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With a wealth of experience in the ICT sector – both locally and globally – Lillian Barnard is currently Chief Sales Officer at Vodacom, South Africa. She’s an accomplished leader and entrepreneur who is passionate about maintaining and creating excellence in individuals and teams. She's equally as focussed on issues that promote the advancement and empowerment of women in the workplace through leadership development and mentorship, and skills transfer.

We took time to talk to Lillian Barnard, Vodacom Business’ Chief Sales Officer, about the importance of mentorship and the factors that make the mentorship process so effective. Lillian is currently championing mentorship within her division at Vodacom Business.

What are the three toughest challenges facing women in ICT and why? 

Women face a lot of challenges in every industry, but I think barriers to success are, firstly that men are seen as the default leaders. Men come in and take charge – women take care – so there’s a perception that men are stronger leaders. Another challenge is lack of sponsorship and often women lack the backing they need to get to the top. And lastly, women often don’t have confidence, we don’t ask for the things we want, like those leadership positions  

What qualities make a good mentor and how can having one help women in ICT achieve their career goals? 

We all need mentors; someone who can help us find the right direction, despite our moments of fuzziness. A good mentor should have the right knowledge, be trustworthy and give you constant feedback to encourage you to go beyond your own boundaries of growth. A mentor cares about your dreams and visions enough to give some of their most precious assets – time – to help you achieve them. 

What are the responsibilities of a mentee? 

A mentee should drive the relationship with their mentor. If someone has assumed that mentor role, you need to do the follow-up – set up meetings, schedule and be respectful of that time. Show up prepared, that you’re willing to grow and are ambitious. Follow up on the actions you discuss and then show results. Remember, be able to accept feedback – it’s a gift – it’s not always easy. 

Why is it so important for you to mentor women within your division at Vodacom?

What we’re hoping to do with the Enterprise Business Unit Mentorship Circles programme is to help women navigate their challenge. If you talk to a number of women, you’ll find that our challenges are not that unique. Through this programme, we want to give women a broader perspective of the issues and help them unlock their career potential. It’s important that we help them stay focused and motivated on their career goals, and that they don’t give up on their dreams.

How important is it for women to share knowledge and skills with other women?

I’m a firm believer that there’s a place in the sun for all of us! I also believe we should give women a secret script for success because we can all learn from each other’s mistakes. As mentors, we can show mentees a better way to do things even faster, so they can also learn from our experiences and plot their own course to success.

In terms of navigating the corporate culture and gaining access to opportunities within the business at large, how vital is a strong support structure for the women in ICT? 

Corporate culture is still very masculine. Companies are gender balanced, not gender intelligent, so there’s an understanding that women have entered the workspace, but it’s not embraced. As women, we often enter the workspace looking for an example of female leadership as a role model and we don’t find it. We wonder if it’s ok at be authentically ‘me’ because I am different – not weaker – I just bring different skills, strengths and abilities with me. A good support structure tells you that it’s ok to be effectively female.  

What five traits define a good leader? 

In any business, you find talent that shouts and talent that whispers. A leader isn’t about whether you’re either of those things. Are you a decision-maker? Can you communicate your ideas and actions? When you’re on the platform and on the spot, can you recognise that this is your moment to speak and then do so effectively? As a leader, you have to be decisive, true to who you are, a good and effective communicator, deliver results and stay motivated.

About Vodacom Business 

Vodacom Business was established in 2008 as the enterprise arm of Vodacom Group. It delivers total communication solutions to meet the needs of the public sector, large, medium and small enterprises.

Vodacom Business offers solutions that extend from mobile to fixed line access, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), Voice over IP (VoIP), hosted facilities, cloud computing-based hosted services, storage, back up, security and application solutions.

For more information visit www.vodacombusiness.co.za 

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