Be assertive. It's not always easy to stand up for your rights, but don't walk away from challenging situations
As Wealth Head for Standard Bank Group in KwaZulu-Natal, Mano Singh is accountable for four business units that contribute over R600 million to the provincial revenue.
"When I started out, the corporate culture was steeped in race," she recalls. "And I had to work hard to get permission to even participate, where you were consciously and deliberately side-lined even if you were the best candidate. I quickly learned that if I were to grow and succeed in that environment, formal education was key to validating me as a person firstly, while also keeping my mind focused on the future. Education gave me the confidence that I could take on new challenges as they arose. It also allowed me to quickly walk away from any situation that questioned my self-worth."
Looking to beacons of hope
Mano has always been inspired by the people who were beacons of hope. "There were so many people who were simply born in the wrong era and forced into serving when they really should have been leading."
Her father was a big influence on her life, and she learnt from a young age that education was vital. "He taught me that education was the golden key to unlocking any door, and as long as I kept my mind active and learning, that would be the gift that would give me the hope and courage I'd need on my journey in the workspace." But education alone was not enough. He also taught her the value of humility and respect for all, and that when it came to integrity there was no room for compromise.
Her mother was also a driving force in her life, bringing another dimension. "My mother was bold, audacious and confident and she made sure I learned that I should never give up, no matter the circumstances."
Mano is also very grateful for the support she gets from her husband, and he too has helped define her character. "I'm blessed to be married to a wonderful man who inspires me to remain patient and calm, even when storms are brewing, and he has inspired me to take the lead and fulfil my life's ambition."
Declaring work-life balance to be a myth, Mano admits that her journey has not always been easy. "I've had to juggle, trying to balance family and work responsibilities. I've also studied almost continually my whole life while climbing the ladder. I've relocated to further my career and often been pushed out of my comfort zone." Her willingness to take on challenges has been part of her growth, but it hasn't fostered balance.
Women should invest in their networks
Taking a somewhat controversial stand, she says that women have much to learn from men. "I'm not saying we need to do business in the same way as men," she says. "But leadership can be lonely, and I admire the tenacity with which men form networks that create a structure to carry them through their journey. This helps them maximise their success. As women we're not that good at investing in our networks. But this takes time, and there's no doubt we have greater demands on our time."
Being driven and a perfectionist, Mano still looks to the future. "I have so much I still want to achieve," she says, "and I still have a lot to contribute. On a daily basis I see people struggling to navigate their life journey and career path, struggling to make decisions about the way forward, and the trade-offs they may need to make to achieve the success they want." Mano wants to make a contribution here and mentions that altruism gives one purpose in life. And as she relishes the opportunity to mentor a new generation of leaders, she thinks back on her early career.
Asked what advice she would give her younger self, Mano is succinct: Be assertive. It's not always easy to stand up for your rights, but don't walk away from challenging situations. Never sacrifice your personal principles; be true to yourself and you will earn respect. Mano points out that when she was starting out, society schooled people to be submissive to partisan bosses. "But had I been more assertive, particularly when I felt that I was deliberately overlooked for senior positions, my journey would have been catalysed in different conditions."
Knowledge and education are self-empowering
"When I started, I was hungry to learn about leadership and strategy, and I read voraciously. I would buy a leadership book every single month when I was paid. Later on, while I was doing my MBA, I realised that everything I was searching for was encapsulated in my MBA syllabus. I just wish someone had taken me aside early on and pointed me in the right direction - it might have made a big difference in my choices and the trajectory of my career."
She acknowledges that each adversity she faced prepared her for her personal journey, and takes pride in never compromising her principles and the respect she has earned in the industry. "And when times were tough, I studied harder. My father's voice in my head kept reminding me that the reward of knowledge and education is self-empowering."
As Wealth Head for Standard Bank Group in KwaZulu-Natal, Mano Singh is accountable for four business units that contribute over R600 million to the provincial revenue