GBCSA CEO Dorah Modise: Going further together
August 01, 2019
Transforming any sector that is conservative, cautious and set in its ways is a difficult task. This Women’s Month, Dorah Modise speaks about her experience as a black woman leader as she works to create new and strengthen existing partnerships to catalyze a greener building sector in South Africa.
Two years since taking the reins, it is clear that in many ways Dorah Modise is well suited to lead the GBCSA, South Africa’s most respected and established green building organisation, not least because it is a membership organisation that is as strong as its partnerships. As any person who neither looks nor sounds like those around them will acknowledge, the starting point with potential colleagues is first clearing the hurdle that this difference puts up between you. And as a black woman in a sector dominated by white men, Dorah often has a double measure of doubt thrown her way.
A slow start on the back foot
“It’s a reflection of South Africa’s very young democracy and traditional market place that there are proportionally very few women in positions of responsibility in the property sector, and especially black women,” Dorah comments.
“This context has its own distinct social challenges. Firstly taking up a position is challenging, especially when you are taking over from a white male. It takes longer to build trust and understanding, and stakeholders take longer to become familiar with you.”
“Sometimes I am required to go out of my way to prove myself worthy to run an organisation within the property sector. It’s a day-to-day battle, and despite being more than two years’ into the role, I have certainly not yet arrived at a point where I can say I’m comfortable.
“It often feels like I have to reinvent and prove myself during each encounter of each day. It’s a bit of a migrane. One gets to accept and acknowledge this pressure navigating this space in the current environment.”
Experienced in building trust
Being required to establish new partnerships and strengthen existing stakeholder networks in a slow and constrained business environment is no simple proposition. Yet, who better to do it than a person who is very experienced in building relationships in tough environments?
For Dorah, this is how it works: “When you get on stage you feel judged. So you feel the pressure. However, you rise to the occasion. I’ve had the experience many times when you feel the awkward tension of people who don’t know how to interact with you. But when you surpass their expectations, you’ve suddenly got a queue of friends waiting to give you their
business cards after your presentation.”
“You tend to live with it. My hope is that each of us, in whatever decision-making role we have in life, will help move our society forward. We all have a responsibility to work hard to dispel the myths of sexism and racism.”
Representing for the planet, and peers
“I perform for the market and work hard to prove myself while at the same time ensure that I’m thriving in my space and working hard not to let anyone down.
“I do this not only for the GBCSA’s contribution towards the planet, but also for black women locally. It is sad but true to say, that if the GBCSA doesn’t work the impact will be felt by black women as many others will view its lack of success as a result of poor leadership. There may be many legitimate reasons why the organisation didn’t work, real economic reasons, but they would be given little weighting. There is that added pressure, and privilege to represent well and pioneer the way for a more balanced view by the market.”
Diversity strengthens GBCSA
During the past couple of years the limited employee base of the GBCSA has become more diverse. “I have consciously looked to do this, not for legislative or equity requirements, but rather to benefit from being able to leverage different ideas and skills that come with a dynamic team of distinct individuals.
“It’s rewarding to see great relationships forming within team GBCSA and our diversity it gives us more variety to create opportunities with stakeholders and members. We are able to leverage our differences for the collective good.”
Being able to nurture and grow the strengths of a diverse team is something that many women leaders are equipped to do. “The benefit of women in authority is that organisations get the benefit of a people-focused CEO who can also look at performance,” said Dorah. “And maybe the resilience and thick skin women in senior positions develop contributes towards being able
to see the forest and the trees.”
“South Africa’s green building sector has many capable women working within it, and this Women’s Month I want to encourage them to partner with the GBCSA and one another as their contribution makes not only planet and our beautiful land more resilient, but also our society.”