Rizwana Butler: reimagining women in the workspace

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Published on Capitec’s LinkedIn page, 30 August 2022

She joined Capitec in March 2021 as Group Executive of Human Resources. At a recent event to celebrate Women’s Day, Rizwana Butler shared her advice about how to reimagine women in the workspace.

Here’s her three simple but powerful lessons to share with all women:

  1. Break the rules and own your space
  2. Know your worth
  3. Honour your uniqueness

Lesson 1: Break the rules and own your space

Rizwana grew up in a traditional family where most women, even if they studied, eventually got married and started a family. “I knew at a young age that this was probably not what I wanted to do,” she says. “I wanted to study and have a career!” So, Rizwana dared to break the rules.

Her parents hadn’t saved for her tertiary education but that didn’t stop her. Rizwana wanted to go to university. “I paid my own way and completed my bachelor’s and honour’s degrees.” During her honour’s degree, she received three job offers, one of which was at a mining company.

“The head of the Department of Business Administration at the time said to me: ‘Rizwana, you’re a woman, don’t take the mining job. Take something closer to home because we all know that you’ll do this for a couple of years until you’re ready to do what you’re meant to do: stay at home and raise a family.’”

She decided to break the rules and accepted the job that meant the most to her. “I joined a mine that was about 50km outside of Witbank and when I arrived, I discovered that the only languages spoken were Afrikaans and Fanagalo [a pidgin language based on Xhosa, Zulu, English and Afrikaans].”

Her new employer had only ever had male graduates join the company in the past. “I discovered that because I wasn’t married, I’d have to live in the single males’ quarters. That didn’t bother me, I was there to do a job. I spent the first year of my career living in the single males’ quarters, going underground and doing all the things everyone told me were not typically what women did.”

Throughout the course of Rizwana’s career, she’s continued to break the rules and own her space. This includes her role at Capitec, where she became the first female executive. “When I spoke to people about this opportunity, they’d always ask: ‘Rizwana, you’re going to be the first female executive at Capitec, is that really what you want to do? How are you going to manage the male-dominated Exco?’ My response was always: I’ve dared to defy the rules before. This will be a walk in the park for me.”

Lesson 2: Know your worth

Rizwana admits that although she’s had an incredible career, there have been ups and downs. “I remember a moment when I was going through one of the worst times I could ever think of. You know this situation: nothing ever works out, you don’t have a connection with your team, and you can never see eye to eye with your boss. I couldn’t understand what was happening, and I knew it was affecting my mental and physical health.”

She recalls waking up in the middle of the night with heart palpitations, which was completely unknown to her. “On Sunday afternoons, I’d find myself in a bad mood because I knew that I’d have to go back to the office the next morning. I couldn’t wait to get to Friday afternoon.” Rizwana knew something was wrong and confided in her mentor. His advice was simple: know your worth.

“Sometimes you must take a step back and ask: Is what you’re doing to yourself worth it? I decided not to leave the company, and I transferred out of the team instead. It was the best decision I could have made. I started to enjoy my work again and everything fell back into place.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for help either, she adds. “We’re scared of seeing the imperfections in ourselves, and sometimes we forget that there’s a sisterhood around us — other women who are so keen to see us succeed that they’re willing to lend a helping hand. And let’s not forget our male counterparts, who are often standing next to us, cheering us on, even if we don’t notice it. Help can come from the most remarkable sources.”

Lesson 3: Honour your uniqueness

Rizwana admits that early in her career she strived to be like her male colleagues, from their banter to how they managed conflict. “Guess what? I failed miserably. It took me a long time to realise that I was unique.” Her uniqueness, she explains, comes from her ability to connect with people and to intuitively get a sense of what’s going on.

“We’re often told not to say anything until you know the facts, until you have all the data from that. But sometimes you must trust your female instincts and then find the data later to support what you have to say,” she concludes.

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