PAST: Proud to be - ResilientBorn and raised in South Africa, 31 years ago, I am proud to be from a country with one of the most diverse cultures sporting 11 official languages, a wide range of ethnicities, and a dynamic population.
What I love most about my background is that I’ve lived in such contrasting worlds. I grew up in a township called Esikhawini. In South Africa, the terms township usually refers to the often underdeveloped racially segregated urban areas that, from the late 19th century until the end of apartheid, were reserved for non-whites, namely Indians, Africans, and mixed-race people.
I don’t know what it is about that place that toughens you up. Could it have been having to use candles many a day when the electricity was shut or having to have the patience of filling the bathtub using a bucket during supply shortages? Perhaps it might have been witnessing the older kids whose future seemed so bright, stunted by substance abuse? These are some of the challenges often endured in these places occupied by talented and inspirational people - an environment not conducive to growth and success. A decade since I left, I'm based in London, a city that never seems to run short of anything, planning regular vacations to escape city life to quieter pastures. A scripture I love from the Bible perfectly captures what this has taught me: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether living in great abundance and suffering need. (Philippians 4:11)
The challenges overcome individually, and as a country, taught me to see obstacles and hardship as an opportunity to work out a solution. When I’m faced with personal or professional challenges today, I hone into that inner strength knowing that whatever I’m faced with pales in comparison to what I have already conquered. Barriers for me have become not a reason to slow down, but the motivation to strategise, drive, and penetrate the ceiling: beyond borders, racial, geography and gender.
I’m also proud of the development made by my hometown post-Apartheid, which unfortunately is not mirrored by its counterparts across the country. I am hopeful however that through a shared vision, good leadership, and collective efforts this is another challenge (read opportunity) we’ll continue to tackle until it’s overcome.
PRESENT: Proud to be Unique
I’m also proud to be unique, as one of the few senior black women working in the construction industry in London, I’m pleased that I’m able to break down misconceptions and be a representative of my community in the sector. I believe we're all born for a specific purpose, and that purpose is connected to our unique set of talents, passions, and experience. While I don’t get to see people who look like me in the industry, I hope that the graduates I come across will feel that a barrier has been broken down for them. I also hope senior leaders recognise the value that I bring, and in turn will recognise it in others from ethnic minority backgrounds who are looking to join the sector.
Living in the UK has made me realise just how unique we all are. We owe it to the world, to ourselves, and to God to share that with others and make a difference in whichever way we can.
FUTURE: Proud to be making a differenceIt's great to see the commitments made by various companies to raise awareness and make the necessary changes to create diverse and inclusive work environments. I'm proud to be making a difference by ensuring we keep having important and impactful conversations in the industry to effect change by joining in this year’s Black History Month panel discussion at Colliers and championing the concepts of allyship and sponsorship, as well as reverse mentoring by those from Black and ethnic minority background to the senior leadership teams (pictured above).
The property industry still has a long way to go with diversifying its workforce, but if those with influence are authentic in their stated intentions I am excited to see the changes over the next few years.
About the author:
Phumzile Mbatha is a senior quantity surveyor and cost consultant in our Project & Building Consultancy team, she has worked with clients including Barclays, HSBC, Microsoft and Standard Chartered Bank. She began her property career in South Africa where she delivered projects occupier and landlord office fit-outs, new build shopping centres, refurbishments of schools, government buildings, offices and hotel projects.
To contact Phumzile, email Phumzile.Mbatha@colliers.com