To mark International Women’s Day, FOCUS is profiling female business leaders in the UK and China to hear their tips on correcting gender imbalance and discover how they got to where they are today. Here, Robynne Tindall speaks to founder and cultural curator Noxolo Bhengu
Noxolo Bhengu is the founder and creative director of Ndawo Afrika, a culture curation and events company. She is a trained actress, writer and director who graduated from the University of Cape Town. Noxolo founded LWuD Theatre (Love What You Do) and she is currently running it in Shanghai, where she has lived for five years, with plans for expansion to different cities in China. LWuD Theatre lends itself as an incubation centre for new playwrights, producing 90% original plays and 10% classical plays. LWuD Theatre also provides industrial theatre workshops for companies as well as cultural workshops, creative drama and ACA (After School Activity) programs at various international and bilingual schools in Shanghai.
What inspired you to get into your current industry?
As an artist and an entrepreneur running a cultural, catering and events company, as well as a theatre company, it was of paramount importance for me to live a life that reflected all of my passions and equally held space for all of them.
Have you ever experienced a tough time that made you want to give up?
All the time! The tough experiences are numerous and never-ending. They range from project management challenges to creative problem solving, as well as being overlooked in certain rooms as a woman of colour.
You can no longer ask for a seat at the table — grab your chair, carve your own table and build from there
How important is it to have a role model or mentor? Who is your role model?
We are constantly learning and evolving. Therefore, it’s quite important to have relatable individuals or organisations that model who we are, what we’re cultivating, and our core values. I sample inspiration from a lot of people. From leaders, artists, my partner, family, friends and strangers that I meet along the way.
What resources have helped you to achieve more and get further in your industry?
I am influenced by several books, however, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong by Brené Brown have been the most transformational. I read them every year and their impact has been deeply engraved in my life choices and who I choose to be every day.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
How my days pan out is often determined by the goals set and the projects that I have for that week. Some days are dedicated to writing, on others, you can find me running private creative workshops and theatre programs in several international schools and companies. The weekends are dedicated to cultural and catering events.
What is one thing people can do at work to help eliminate gender bias in the workplace?
Recognise that it exists, that it’s systemic, and hold space for transparent dialogue that will encourage resolutions. Like all forms of discrimination, gender bias is embedded in company cultures so often that, it doesn’t even occur to those that benefit from it. Companies should provide training on unconscious bias, promote a culture of meritocracy, have clearer policies on discrimination and implement gender-neutral recruitment processes.
If you could sum up your best bit of business advice in one sentence, what would it be?
You can no longer ask for a seat at the table — grab your chair, carve your own table and build from there. The world is laden with infinite possibilities.