By Amanda-Ellen Jojo
IN spite of the strides in women’s representation in powerful roles, a surprising number of people across the world still don’t trust women to lead effectively. These biases are deep-seated and may be difficult to change. However, at the heart of International Women’s Day (IWD) this year is the theme; “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow,” #BreakTheBias.
The Entrepreneurial Magazine dug deeper to fish out conveniently, a lady who radiates all the hallmarks of excellence and her name is Dr Mandas Marikanda the woman who wears many hats as a corporate suite leader, entrepreneur and a gender equality champion.
Over the years, she has been establishing her place in the world of corporate executives which is notoriously male-dominated and to date, Dr Marikanda sits comfortably as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank (ZWMB) and her story is a great testimony pivoted upon small steps.
Because of her belief that best things come in little steps, Dr Marikanda first cut her teeth in the corporate world as a junior research assistant, a training officer, a sales person, a branch manager, a regional manager, a country manager, a consultant, a finance director and several times a CEO.
In coherence with the campaign theme of the 2022 IWD (#BreakTheBias), this publication caught up with Dr Marikanda who imparted her insights on corporate leadership, women empowerment, financial inclusion and how her Christian background significantly molded her.
Corporate leadership journey, championing women empowerment and breaking the gender bias in workplaces
Her journey was refined by animosity, strife, squabbles, tough tutors, wrong decisions, criticisms, and tough talk.
“It’s really an incredible story looking back, but it did not start or look that flamboyant at the beginning. Not each of the experiences have been rosy, I became better in each position courtesy of critics, coaches, supervisors, colleagues and mentors. I also learnt through the different positions that it is advisable to stand for what you believe even as an individual.
“I come from a humble background and know what it means to have less resources as a family. After obtaining my first degree I went job hunting like all other graduates. I know what it means to apply for jobs and not get a response. I also experienced the pain of job hunting. I experienced the frustration of facing position abusing people and had to on three separate occasions walk away from job offers as they threatened and contravened my morals,” Dr Marikanda revealed.
For the multi-award-winning CEO, being a part of ZWMB is more than a job, it is a place where her personal mission meets with the organisational mission, which is to empower the economically and socially marginalised.
Since being appointed C.E.O, Dr Marikanda has propelled ZWMB to greater heights in the business of crafting financial solutions to the target market.
“The ZWMB brand and its focus on microeconomics and economic empowerment feeds into my lifelong passion of economics and its interaction with human ills like poverty, segregation and exclusion.
“I have been and am involved in a number of value chains and initiatives that offer youths and women who dare to dream a starting point and personal employment as well as promoting moonlighting among the employed as an alternative instead of relying on one income stream,” she said.
She has been engaged with training and setting up teams coupled with individual initiatives that ride on meeting a need in the community where no one will be offering services that include maid services, fumigation, laundry services, cleaning services as a result, these running enterprises are a source of employment for girls and young women.
Her moonlighting initiatives teach women to make money, business incubation, business idea generation, running business ideas, practical use land as a business, motivate and give hope to the hopeless.
The women empowerment enthusiast is well aware of the need to eradicate poverty because it steals; dreams, beauty, confidence and self-worthy, it perpetuates oppression and societal hierarchies, it distorts age and takes away the respect due to the nature.
“I know fully well that poverty in society can be eliminated when a direct and deliberate strategy is engaged to offer the marginalised an alternative to make a difference in their life. Measuring poverty levels through different tools of wealth ranking allows the researcher’s work to bring the baseline information that all who intend to make a difference can utilise in poverty eradication strategies.
“My involvement early in my career in numerous such researches as student inspired me to know that poverty is best tackled at household level, that trickle-down strategies will not meaningfully help change lives,” she stated.
Even though there has been deliberations and several affirmative actions on the topic of gender inequality in corporate level positions, Dr Marikanda is of the view that more still need to be done as there is a disparity between what is on paper versus what is on the ground.
She said: “Women over the decades have challenged this misnomer and succeeded in going up the ladder, what has been slow has been the deliberate effort to pave way for an avalanche of women earning it professionally up the ladder. It is cheating to bribe, manipulate or even use one’s body to get into the corridors of power. It diminishes the value and worthiness of the female race.”
Because she is an educationist par excellence, Dr Marikanda reinforces the conviction that ‘the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.’
“My mother believed in education. She did everything to ensure we went to school. The siblings picked up and supported each other with the youngest of us scoring doctorates and professorship at their sacrifice!
“I have learnt that continuous studying and upgrading expanded my scope and leadership capacity. Having a Phd in a certain field should not be a ceiling and as such I am motivating myself to expand in book authorship too,” Dr Marikanda said.
A significant body of research shows that the subtle gender bias that persists in organisations and society is owed to the socialisation of girls from grassroots level and Dr Marikanda highlighted that socialisation plays a great part in their orientation.
“How we define gender matters in the family is very important. Girl children learn to make family decisions on cleanliness of the home environment, what food and time of eating at an earlier age than the boy child and this gives her competitive edge that has to be embraced as she grows academically and professionally.
“However sadly over the generations, families made decisions to invest in and educating a boy child ahead of the girl child and have erroneously defined the highest points on the corporate ladders as a place for men and not women,” she lamented.
The 2021 Iconic Woman of the decade highlighted that to achieve gender equality by 2030, there is need to focus on the socialisation process and ensure that generations nurtured now have their antennas sensitized on gender equality.
As collaboration and empathy is becoming valued in business, it is now the time for women to break the bias by capitalising on traditional feminine traits to get ahead in the workplace. Against this backdrop, Dr Marikanda who was socialised to embrace her femininity pointed out that emotions make women better sympathetic and empathetic leaders.
“I was socialised to believe in girl power of self-control as a girl I am valuable and beautiful in my unique way and I bring the wow factor where ever I go. As such I believe in earning the promotion, stand neck to neck to others and demand attention where it is denied because of biases.
“It is a primitive and an uniformed action to discriminate on the gender basis. Let us tell a girl child that she is a princess, that she can make it and she will do it. Support a sister when she is down, and she will do exploits,” she remarked.
In line with breaking the bias in business organisations, Dr Marikanda said discrimination on gender grounds is often a reflection of baseless stereotyping and some certain level of social imbalance.
“Gender balance is very important, I therefore believe the honours is with the organisation top leadership to try to blend in male and females in their leadership for obvious balance reasons.
“There is generally nothing wrong with building exclusively female or male teams depending on the business and what wants to achieve,” she affirmed.
She underlined given a challenge to prove their worth women tend to do better and generally make more loyal and stable employees.
Creditable entrepreneurial tips and demystification of financial inclusion and exclusion
Since entrepreneurship is all about setting up an entity that addresses a problem in a sustainable way while charging a premium for it, Dr Marikanda stressed that in order for entrepreneurs to remain relevant they should be precise in their goals, agile in adapting to change and engage the needs of their markets. She added that this has been the key for the success of the ZWMB and every other of her moonlighting business initiatives.
“It is worrisome when entities fail that they often blame someone else, competition, authorities and most unlikely their inability to adapt to the changing needs. Businesses go bankrupt, grow old and die if they do not adapt to changing environments.”
In accordance with the International Monetary Fund, women in Africa are on the fringes of the financial sector they have less chances to save borrow or build capital. As such, The Mission of ZMWB is on a drive to empower all women economically and socially.
She remarked that: “It considers financial literacy and business management a key component of successful lending. The Bank believes in supportive and physical assessments more than desk reviews. It is important to the ZWMB brand that its clients appreciate and understand their business processes than spend money in coming up with well-crafted business proposals which they will have a challenge in understand and implementing.
“To appreciate the drive for financial inclusion one needs an understanding the forms of financial exclusion around and ask questions like, if women are the majority of the economically population, why is it that 40 years after independence there is still advocacy and nudging the Banking sector to prioritise women in their products offering and in serving them? Why are there more men than women who own bank accounts and have access to credit?”
Moreover, Dr Marikanda indicated that financial exclusion is the inability to participate in the financial sector, lack of access to common financial services by certain sections in society due to social status and geographical location and she said it an economic injustice to women. She associated financial exclusion with poverty.
“Ultimately, financial exclusion prevents these groups from accessing the resources they need to expand a business, pay for higher education, or any number of other actions that could help them work their way up and achieve a better quality of life,” she said.
Since most women-owned small to medium enterprises are facing challenges, in venture resource planning, ZWMB is helping women align position their business for sustained growth through efficient management of resources.
“Resource management is very important and key in enterprise development. It is that practice of planning, scheduling, and allocating people, money, and technology the business for achieving organizational value is very key. The recruitment strategy, the marketing strategy as well as business growth strategy are key components of resource planning.
“One has to define what resources they have and need. Most of the times Enterprises only think of money as the needful resource and often forget the importance of all the other resources of the business,” she said.
She further encouraged women entrepreneurs to consider human capital as the best resource because it is the stock of productive knowledge and skills embodied in the human.
Challenges, trials, lessons and encouragement
Some of the challenges she faced include the trait of fighting which can be obnoxious to some people and has its labelling challenges which can easily end up being used against women.
Because leaders are not always likeable, she encouraged them to always leave room for deserved as well as undeserved animosity and in the quest of dealing with animosity she implored leaders to deliberate, plan and work fruitfully with people who ordinarily support them.
She further added that: “It pays to be a person of integrity, consistence and perseverance as you climb the professional ladder. Dependency on God, His control in the affairs of mankind, His plans for my life helped me embrace adversity without keeping grudges, that I can make mistakes but they do not define me the same applies to those I work and interact with. Everyone deserves a second chance in life.”
Additionally, she said women tend to be side-lined in preference of their male counter parts especially in the absence of prior experience to relate to.
“My first appointment to the position of CEO was some protracted discussion even though I had been holding the post though not as substantive. I am a very persistent person at times to a point of obnoxity.
“I knew my worthy and advocated where I could. I demonstrated my performance with results which made even my worst critiques opt to prove me for a time,” Dr Marikanda imparted.
Dr Marikanda accepts that the flipside of every strength is a weakness too and she encouraged people to acknowledge, embrace and find a way of working around them.
In the spirit of offering advice to fellow women she profoundly described the ‘princess mentality’ concept and how it poses as a challenge in business undertakings.
She said: “Women love to be loved, to be right, to win, attention. The truth is not everyone will like you or like what is right, others will be revulsed by your confidence and guts and that is OK! It is important to know that not agreeing with someone does not make them your enemy.”
Dr Marikanda appreciates the need for people to co-exist as such she spotlighted that life is not about competing or racing against someone but rather it is fulfilling one’s calling and role on earth.
“Comparatives often bring disgruntlement and lack of appreciation of what you have. Once you have God driving your life, everything works for good. There are events that may look like your fortunes have reversed or you have lost out but I have found that at times the reverse helps to propel you even higher,” she urged.
Christian tenets on work-family balance and gender equality
Grounded on the principles of Christianity, Dr Marikanda is a God-fearing woman, balanced, self-loving woman who values people despite their social positions and education and she owes her ability to balance work, social and family to God. Thus, according to Dr Marikanda women are specialist multitaskers who depend and intertwine their lives with God.
“…I am grateful for a husband who is a REAL man, who loves me, supports me, he is a joy to submit to. I am a CEO who leads and run a Bank and a business woman in my own right. I accept his leadership role in my life and yearn to excel in my role as great wife, partner and spouse to him and as a mother to my kids. Those roles can never be confused.
“I am forever grateful to my first Board Chairman, he mentored me to be the best CEO without making me feel like I could be better if I was a man. Great leadership skills he exhibited there and these have helped me to be unsophisticated. Yea that is the key, less sophistication,” she expressed.
Because Dr Marikanda of her clear-cut Christianity values, she is of the view that gender equality is not just a theory that is morally right, it is achievable if it based on the infallible word of God.
“It is not contentious or quarrelsome in nature but rather is unifying and building in nature, it embraced by and championed by both males and females. Being a Christian has helped me embrace and enjoy my gender. I am proudly woman!” Dr Marikanda exclaimed.
Dr Marikanda acknowledged the fact that the Christian environment she grew up in shaped the person she is today. Being part of a family of intelligent siblings equally put pressure on her to seek excellence.
“I grew up with strong morals and knew no one could force me into something I do not want. I was never one to take abuse quietly and expect someone to fight for me later.
“Am grateful that I grew up with a belief that I could take challenges. I could get challenged, fight and emulate what boys could do because no one ever said I could not do it. I grew up knowing that to be ahead of other boys and girls in class I had to work hard, appreciate competition, collaborate and learn from others too,” Dr Marikanda said.
Dr. Marikanda has scored a number of successes since the inception of ZWMB pocketing numerous awards as listed here in:
Overall Winner of the Zimbabwe Institute of Management 2018 National Leadership Excellence Awards – Northern Region
Overall National Winner of the Zimbabwe Institute of Management 2018 National Leadership Excellence Awards
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Winner CEO of the Year Women in Enterprise Conference Awards 2018
Mega fest Bronze Award Winner CEO of the Year 2019
Proweb Women CEO of the year 2019
Proweb Outstanding Achievement Award 2019
Institute of Corporate Directors- Woman Championship in Boards 2019
Zimbabwe Business Awards Business Woman of the Year National 2019
CEO Round Table Entrepreneurial CEO of the Year 2ND Runner Up 2019
CEO Round Table CEO of the Week
1st runner up-Woman Corporate Director of the Year: Public Enterprises/Parastals- Institute of Corporate Directors Zimbabwe 2020
2nd runner up-Innovative /Turnaround Strategic Corporate Director of the Year: Public Enterprises/Parastals – Institute of Corporate Directors Zimbabwe 2020 Amongst Iconic Women of the Decade, and Top 50 Most Inspirational Women in Zimbabwe in 2021