“[Making it in life] is all about how far you are willing to stretch yourself to achieve the things that you need”, Mbalenhle asserts. In this interview, the Master’s in Town and Regional Planning student shares her experience and insights about pursuing a degree in an all-male industry.
Growing up, what did you want to be, and what changed?
I have been told that when I was in primary school I apparently wanted to be a doctor (I don’t recall that). However, when I was in high school I wanted to be an architect. I have always dreamt of being successful.
You’re the Deputy President of Enactus. How did you get involved in the organisation?
I used to read up on Enactus, which at the time was called SIFE. The vision and purpose of the organisation sparked my interest in it, and so I applied to join it. I was called in for an interview and the learning process began.
What do you personally hope to achieve or have already achieved by being part of Enactus?
Joining the organisation I didn’t know what it had to offer, but I knew it was a place for growth and giving back. Looking back at my journey at Enactus, I have gained critical skills such as communication, business etiquette, professionalism, networks, really the list goes on. It’s all about how far you are willing to stretch yourself to get the things that you need, and I stretched myself pretty far. The sleepless nights, long bus trips and never ending paperwork was definitely worth it all.
You’re also pursuing your Master’s in Built Environment. Why a career in Town and Regional Planning?
When I was in primary school I learnt a very valuable skill, to draw. Soon after, I found my creative side and so took up design as a major in high school. I became interested in the construction field as well, and that’s where it all started. I began learning about the various professions within the industry and I was attracted to the Built Environment and Town Planning discipline mainly because it offers you an opportunity to develop the layout and zoning schemes for different areas. It requires a lot of thinking and analysis, but fortunately I’m good at analysing and planning things.
What is your experience of being a young woman in a male-dominated industry?
It’s very difficult to be recognised and to be taken seriously in a male-dominated industry. Last year I recall a class discussion that didn’t end of very well because I had challenged a male candidate’s comment and his response was that “women are so emotional”. I was argued to think that a different point of view had been associated with my natural ability to be more sensitive. Maybe that’s why we need women in built environment after all.
What do you love most about your career path?
I love the design element of my career. I like that I have the ability to create something new and am not confined. I don’t like having an office job. I prefer going on site and working with the community.
What are some of the hardest lessons you have had to learn during the course of your career?
1. Nothing comes easy
2. Everything happens in its own time for different individuals. Life is not a race!
How do you choose to spend your downtime?
I am often with my friends - we are studying towards the same degree. So whenever I actually have time off we spend it together wherever the occasion may be. In my own spare time I visit the gym and I am also a vocalist.
How important has Social Media and Online Brand Management been in managing your career?
Social media made me who I am. The content about me on the various social media platforms have indirectly allowed me to create my own brand. They have also made it possible for me to reach people in places I would not have been able to reach before. Generally speaking, social media has made life so much easier and has enabled us to communicate about anything and everything in the most unimaginable ways.
What keeps you motivated?
My late parents. They taught me to work hard, give back and stay humble. Their principles are what I live by and they have changed my life.
Which notable Southern African would you most like to have a coffee with, and why?
Patrice Motsepe. He’s one of the most successful South African businessmen who have made a habit of giving back to his own people. I would like to know where his story began.
What advice do you have for other young women who would like to pursue careers in male-dominated fields such as your own?
Defy the status quo. The fact that it’s titled ‘a male-dominated field’ should give you more reason to explore it. Our greatest chef’s and bakers (the likes of Jamie Oliver and Buddy Valastro) are male. The kitchen has never been called a ‘female-dominated field’. So break the boundaries, work hard, give back, be a success and always stay humble.
What is Notable to you?
Notable describes something or someone that you cannot ignore. Their flags waver so high that people cannot help but notice them.
If you have what it takes to be featured as our next Notable,
or you’d like to nominate a colleague for the feature,
we want to hear from you.