Sarah-Jane Boden is a proud mom, a partner and a student – currently doing her MA in Critical Diversity at University of the Witwatersrand. She’s also the Founder and Leader of the agencies Soul Providers Collective and Suketchi. Soul Providers Collective is a medium sized creative agency and Suketchi is a mini boutique, couture branding and illustration agency. In Matoyana Media’s interview with SJ we cover a lot of ground – from the entrepreneurship landscape to what it takes to be a warrior woman and more.
What is your definition of a modern day warrior woman?
“Definitely not someone who is perfect – I’m not someone who believes in perfection as a goal, I actually think perfection is a trap and when we try to be perfect is when we go wrong. So, I think a modern day warrior woman is flawed and she’s aware of being many things. She’s aware of her challenges and aware of her successes. I think she’s grateful for the good parts and manages the tough parts with some grace, maybe sometimes not so gracefully. A modern day warrior woman needs to be quite conscious – consciousness is important – being conscious of the world in which we move today and whatever role we play when we are being a warrior woman.
A warrior woman needs to be more aware of things like boundaries and making sure we get our energy right and we balance. I don’t think we can get it perfect, but trying our best to make sure that we have time for ourselves, time for our work and quite critically – whatever role we are in when we have that hat on – to be present and to give it our all. So when you are being warrior mom, it’s about being present as warrior mom. When you are being warrior leader, it’s about being present about being warrior leader and the same as when you’re being warrior student.”
Why do you identify as a warrior woman?
“The landscape in business means that there’s a requirement that one be quite resilient – have a lot of grit, bounce back, learn quickly, adapt and be flexible. If you think of all of those elements that make up your character as a warrior woman, that is what a warrior woman is. It’s about being able to adjust, get up again, get going again, accept when things are tough and celebrate when things are great.
To be grateful for what we have and to still have the energy to keep dreaming and having visions. Believing that despite the conditions and the context in which we work (which can be particularly difficult) to know that when we make it through these tough times we are actually are preparing ourselves for the worst, toughest conditions – which makes us even stronger.”
Tell us about your biggest and most important battle?
“On a personal level it’s about coming to terms with the realities that being a warrior woman creates in your life. What I mean by that is when you chose to walk a path that’s different to other people there’s a lot of good things and there’s a lot of struggles that come with that. So I think it’s about (sounds very cheesy!) embracing the process, learning that sometimes you are going to have very painful moments and sometimes you are going to have really wonderful moments and understanding that both of those play a role in creating your world and reality.”
What’s the most important battle in business?
“It would be about coming to terms with the context of business because as an entrepreneur, sometimes we start off with a lot of idealism and as you go and the lessons come, you start to see things that you didn’t expect to see. You start to experience things that maybe (especially as I’m an idealist – proudly idealist) you don’t imagine some of the stuff you’re going to come across.
I often say you see the underbelly of the world when you are an entrepreneur. You learn about people, personalities, relationships and business. And business is not always pretty; in fact business – like most things in life – also has a dark side. For me, learning about that and coming to terms with the idea that business is not all pretty.
Just being part of the business world as an entrepreneur, while still sticking to your integrity, sticking to your principles and your values. I think that’s been my biggest challenge as an entrepreneur. And being okay with kind-of having one foot inside of the way the business world works, and having another foot outside, which is the future of how we wish it would work.”
Why is it important for women to see themselves as warriors?
“It’s important for women to see themselves as warriors because we are the warriors. But the way the world has been shaped has meant that our story hasn’t necessarily been told in that way. Women have often taken a back seat and often still do today, relegated into the ‘second citizen’ status. So I think it’s important for us to be warrior women and to celebrate being warrior women because there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be.
We have lived in a world which has been carved and sliced and diced and shaped by men and they’ve done okay. Have they done things in the way we would? I don’t know. I think our approach to doing things would be different and that adds a lot of value and creates a lot of opportunities for a world that has always been troubled but is troubled in a way that we all know about it now. So warrior women have a lot of value to bring to the world and have solutions, where the guys are running out of ideas. I think it’s our turn and it should have always been our turn, but it hasn’t worked out that way. It’s important to have warrior women who set the tone now and who show how to stand up, how to lead and be present and how to be considered. And how to create a kind of aspirational sense for other women out there who would like to become warrior women themselves.”
What are some of your tips for entrepreneurs starting out?
“One tip for sure is to be realistic. One needs to be aware of the kind of landscape we are working in and the landscape we’re moving in. When we’re realistic about that we are able to achieve more because we know what’s possible and we know where we can push a bit and we know where we have to be a bit more creative. Trying to pretend everything is okay or that we can do it all in terms of our own energy and our own capacity, we need to be realistic about that too. Working in such a tough context is wonderful because it teaches us to be very adaptable and flexible and we can probably make it – if you can make it here you can make it anywhere!
So don’t have pipe dreams that are forged on ideas that aren’t realistic. As much as it hurts (and this applies to everyone) we might have these great ideas for what we want to do – the reality is – it’s very difficult to be an entrepreneur. It’s a lonely journey, it’s a tough journey and knowing that before you go into it is important.
The second tip is about surrounding yourself with the right people and this is a lesson that’s hard to apply because entrepreneurship is actually quite lonely and I don’t think men would admit that and there you go, a great example of how we handle things differently. Women would be open to discussing the fact that we’re not perfect and that it’s lonely so it is important to have a support structure in place.
The structure should be a combination of family and friends and when I started out having a coach was just impossible because it was so expensive and there were so few coaches. But these days, every second person you meet is a coach. So coaches have become much more affordable and much more accessible. Having a mentor, in the early years again, when I was starting out, there were very few female women in business that I would come across or female entrepreneurs which is still quite rare. I think we’ve just dropped to 18% of entrepreneurs in South Africa are women so we’ve lost 15% in the last financial year.”
What kind of warrior woman are you?
“I think I’m a ’a bounce back warrior’ – actually I was speaking to one of my team members on Friday saying the problem with being a warrior or a leader is nobody comes and pats you on the back and says, ‘Hey SJ, well done, you steered your company through a recession, you guys made it.’
I am also someone who is prepared to have uncomfortable times – even though they may make it harder for us – there are times that take us closer to where we wish to be, and who we wish to be, and the kind of agency we wish to be. I’m quite clear and unequivocal about that, so it’s about being truthful. I’m the kind of warrior woman that follows what I believe to be the right way of doing things and the right way of being South African and being African in 2020. So, I’m probably a warrior woman that follows her truth but bounces back through the tough times – the come-back kid. “
Which women warriors do you look up to?
“I look up to a lot of the women in my team. I’m very lucky to have women who I walk alongside with – who have been with me on a very long journey and I learn a lot from them, every week, every month, every year. Some of them are moms, some of them aren’t, some of them have big families, some have small families- but they inspire me – the women I work with.
I also have some incredible clients, who are in the corporate space and corporate is a tough environment for women to be in – it still remains that way. I admire what they’ve managed and how they’ve managed themselves within those spaces. I am also lucky enough to be at Wits and in my class I have some very interesting women. Some of the women I have met through my studies were ‘fallists’ – so they were part of the ‘fees must fall movement’ and they have inspired me enormously with their stories of bravery and just how bold they are, and again unapologetic about their views and about what change needs to happen.
My mom of course is someone that’s always really, really inspired me. And then I am really enjoying some of the writers that I’ve been exposed to and some of the women authors out there who are writing books that are fit for future and also fit for warrior women to read.”
Many thanks for the motivation and insights into the corporate world Sarah-Jane.
Listen to our Warrior Women podcasts here: https://soundcloud.com/user-201756680-698831979/9-episode-07-in-conversation-1