August is Women’s Month and what better way to kick it off than with an inspiring story of personal growth and ambition.
Nhlokomo Mhlophe, who was part of the Engen Graduate Development Programme, has made significant strides to realise her ambition of “becoming a strong, independent black woman”. She is now preparing to focus on the second half of that goal – to empower other women like her.
Speaking out to mark Women’s Month, Mhlophe recalls how she was once among those who believe they’re not enough – not good enough at sport, not clever enough, and not popular enough.
Today she is a proud Bachelor of Commerce graduate from Rhodes University, and has a job in Engen’s enterprise, risk and assurance department in Cape Town.
“During my school years, I lived between my father in Isipingo and my mother in Umlazi, KwaZulu-Natal, attending school in Amanzimtoti. My family always stood behind me, including my sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents. Without them I wouldn’t be half the person I am today,” she says.
Mhlophe knows, however, that it was her own motivation that sent her in search of a spot in the Engen Maths and Science Schools (EMSS) programme at Mangosuthu University of Technology when she was still at high school, setting her life on its current trajectory.
“I used to see the scholars coming out of the university and I wanted to know what they were doing. I asked someone one day and they told me all about the EMSS programme, so I decided to join, too,” she recalls, adding that the extra lessons proved crucial during her matric year.
Internal Audit manager Bea Ndlovu, her mentor in Engen’s Graduate Development Programme, has been another source of inspiration, providing her with support, but also teaching her by example the value of good reasoning skills and critical analysis.
Acording to Unathi Njokweni-Magida, Engen’s head of transformation and stakeholder engagement, the empowerment of black women is a top priority at Engen, which is focused on integrating more women across the entire value chain.
The statistics point to the success of the strategy. A total of 48 percent of Engen’s retail dealerships are now black, and ten percent of them women. The Engen board also comprises 40 percent black members, and the executive team 31 percent black women.
On its commitment to education, Njokweni-Magida explains that Engen supports excellence and opportunity among the youth – from school through to university. Citing Mhlophe as an example, she says they are working actively to build a pipeline of black and female graduates, for the future good of the company and the country.
Mhlophe says she is proud to be an example in her neighbourhood that it is possible to break from a common circle that sees many youngsters dropping out of school, incurring teenage pregnancy and abusing substances.
“One day I will start a youth organisation to give back, to show them there is another way,” she says.