Uyanda Manana is the Managing Director at Conversation Lab in South Africa.
She is a driven and a determined women anyone could ever meet, thus, it comes as no surprise that this trailblazer is one of the leading women in the South African Advertising and Marketing industry.
Uyanda’s passion for both the creative industry and mentoring young South African talent in the industry, focusing on women at the start of their careers.
“Nothing worthwhile in life starts from nothing. As a nurse, my mother worked night and day to make sure I got the chance to start off with a solid foundation.
I want to do what I can to help young people get that opportunity too.”
She’s a compassionate mother to her daughter and juggles motherhood and her career with the support of her mother and sister.
The women in Uyanda’s life are her pillar of strength and support as they play a key part in it.
One of her philosophies in life is to navigate it with fluidity. She believes to not strive for a, “balanced life but rather to create fluidity” where one can navigate life with focus and ease.
Uyanda originally comes from Orlando West, Soweto and credits the relationships she fostered with her grandmother, mother and sister at a young age as one of the driving factors for her strong sense of self, her drive and determination.
Uyanda sat down with Glamour’s Luthando Vikilahle to chat about her achievements and what it means to be a woman in South Africa now.
Glamour: Tell us what made you choose the career you are now in?
UM: I would love to tell you it was a strategic consideration which I planned throughout high school. But it definitely wasn't that straightforward.
I completely stumbled upon the advertising industry. When I finished matric I had no idea what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I wanted to be in the arts.
I thought about becoming an actress but my mom didn’t quite agree.
So while I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, I applied to take part in an international exchange programme. I never thought that I’d be accepted, but I was.
The only snag was that I would have to pay R18 000 which was a lot of money back then. After telling the organisation that I would love the opportunity but couldn’t afford it, they sponsored me.
I couldn’t believe my luck, so off I went to Switzerland for a year as an exchange student.
Shortly after arriving there, I realised that I didn’t want to struggle through life.
Switzerland is so different to South Africa in terms of standard of living – it was a completely different world for me.
After researching and speaking to friends in South Africa, I decided to study advertising at the AAA School of Advertising.
I sent off my application while I was still in Switzerland and got accepted on my return home. When I started studying, I realised it's not so much an art as it is an understanding of human nature and behaviour.
Being in this industry is a big responsibility - everything we put out there plays on society’s psyche. That's what I've come to love about what I do.
Yes, it’s about driving business growth and the bottom-line but at the heart of it, are people.
Glamour: How do you juggle motherhood and a challenging career such as the one you are now in?
UM: That's one of the beauties of being a woman, we learn to juggle and adjust. Yes, I'm a single mom, yet I certainly don't raise my daughter by myself.
I have a solid support system around me. I have a particularly close family network.
My mom and sister help me raise my daughter and I have my extended family too.
We are a family of very strong women who help out wherever they can. I feel very blessed to be able to share the load with them.
Glamour: Which woman has positively impacted you in your career? And what is the one lesson she taught you?
UM: There have been many women who’ve impacted me in my career. I've had influential women throughout my career either as bosses or colleagues. The one woman who stands out and I always think of fondly is, Tish Mousell.
She was my boss when I worked at Publicis. What I loved about Tish was that she was the embodiment of being herself. She wasn't a carbon copy of anyone.
She was fearless and gentle with a beautiful acceptance of others. Being a young black girl from Soweto working in this massive multinational agency in London brought up some insecurities.
I would fear that I didn't know what I was doing, but Tish identified and nurtured my talents, my strengths and natural ability which I was completely blind to at the time.
One example that comes to mind is that I absolutely hated presenting to clients. I think this was mainly because I felt so insecure. With her encouragement, support and training I managed to conquer my fear of presenting.
And of course, the more I presented the more confident I became.
She just had a great way of pointing out one's strengths and inherent ability - concentrating on where one has succeeded as opposed to one's weakness.
I've applied or at least I've tried to emulate that type of leadership as it certainly helped me at the start of my career.
One of my principal jobs as MD is to bring out the best in people. I learned that from Tish.
Glamour: To you, what is the most beautiful thing about being a woman?
UM: Women can take something simple and ordinary and make it magnificent. Whether that's raising our children, feeding our families, leading our teams, putting together an outfit or just being there for our friends.
There's a real power within us to transform - to bring about beauty from ashes. I think it's a quality we don't always recognise because sometimes we might feel we're not doing enough.
Glamour: In your industry or in general, have you seen any more movement to gender equality in the workplace?
UM: There have been massive strides towards equalising and diversifying the boardroom table which needs to be recognised and applauded.
Our industry is recognising, not just from a moral standpoint but from a sustainability standpoint too, that diversity and inclusion create better-performing teams. It makes for more innovative ideas, products and solutions.
It just makes overall sense. Despite the strides which have been made we still have some work to do. Our biggest job now is tackling unconscious bias head on.
We need to consider how we address and have open and honest dialogue around the unconscious biases that exist within us all. How do we authentically engage people who are at the table that aren’t like us, be it race, gender or age.
It’s not enough to merely have the structures and policies in place to drive transformation and compliance in recruitment, only to get to the table and find you're isolated.
Glamour: Your story is an inspirational one. What are the key lessons you have learned about yourself and the industry as a whole?
UM: When I became a mother, I learnt a fundamental lesson: there isn't a script or storyboard to anything. My life has been such an adventure and the one lesson I've learnt is that it's okay to try something new or scary and fail.
Failure has a way of creating opportunities in life that you may not have even imagined or considered. When I was younger, I thought I needed to have the perfect life and look a certain way.
Now I know that we're all just trying our best and it's okay to stumble and fall. What’s important is how you use the lessons to help you stand again.
Glamour: What's your approach to leadership and occupying space in society?
UM: Like everyone I’m still very much a work in progress, so I like to lead through influence rather than power or fear. I’ve come to appreciate that strong relationships, trust and respect are the cornerstone of healthy leadership and successful teams.
Ultimately, we all have our own unique way of accomplishing our goals.
As a leader, it is up to me to create a safe space for my team to play to their individual and collective strengths while providing clear parameters, expectations and guidelines. My background is very much in traditional advertising.
I come from brand strategy, big creative productions - television and print advertisements; “old school” advertising. Conversation LAB is a full-service digital agency.
So when I joined three years ago, I had a lot to learn about performance marketing, SEO strategy and website development. I leaned on my team to teach me. I'm learning from them as much as they are learning from me.
Glamour: What keeps you motivated?
UM: Birthdays! I love celebrating birthdays. I love making a fuss about people's birthdays. It's not about the size of the party, rather the celebration of one's life.
I think it's because I was born with a heart condition. There was a time where my parents wondered whether I would live or not.
It was a hugely stressful time for them and when I survived and my mom told me the story of my birth and condition, I remember thinking to myself; “I'm meant to be here, God saved me for a reason”
Glamour: As a woman who looks to inspire young girls that look like you, what are some of the measures you think should be put in place to ensure young girls have an equal say in society?
UM: I strongly believe gender equality structures begin within the home. How young girls and boys are moulded within their households plays out when they get out into society.
So it’s not just about teaching young girls that they matter and have a voice, but we need to look at what we are teaching our young boys about roles and equality.
We need to examine how we help both our girls and boys break down and navigate toxic stereotypes – and it starts at home.
All the images were Supplied.