3 THINGS I KNOW FOR SURE
Pearl Seopela, Senior Manager: Communications & Outreach at the Office of the Tax Ombud, shares a few invaluable stepping stones Don’t be afraid to take detours: My older brothers were both in university when I passed matric and there wasn't enough money for me to study too. I managed to get a bursary for the first year of a BA Communications degree, but was then forced to drop out. I took up nursing instead and during my fouryear degree, I saved up to enrol for the degree I really wanted. When I eventually became a nurse and got a job at a research laboratory, I used my first salary to register at Unisa and completed my BA Communications and industrial psychology degree over the next three years.
Perseverance is everything: I joined Umed, Denel's in-house medical scheme, during the early years of SA's transformation as Executive Manager: HR & Communications. I didn't have executive experience, so there I was, young, among all these Afrikaans men, practising how to speak like a manager and argue properly in my spare time. I was the only black person on that managerial level and I was literally fighting every day. My late brother was my pillar. I'd tell him how they were discussing bonuses in front of me, but leaving me out of the allocations. He said: “Fight it” – so I did. I started being very strident, vocal and asserting myself. We're often taught to be subservient as women, but in the workplace, the rules are different.
Consider the public sector: Before joining the Office of the Tax Ombud, I was Head of Communications for the Government Pensions & Administration Agency, Chief Director: Communications for the Department of Telecommunications and also Senior Manager: Communications for the Government Employees' Pension Fund. It's gratifying and meaningful helping members of the public to navigate policies and understand how government works. I feel as if I've made a real difference to ordinary people in my roles. –