Too often the corporate world leaves women feeling that if they want to lead – they need to become more like men. It may sound ridiculous, but it’s a subtle notion that has crept into the business environment and continues to be fed by a shortage of female role models in leadership positions.
“The truth, however, is that women bring a completely different touch to the leadership role and shouldn’t feel they have to be anything other than themselves in order to grab hold of leadership opportunities,” says Nereina Naicker, Branch Manager at Rectron in KwaZulu-Natal.
It’s a truth that Nereina not only feels strongly about, but also one that she lives out every day in her leadership role at Rectron.
Few industries have lacked exposure to female leadership quite like the IT industry. So, for Nereina blazing a trail in a top management position at one of the country’s foremost IT distributors has been no easy feat.
A growing love for tech
Like many other women, it had never really occurred to Nereina that a career in tech might be for her. Instead, it was her passion for teaching that led her to join a volunteer programme at the Sappi Resource Centre in Durban, where she began teaching children how to use computers.
Eventually the programme launched its own technolab, through which Nereina had the opportunity to teach underprivileged children about engineering concepts using lego.
At the time a professor from Wits University had come down to Durban to implement the project and to train Nereina, who had been appointed to spearhead the volunteer programme.
“And so it was through teaching that my love for technology began to grow. It showed and I became so good at what I did that the professor invited me to work for him at his company in Johannesburg,” she recalls.
The company, called the Big Picture, offered private tuition to school learners, at the same time exposing her to teambuilding.
Nereina spent two years in Johannesburg, continuing to teach technology at Randfontein High School. “I had started to become homesick though, and so decided to move back to Durban where I joined a friend who had just opened a computer company.”
Knocking on the door of SA’s leading IT distributor
It was at Dolphin Coast Business Solutions that Nereina was first introduced to Rectron as she used to buy the distributor’s products for the company. She was soon asked by Rectron to go for an interview that ultimately saw her take on a position in sales with the distributor.
Nereina then progressed through various sales positions, taking up the role of Branch Manager in KwaZulu-Natal in 2016.
The role was not without its challenges though. “It was a challenge for me to convince customers that I knew what I was speaking about and that my knowledge of IT was comparable to that of any male Branch Manager who had gone before me,” she says.
“Sometimes I would go through to customers and they would still want to speak to the previous manager or they simply wouldn’t take my appointments at all.”
Things have changed considerably since then, and the relationships formed between Nereina and her clients are that much stronger because of the road they’ve walked together.
Believe in yourself – others will too
But, to arrive where she is today, Nereina had to have a strategy, and one that didn’t involve trying to emulate male leadership. “I had become so passionate about technology, it reflected in everything I did. I also knew my subject so well that customers started to believe me – and more importantly they started to trust and even rely on my guidance.”
She admits that it took having the confidence to stand her own ground. “I wasn’t afraid to speak up or be outspoken, even if it landed me in hot water at times – just as long as I was always able to back up my convictions.”
She points out that too often women feel they have to follow in the footsteps of their male colleagues, because men are seen as the authority in IT. “But there are many strong female leaders in the world and they haven’t gotten to where they are by copying anyone. Women bring a completely different touch to leadership – often more caring and family-orientated.”
Nereina acknowledges that too many of the women in IT are still working under male management. “These are women who have the knowledge and ability to take on leadership positions.”
But, as much as she believes that companies need to create new opportunities for women in order for this to change, she also believes that women should create their own opportunities.
“As women we should never be afraid to do that. So my advice for young women entering the industry is find your passion, create your opportunities and have the confidence to be yourself.”