Women in leadership: a different perspective on starting a career

Lungile Langa, new group Human Resources (HR) director at Servest shares some leadership insights  Unemployed graduates and aspiring women professionals can draw inspiration from Lungile Langa, Servest’s new group human resources (HR) director, who refused to wallow in despair after graduating with a BA degree Psychology from the University of the Witwatersrand. For five years […]

Lungile Langa, new group Human Resources (HR) director at Servest shares some leadership insights

 Unemployed graduates and aspiring women professionals can draw inspiration from Lungile Langa, Servest’s new group human resources (HR) director, who refused to wallow in despair after graduating with a BA degree Psychology from the University of the Witwatersrand. For five years Langa worked at McDonald’s selling burgers, because she couldn’t find a vacancy in her field of study. Today she heads up Servest’s human resources, a company that employs over 24 000 people, with a presence in multiple African countries across 11 110 sites.

From selling burgers to the boardroom

“I had a degree in Psychology, but to get to where I am today, my start was at McDonald’s. In our organisation we have opportunities for cleaning, landscaping, security, among others. We are making opportunities available to the youth, and it doesn’t matter where you start, just start and use the opportunity as a steppingstone to build your career,” says Langa.

According to Langa, success depends on hard work and determination. As opposed to someone saying: “I have matric or a degree, why should I work as a cleaner? It’s important to look at things through a different lens, and say instead, ‘I have matric or a degree, I can do it.’ You can start as a cleaner, you’ll have a salary and will be exposed to the working environment where you might gain access to other opportunities to develop yourself and gain better understanding of the work environment.”

Langa got her big break after five years when she landed her first human resources position working in the HR department of a medium size company. She worked for two years, and continued with her studies part-time. The mother of three children, Langa now has a Master’s qualification in HR and a Master’s degree in industrial psychology. She is also currently completing her PhD in Consulting Psychology. Through her research, she is hoping to contribute to the training of industrial psychologists as expert psycho-legal witnesses to the court.

Her 20-year career span took a meteoric rise from knocking on doors to being headhunted and serving in executive roles at some JSE-listed companies. She has gained extensive experience, including 12 years at executive management level, serving as the first black female member of EXCO for a JSE listed company, working as an HR executive for a major telecommunications company, and establishing her own industrial psychology consultancy.

“Once you have grown to a point where you are comfortable in your skin, you then also graduate to a place where leadership is about serving. With time, you start thinking about what difference you can make to the people who rely on the decisions you make in these boardrooms and how you can serve them,” she says.

The state of the human resources industry in South Africa

Langa says one of the major challenges facing the human resources industry is the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) on the workforce.

She notes that technology is a huge driver of change. It brings efficiencies in the way we do HR, but while technology enables us to offer our services more efficiently, we also need to consider its impact, especially in the context of South Africa where we are battling with spiralling unemployment.

She points out that contrary to popular belief that 4IR will displace jobs, she believes that it will create more job opportunities as new industries and ecosystems will be created.

“It is imperative that companies should start re-skilling and upskilling their workforce to take on the new roles that will be available in the future,” says Langa.

Langa joined Servest after spending two years as an external consultant to various businesses. In her new role as Group HR Director, she oversees the company’s HR directors responsible for various business units. Some of her key focus areas are ensuring that the HR strategy supports the business’ strategic objectives, strengthening its capability to be agile and positioning the Servest brand as an employer of choice.

Gender equity and the need to create inclusive workspaces

Lungile is a firm believer that inclusiveness in the workplace has a direct impact on the bottom line, acknowledging how diversity makes it possible for certain markets to open that previously would have been impossible to access.

“South Africa is a patriarchal society where men are seen as leaders and females as followers. People need to connect with the idea that we are equal partners and equal leaders in the boardroom. The dialogue needs to continue and this narrative needs to change.

“While men have their own attributes, as nurturers women bring a certain dimension to the workplace. We shouldn’t feel that we need to act like men in order to lead effectively in a male-dominated industry. As we embrace our differences, we can begin to have an impact. In that comes diversity and creativity; but first we need to authorise ourselves to be women leaders, and not try and be something that we are not.”

She acknowledges that HR is often perceived to be a female profession, as it is seen to deal with “soft skills”. “Little do they know that it is anything but that, because everything you do in HR has a direct impact on business. The people you bring into the organisation have a direct impact on whether or not you succeed as an organisation; the culture and leadership too can make or break the organisation,” she asserts.

Youth and unemployment

“Young people need to be empowered to create employment instead of waiting for the job market to open up,” says Lungile “The youth really is our target market at Servest we want to partner with our clients, potential clients and government to alleviate unemployment. For all our entry level positions, the criteria is that you must fall within the youth category. We are in in the process of planning a campaign where we will post adverts on social media, because that’s where you find young people. With a degree I started selling burgers at McDonalds. In our organisation we have opportunities for cleaning, landscaping, security. We are making opportunities available to the youth, and we are saying that it doesn’t matter where you start, use it as a steppingstone to build your career. When you have your foot in the door, the sky is the limit.”

She cautions young people against an attitude of entitlement and to rather adopt a ‘can do’ attitude, and an attitude of serving to make the best of every opportunity that comes their way.

“Your success depends on your hard work and determination. As opposed to someone saying “I have matric or a degree, why should I work as a cleaner?” Well, you’ll have a salary and you are in an environment where you might gain access to development opportunities, it’s better than sitting at home.” Lungile concludes “A great attitude can take you far.”

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