Queen’s story: STEM is what changes the world
Queen Mokulubete shares her mentoring journey.
Johannesburg, South Africa
Queen Mokulubete founded Somila Engineering in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2014. That same year, she took part in our Mentoring Women in Business programme, working with a mentor from Bank of America. To celebrate 10 years of our hugely impactful partnership with Bank of America, together supporting over 1,100 women entrepreneurs around the world, we caught up with Queen to hear the long-term benefits mentoring has had on her life and business.
“I started my company, Somila Engineering, in 2014. I wanted to manufacture bespoke products for the mining industry, things like carrier baskets. We got a client, Anglo Platinum, and we did some work for them, which was a very exciting time for me. I think that is around the time I learned about the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.
In 2020, things slowed down completely for me with my business. We had to stay home, but a lot of what I needed to do involved going out to the mines and visiting the potential clients there. This is just something you can’t do over the phone.
While business has been at a standstill, I worked on a few boards such as the Golder Africa Board, Bridgehouse School Board, Concor Holdings Boards, as a board member. This past year I took over as Acting CEO for Concor Construction. Concor Construction is a diversified infrastructure and services company. The company operates in infrastructure, building, and mining sectors. We are currently constructing a mega bridge in the Eastern Cape, in South Africa, which is very exciting. We also have projects in the renewable energy sector, in mining and a few in buildings sector.
Back in 2014, when I started Somila, I saw a lot of inefficiencies in the mining industry and things that were not working well. I wanted to use those opportunities, to solve and come up with more efficient ways for some of the challenges in the industry and build my business around them. I have learned a few lessons, and I think one of those things was to not try to do it all by myself. It’s important to have other people working with you.
I have learned a few lessons, and I think one of those things was to not try to do it all by myself. It’s important to have other people working with you.
I joined the Mentoring Women in Business programme as a mentee, because I wanted to build confidence and have someone to give me feedback. I felt like I lacked the confidence to be able to communicate my thoughts. I just needed somebody to be able to bounce my ideas off. I did a lot of that with my mentor. She was in a completely different field to me, so it was always refreshing to hear feedback from somebody that is removed from my situation. That was the biggest thing, to just always hear from a different perspective.
I remember how good she was at always making time. I see now, because of the role I am in, it is so difficult to make time for mentoring, but she did. You always have things that you need to do. I think for me, that will always make my mentor stand out.
Something that was really special was that she actually came to South Africa and we met in person. She was going to Botswana or Zimbabwe, I don’t remember which country, and she had a layover in South Africa. I got to go see her and have dinner with her. I think she is retired now, she used to work for Bank of America. We are still friends and keep up on Facebook!
Something that was really special was that she actually came to South Africa and we met in person. We are still friends and keep up on Facebook!
Through my mentoring experience, I gained confidence, which has supported me in my career. As you can imagine, if you’re a CEO running a business, you need to be confident in yourself. To be able to sit in front of my team, to sit in front of my board, to sit in front of my employees, requires confidence. You have to meet every day and every challenge calmly and with confidence. I always say self-control is strength and calmness is mastery.
Another takeaway I had from working with my mentor was to pay it forward. I think when somebody does something for you, you also want to be able to do that for somebody else. I would like to continue to mentor others, especially women and young people. I used to go to schools and talk to kids about taking up maths and engineering, encouraging them to get scholarships. I think that’s something which I have not been making time for, but I should be available to do some of that again soon.
Speaking to young girls about pursuing STEM fields is really important because it is a male-dominated industry. I used to think mining was very male dominated, construction on the other hand, takes the trophy. Change is happening at a very slow rate. Women should pursue work in these fields simply because we can. The opportunities are there and though it gets a little bit difficult, we are so capable of being productive and of changing things. STEM is what changes the world.
Women should pursue work in these fields simply because we can. The opportunities are there and though it gets a little bit difficult, we are so capable of being productive and of changing things. STEM is what changes the world.
It is also important to support women entrepreneurs because we have so much pressure from a home and domestic labour perspective.
It is also important to support women entrepreneurs because we have so much pressure from a home and domestic labour perspective. It is crucial that we support women to run their businesses because women already have so much to carry and without that support it is be too much, and we struggle to succeed. Women always have so much coming at us, but we always find a way.
I always tell my team to take challenges one step at a time. I like to make the analogy of a race, because I cycle. Every year I do a 94.7 km race and every 10 km, there is a water point. Every 10 km, there is a water point where you can have a drink or a snack and then get on with your ride. If I were to look at the race in totality, it is about 100km to cycle, it will be too much for me. But I look at it as 10km milestones and take it one water point at a time, it is less daunting. Every time you get through something, every time you finish that 10 km, it’s another boost to your confidence. By the time you look up, you have done 60 km, you have done 70, 80, and you are done with the race.”
All photos by Siphiwe Sibeko.
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