“You’ve got to focus on the inner game, the inner mind, and that is something you have to constantly build.”
Nomonde Hlongwa, Chief Compliance Officer at Standard Bank Group’s Business and Commercial Banking division, is a woman who has led an anomalous path to reach the top echelons of leadership in the finance industry. An admitted attorney by profession, she’s traversed roles from internal audit to regulatory specialist. She shares her insights on overcoming toxic positivity, raising your inner game and being vulnerable. This distilled on her journey to becoming an exceptional woman leader.
“When you’re younger, sometimes you go through a moment of questioning, ‘Where do you see yourself’? Standard Bank has been the biggest opportunity for me. It has really allowed me to craft my own path.”
Rising above the noise
Nomonde’s early years instilled a strong sense of self-confidence, often inspired by the resilience of the women around her. Self-belief is a core theme that resonates throughout her career journey. For her rising above the noise is fundamentally about overcoming the idea that you’re not enough.
“Sometimes you don’t always see yourself in the light that others may necessarily see you in. Overcoming and rising above that internal noise in your own mind is vital. That is the first battle that one needs to win as a woman, for you to rise.”
She believes that it is crucial that young women, especially, internalise the fact that they belong in the corporate space. They must believe that they’re capable of rising if they apply themselves, and acknowledge that there will be noise.
“We often focus on technical skills and expertise and we think that alone is going to help us rise. You’ve also got to focus on the inner game, the inner mind, and that is something you have to constantly build. We live in an age where we are bombarded by a culture of positivity – that everything is fantastic and we should be grateful because it could have been more dire – and I find it has the opposite effect. When you’re going through a hard time, lean into that moment of hardship and take it for what it is.”
It’s not only imperative that women in leadership rise above the noise but do so in a very visible and unapologetic way.
This article first appeared on the 18th edition of Standard Bank top women Leaders. Read it here:
Lessons from a woman leader
Nomonde candidly shares the challenges she has faced on her leadership journey. These challenges include battling imposter syndrome, and confronting preconceived notions about her capabilities. However, she credits her strong network of women allies for providing the support and encouragement necessary to overcome these obstacles. Their collective strength, resilience, and positivity inspire her to embrace self-belief, challenge internal barriers, and foster a culture of support and empowerment.
“I am also inspired by the women in my life who have helped me along the way, even if they are not in high-profile positions. These women have taught me how to carry myself with integrity and grace, both in the corporate world and in life. I call them my unsung heroes because they are often overlooked, but they have had a profound impact on my life.”
She believes that empathy and vulnerability are critical to being a good leader.
“The concept of vulnerability is sometimes misunderstood, where people think it’s about full disclosure and laying yourself bare, which is not the case. People in senior positions often come across as titles. What empathy and vulnerability do is they remove the title and present you as a human being.
“When leaders embrace vulnerability and empathy, this sets the tone for a transformed and positive work culture. Vulnerability and empathy allow leaders to show up as not only caring about output and productivity, but also caring about the needs and experiences of their employees. Where employees feel heard and their well-being cared for, I have witnessed first-hand how this creates an environment of trust, motivates and boosts morale in teams, and impacts positively on productivity.”
She finds that people connect with her a lot better, she’s more relatable and it improves her legitimacy within the team. People want to work with her!
Creating an inclusive and equitable workplace
In today’s rapidly evolving world, empowering women in the workplace is not just a matter of equality, but a catalyst for progress and success. Companies that prioritise diversity and inclusion unlock the full potential of their workforce, fostering innovation, collaboration, and sustainable growth.
Nomonde emphasises the significance of clear policies and practices that foster diversity and inclusion. She highlights the need for fair hiring practices, equal opportunities for career advancement, and objective performance evaluations. Holding leaders accountable for maintaining an equitable workplace is crucial to address any instances of discrimination. By actively breaking down systemic barriers and cultivating a culture that values diverse perspectives, companies can create an empowering and supportive environment for all employees.
“Having women in senior leadership positions is very aspirational for those who are young and up and coming, and who are doubting themselves, and who don’t think they can one day fulfil these roles. It also has a positive impact on staff morale.”
Work-life balance and flexibility
Recognising the importance of work-life balance, Nomonde advocates for flexible work arrangements that support employees’ personal needs. She praises Standard Bank Group’s adoption of a flexible hybrid work model. This enables employees to manage their professional responsibilities while attending to personal obligations. By prioritising well-being and understanding the significance of family and personal life, organisations can attract and retain talented women.
The power of mentorship and sponsorship
Drawing from her own experience, Nomonde highlights the transformative impact of mentorship and sponsorship programmes on women’s professional development. She emphasises that these relationships provide valuable insights, guidance, and support from experienced professionals who have navigated similar challenges. Mentors offer clarity of thought, help set realistic goals, and share their own lived experiences.
Sponsors act as advocates, promoting the recognition and advancement of talented women. By fostering these relationships, women can overcome self-doubt, break through barriers, and unleash their full potential.
“I’ve had role models that I come across during various stages of my life and my career, and I find that the people that I looked up to when I was much younger when I started off are very different to the people that I look up to now.”
She also stresses that it’s critical to acknowledge that you don’t have to have all the answers immediately, but there’s nothing to stop you from learning and knowing how to do it in the future.
The role of men in shaping an inclusive future
It is essential to understand that empowerment is not a one-sided issue. It involves both men and women creating an environment that supports and promotes equal opportunities and values diversity. We are all born empowered, and part of this power may slowly erode over time due to various factors, but we can regain it by believing in ourselves and our abilities.
Nomonde emphasises the importance of collaboration between men and women in driving positive change. She calls on male leaders and colleagues to actively champion gender equality, reject exclusionary practices, and dismantle existing barriers.
By ensuring women’s representation in key discussions and decision-making processes, companies can foster an environment where diverse perspectives are valued and heard.
Nomonde Hlongwa’s insights and experiences provide a powerful testament to the importance of empowering women in the workplace. As we continue to strive for gender equality, her journey serves as an inspiration for women to embrace their potential, overcome challenges, and lead the way towards a brighter and more inclusive future.