Sihle Bolani is an Organizational Transformation Advocate & Specialist, Author, and Brand Communications Strategist. Her professional experience has included work at some of South Africa’s top corporate organizations, some of which are listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
In 2018, she released her first book, titled: “We Are The Ones We Need: The War on Black Professionals in Corporate South Africa”, which peels away the layers of race-related discrimination in the workplace, lending her voice to a territory many are afraid to enter.
In 2019, Sihle was inducted as an honorary member of the Golden Key International Honour Society by the University of Cape Town Chapter. She was also profiled by True Love magazine as a Game Changer.
Through her platforms, such as Working While Black, “The Epilogue with Sihle Bolani” on Youtube and Konnekted with Sihle Bolani, she has been intentional about creating meaningful value for her audience that will empower them as they navigate the challenges they face in the workplace, including discrimination, pay inequality, racism, sexism, mental health awareness & destigmatization, inclusivity, labor law-related matters as well as HR-related issues and concerns.
Tell us a bit about your background and what made you choose your career?
My interest and skill in writing, behavior and influence led me to study Public Relations, Advertising and Brand Communication. I spent over 10 years in corporate, specializing in corporate communications, public relations, and employee engagement. In the past five years, my career has expanded to include the development of organizational culture strategies, assessing corporates’ performance & gaps in relation to diversity & inclusion and private career coaching. I also have a book titled, “We Are The Ones We Need: The War on Black Professionals in Corporate South Africa”, which tackles the various challenges and intersections of race-based discrimination in the workplace.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
For far too long, the oppression Black professionals in the workplace has been ignored. Fear of loss of income has forced so many Black professionals into silent suffering. My work is centered around forcing these conversations into the spotlight to help Black professionals see that they aren’t alone, they aren’t imagining their experiences, they aren’t being “sensitive” and giving them tools and tips to begin to fight back. I also get to go into corporate environments and speak honestly about our experiences and embrace the discomfort it creates because I understand two key things:
1. I have a position of privilege with my independence that I must use to ensure I speak up for those who can’t.
2. Discomfort/agitation is necessary before we can work towards change.
My work also serves to create opportunities for learning new ways of understanding, unpacking and addressing workplace conflict and politics from a position of knowledge and personal power.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I’ve never had “formal” mentors. I’ve always paid close attention to people who inspire me and learned from they share across different platforms, regardless of industry. Being open-minded about “informal” learning has exposed me to so many different lessons about life, work and love. The biggest A-HA moment for me was, while processing all the various information I had soaked up over the years, when I realized that there is no separation between work, home and romantic life. All of those aspects make up your one life, so fulfilment in each area and being able to show up as your full, authentic self in each area is critical. That is why representation and intersectional inclusion must be priorities in the workplace.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
For me, it’s always about the WHY and the WHO. Why are you seeking to disrupt? Why is that tension the best option? Who is it going to benefit besides you? Who interests does it serve? As a society, we embrace bottom-line-driven disruption without question; it boosts the economy, makes technology more accessible, makes billions for shareholders and executives, etc. Once we start being confronted by social justice disruptors, we are bombarded with reasons why it’s not right in timing or implementation or theory… the list is endless. And that’s something we need to reflect on as a society. The disruptions we embrace enrich and embolden the same types of people who have historically been beneficiaries of the current systems. While the people who have been historically oppressed continue to largely remain consumers who fund those beneficiaries.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
You were never meant to blend in. This still helps me today. It’s scary to be different. To have differing views/opinions. To be willing to stand alone because of your beliefs. It’s easy to doubt yourself and be tempted to toe the line. Remembering these words keeps me on my path to my true north.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next? I’m currently busy writing my second book, which I’m very excited about. I am also getting ready to open up registrations for Konnekted Class of 2021, which is my membership-based yearlong career development programme for Black professional women. From 2021, it will be available in South Africa and the US.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Misogyny, misogynoir, patriarchal cliques, access to support/funding, higher rates of sexual harassment, being subjected to abusive, derogatory language…
Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s my own quote – “I did not come into this world to leave it the way I found it.” It reminds me that my journey is bigger than me and that my life and work should reflect that.
For more information, please visit www.sihlebolani.com.
About the Interviewer: Jilea Hemmings is a staunch believer in the power of entrepreneurship. A successful career revamping Fortune 500 companies was not enough for her entrepreneurial spirit, so Jilea began focusing her passion in startups. She has successfully built 6 startups to date. Her passion for entrepreneurship continues to ﬂourish with the development of Stretchy Hair Care, focusing on relieving the pain associated with detangling and styling natural black hair. For far too long, people with tender heads have suffered in pain. Until now.