Vuyo Gwayi moved up the career ladder quicker than most in her field and she shows how her decision to represent other women in the workplace changed her company for the better.
Through hard work and determination, Gwayi was promoted from junior consultant to senior associate in the space of three years at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the Big Four accounting firms. Vuyo Gwayi is smart; as an aspiring chartered accountant (CA), she needs to be. But to get ahead in any profession you need a plan; you must work hard and set yourself apart.
“I believe the worst that can happen if I ask for something is that the person will say no,” says Gwayi.
Never Scared Of Work
She is also not scared of hard work. While still a learner at Clarendon High School in East London, Gwayi heard about the prestigious President’s Award for Youth Empowerment in South Africa and decided to go for it. She figured, ‘What do I have to lose?’ and took up debating and public speaking to improve her communication skills, also helping out in the school library and computer laboratory.
Gwayi is community minded, a trait she shares with her policeman father, and she volunteered at Carel du Toit Centre, a NGO for hearing-impaired children who could not afford hearing aids.
“You serve your community for a year and take up an activity to develop yourself as a future leader in order to be considered for the award,” says Gwayi. Her efforts paid off when she was in grade 11 in 2007, when she was awarded The President’s Award for Youth Empowerment in the Bronze category.
She worked hard at her studies too. Her excellent mathematics results in grade 12 helped her secure a bursary from the South African Institute of Chartered Accountant’s Thuthuka Bursary Fund (TBF) – a fund that empowers talented African and Coloured South African students who lack the financial means to attend university. Gwayi set out for the University of Fort Hare, where she graduated with a BCom Accounting degree.
In 2014, just five months into her first job as a graduate in the internal audit department at PwC East London, she was offered a transfer to the Risk Assurance division in Cape Town. The offer came with a small increase but, most importantly, it represented a rare opportunity for an aspiring professional and leader starting out their career.
She accepted the transfer to a city where she had no support structure and, initially, she missed home. “I told myself to suck it up,” she recalls. “But it turns out I had a good support structure within the company in my mentor, whom I fondly referred to as my big brother.”
The Leading Female CA
At the time, she was the only female in an all-male consulting team. Rather than feel intimidated, Gwayi saw this as an opportunity to make a positive contribution. She volunteered to sit on the firm’s transformation forum, so that she could be used as the benchmark to manage perceptions about being an African woman in corporate.
Gwayi is grateful for the opportunity. “How could the people on that committee provide us with what we wanted or needed if we hadn’t voiced it?” she asks. Since then, the firm has increased the number of women in the risk assurance division, a sure sign that her bold entry into the corporate world as a female professional had gained acceptance among decision-makers.
It has been a fast rise up the ladder for Gwayi; one that she says others can emulate by remembering these four career tips:
- Step up to opportunities – Indicate your availability for a transfer and/or another level of responsibility and other areas of the business when completing a development plan to show the extent to which you are committed to your career.
- Find a mentor – Have several mentors to enable you to develop different attributes and skills. In Gwayi’s case, her mentors collectively taught her the importance of managing expectations through effective delegation; the importance of managing time without compromising on family time; active community involvement, and being a responsible leader and taking accountability for her actions.
- Create a development plan – Write up a detailed development plan every year in consultation with a coach and/or mentor. This should focus on both your strengths (and how to build on and leverage these) as well as areas of improvement, to ensure you work on becoming a more rounded individual, both personally and professionally.
- Commitment and hard work leads to opportunities – Determination and the willingness to put in extra effort are qualities all employers look for in their employees. Let your work speak for you.
Supplied by Terranova