My most unforgettable moments are the moments that I dared to start working towards my goals and became transformed:

•When I started a school with my brother – the school is focused on entrepreneurship, it is still operating and majority owned and managed by my older brother.

•When I built my family home – building the home showed me that focusing on the goal, delaying gratification and good financial management is vital.

•Starting Precisional Growth – this showed me that my dreams are valid and what I love the most about Precisional Growth is that it allowed me to create a network where women could disconnect from everyday life pressures and just introspect by checking in with themselves and networking with other women

•Working in Soma Solutions – Soma Solutions has grown from strength to strength and it as allowed me to grow from strength to strength as a leader

GLAMOUR: As an ICT professional, how in your opinion has the pandemic changed or affected our way of interacting as professionals and or entrepreneurs?

MWR: The pandemic has changed our way if interacting by preventing us from meeting and engaging physically and forced us to increase the use of virtual meeting tools like Zoom, Teams, etc.

It has also given us room to pause and re-imagine the world post Covid, which gave rise to our online platform Edu-Supply that allows you to buy back-to-school stationery online, according to the school’s annual stationery list.

It has also highlighted our human need for balance between virtual interaction and physical interaction, whereas some employees opted to come to the office because it was best for their mental well-being, even though they had the option to work virtually.

GLAMOUR: What are the 3 most important things to you right now?

MWR: Being happy and finding joy and purpose in everything I do. Being grateful

Growing as an entrepreneur, leader, mother, partner, associate, family member and friend.

GLAMOUR: 3 things you’d like to do the most in a post pandemic world?

MWR: Travel

Physical interaction with associates, family and friends

Philanthropy and giving back impactfully

GLAMOUR: Name three books you’d recommend to the younger version of yourself?

MWR: He’s Just Not into You -lol!

The Secret

What I Know for Sure

GLAMOUR: Name three movies or series you’d likely recommend for people this woman’s month?

MWR: Homecoming, The Fixer

Grey’s Anatomy – yes I am a Shonda Rhimes fan

GLAMOUR: Give us 3 words that you live by?

MWR: Good Intentions, Gratefulness

GLAMOUR: What are the challenges women (especially black women) in Tech facing right now?

MWR: The ones with strong characters are often characterised as trouble makers instead of being appreciated for their skills and leadership attributes or instead of being mentored or coached by their leaders and peers

Juggling the traditional male/female roles in society with the vast professional and entrepreneurial opportunities that are being offered to women.

There is often a little voice inside of us that says you may lose your family or not have a family when you become “too” ambitious.

Working in environments that are not sensitive to the everyday challenges that women are faced with, like being a mother and a leader in the workplace, for e.g., where networking opportunities are after hours or you are expected to travel without your children for long periods of time.

No choice but to leave the industry because there is no growth and mentorship in sight

GLAMOUR: What could help transform the tech industries as it is mostly dominated by men?

MWR: Highlighting and profiling more female leaders to create awareness of the various opportunities in the industry, so that young females will have an interest in various specialised fields.

Creating industry programmes specifically targeted towards creating a funnel of female graduates and young tech professionals

Having organisational programmes that highlight gender bias and ensuring that it is attended by males and females in the organisation

I would say again, make transformation a key performance area for all leaders

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