“Busy” is one word you might use to describe the unstoppable force that is Lindiwe Sibidi. An entrepreneur since the age of 12, the mother-of-two divides her time between running the household, growing an already successful textiles business and her full time position as a Network Engineer for Vodacom South Africa.
Find out how she manages to do all that (and squeeze in morning runs and evening study sessions) as everywoman’s My Working Life series journeys from fruit stalls in rural Africa to the high-pressure world of telecommunications in Johannesburg.
In the beginning
I grew up in a rural village. My dad was a traditional healer and my mother stayed at home with my four sisters and me. There were always strangers at our home seeking my father’s medical help, and from a young age I sensed there was a great deal of respect for the man who saved the lives of countless villagers. Unfortunately, when I was eight, my father passed away and my mom went to battle like a soldier to secure a steady income for the family. We had cattle, chickens and a vegetable garden which we ploughed for our daily meals and whose produce we traded at local street markets. A rural background never really leaves a person’s veins; growing up I came to embrace and appreciate the socially unique lifestyle that came with a childhood in the country.
Becoming an entrepreneur
Working alongside my mom in the street markets was a very early education in sales, stocktaking, handling cash, financial planning, management, budgeting, patience, restraint and perseverance. There were some tough lessons; when you’re running a perishables business, failure to act in a timely way quickly results in losses. I also learned to balance work and school, household chores and homework. I didn’t have the time to play outside like other children, but through the marketplace I was exposed to personalities from all walks of life, through which I gained confidence and character.
"Dreams without actions remain dreams. Own your career, own your success. Women can do it all."
Seeing what could be possible in business lit my ambition fires; right there and then I knew that if I wanted to be successful it all depended on me.
Despite our financial hardships, all five of us girls finished high school at my mother’s insistence. I was accepted into university where I also found a job as a student assistant to pay my tuition and living expenses. When I graduated from university, the whole village prayed and thanked God for my success.
My career ladder
At university I was accepted into a graduate programme for females in technology at Vodacom South Africa. I’ve had two promotions since then and now work as an engineer with an ISP Network within the Vodacom Group.
Continued growth is one of my key priorities; I’ve constantly strived to obtain certificates and training – not just in my core field, but also in life skills and management. A very proud moment came when I received an Excellence Award for my contributions to the organisation. Developing and achieving new goals is something that inspires me every day.
I love my work as an engineer, but over time I realised it wasn’t fulfilling the entrepreneurial part of me. My early exposure to business really built my confidence in business, and so I decided to push myself further by setting up a sewing business out of my garage.
We make clothes, dresses, school uniform, suits and other garments. I market the business within my engineering networks, and we now have a website which promotes our services. I also try to wear my own creations as often as possible – I’m a walking billboard! Having the business close to home saves a lot in operational costs and also makes it easier to manage, but my growth plans will mean a move to a bigger location is on the cards at some point.
Juggling entrepreneurial and corporate life
My day is very structured. I get up and run for 10km around my home province, Midrand – exercising keeps me productive and mentally prepares me for the rest of the day. Back home I get my two children ready for the school bus and the crèche. Before leaving for work I hold a 15-minute briefing session with my seamstresses where we look at the orders for the day, customer requirements, designs and patterns. Then it’s into the car to drive the 45 minutes to the office while catching up with the news on the radio.
"To have a positive and can-do attitude, to be confident, determined and consistent, passionate, hardworking, and, most importantly to have respect and humility. Those are my biggest lessons for achieving a successful career."
I’m usually thinking and planning a day ahead, so when I arrive at my desk, my to-do list for the day is waiting for me, and after a coffee and breakfast with my colleagues, I get stuck into it. Vodacom days are filled with urgent faults I must address for customers.
I work with my team to investigate issues, sharing knowledge with my colleagues to understand the best solutions, and also managing on-going projects. Between planning meetings, I’m in the lab, researching and testing new configurations. As the working day draws to a close I switch to education mode. I normally stay behind for at least two hours in order to catch up on my studies.
I’m currently studying for a CCIE certificate, a prestigious qualification recognised globally as the most challenging in the industry and one held by few women. I’m also looking at ways to scale my business in a way that contributes meaningfully to people’s lives – creating more jobs for young people is one goal. I want to be a good role model by enabling more women to transform their own passions into work-from-home businesses.
More from everywoman's My Working Life series
everywomanWorld is a popular series focusing on the global perspectives of our Network and Club members' careers, showcasing female perspectives of all aspects of working across cultures. Do you have an everywomanWorld story you want to share? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.