Ilhaam Groenewald was destined to be a trailblazer.
Not only is she the first female Chief Director of Maties Sport, she is also the first female Executive Council member of SA Rugby, the first female chairperson of University Sports South Africa and the first female Vice-President of University Sport South Africa.
As part of Women's Month celebrations at SU, the Corporate Communication Division spoke to Groenewald about her career success.
What do you attribute your success to?
I subscribe to the universal, proven recipe for attaining success in both my personal and professional life: Clear personal vision, clear and achievable goals, doing the necessary work required and then digging deep to find the energy and courage to put your plans into action, to sometimes fail and then to get back on track.
You made a decision at a young age to succeed. Tell us about this.
From a very young age I made a decision about what I DID NOT want for my life. Watching my family being moved from their house in my hometown as part of the forced removal process under Apartheid, I chose there and then to do what I needed to do to take control of my own life, rather than be at the mercy of another's hand-outs - and to never be a victim of anything. To do that I knew I needed to learn - educate myself - and to be prepared to make sacrifices to achieve my goals.
What motivates you?
I love what I am doing and believe in what I am doing with every fibre of my being. So the passion for what I do is the foundation of that motivation. The encouragement I receive from my family and my team, mentors and co-workers further fuels my motivation. And seeing the change in individuals at student-athlete level or at international levels and witnessing how lives are being changed for the better through sport is the icing on the cake.
What challenges are women in the sports industry facing?
Sexism and gender inequality are nothing new in all areas of our global society. Thankfully, legislation and a new awareness is beginning to help position women on a par with male athletes - but we have a very, very, very long way to go.
Perceptions rule and women are still facing being seen as "lesser" or domestically stereotyped in a male-dominated world. Our women athletes are competing at international level and doing well - but the national focus and psyche remains focused on men's rugby, cricket and soccer when it comes to rating success and this is evident based on leadership, competitions exposure, contracts, media coverage, job opportunities, etc.
What needs to be done to eradicate these challenges?
The media must play its role and celebrate women athletes in the same way as they do male athletes. There are so many creative ways that we can address gender bias - but it requires a willingness for the federations and major sponsors to engage – and change the stereotypes.
Do you have any words of advice for young women in the sports industry?
Do it! The sky is the limit for any young woman who wants a career in sport – and be prepared to work, learn and grow, all the time!
Never expect a free ride; never fall into the trap of using your gender to gain ground with men; and surround yourself with the right support - family, partners, colleagues, teachers and trainers.