Often, many girls grow up fantasizing about the elegance of the medical field, admiring nurses and doctors as they walk past, attending to patients. Martha Ndahafa Tileni’s real dream career was ignited by her accounting and business teacher that she never looked back. Today she is in the finance department at Rosh Pinah Zinc Mine as a Creditors Clerk and she speaks to our reporter Mateus Paulus about her career journey.

IWIB: Tell us about yourself.
MNT: My name is Martha Ndahafa Tileni. I was born and raised in a village called Engela in Ohangwena region by both my parents. I have one brother but as far as I can remember growing up, our home was always full of children because we have a big extended family, and there were no gender roles at home.
I grew up taking care of cattle, running after goats, cooking and taking care of the younger ones. This gave me a great advantage to now fall back on in my career because I can fit in any environment, and I developed resilience and empathy.
I attended Onghala Primary School, a school located five kilometers from home and proceeded to Gabriel Taapopi Secondary School in Oshana region. After Matric I moved to Windhoek to further my studies and graduated from the University of Namibia with an Honors degree in Accounting, and later, I did a Certificate in Project Management with the University of Stellenbosch Business School.

IWIB: What led you to this career path?
MNT: I always wanted to be a doctor. A doctor because my father (may his soul rest in peace) wanted me to do medicine and become a doctor so that became my dream as well, and whenever I would go to the hospital back then, the nurses wore closed shoes that made a sound when they walked (heels) and I associated that with elegance, and when I went into the doctor’s consulting room, there were few instances when the doctor gave me sweets after a checkup. That was nice and it made me fall more in love with becoming a doctor.
However, when I went to High school, we had a very good accounting teacher, Mr. Fotolela and our Business Studies teacher Mrs. Heelu and they both ignited my love for commerce. I believe God already had this career path planned out for me, because at a very young age, I was a self-appointed family accountant, so in my early 20s when I attended job interviews, I had a running joke that I had more than 10 years’ experience in family finances.

IWIB: Can you share the most interesting story you experienced since you began your career?
MNT: : By the age of 22, I started working in the Procurement sector at a Uranium Mine. A few co-workers would come to my office during their lunch hour to have conversations with me about savings, and as young as I was, they trusted me to give them advice pertaining to their personal monthly budgets, further cementing that accounting and finances are really my passion.

IWIB: Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Story or example.
MNT: I am patient – I can give credit to my children for this skill, as a mother I developed an art of patience and have seen how this spilled over to my work.
Self-disciplined and consistency – this applies to everyday situations both in my career and personal life: “God already told you what to do, all that is lacking is discipline and consistency.”
Fearless – As a Christian, I know that my Lord and Savior has already gone before me so there is nothing to fear. This allows me to walk in rooms and various spaces with my head held high and with conviction, and this character trait has always been with me since I was a little girl helping my father and siblings to tame oxen for ploughing purposes – a dangerous task predominantly performed by young men.
Throughout my career I have always moved confidently from one challenge to another, my fearlessness allowing me to be more creative and innovative in my job by sharing new innovative ways to improve business through process re-engineering.

IWIB: Can you articulate a few of the biggest obstacles or challenges you overcame while working in a male-dominated industry?
MNT: I absolutely acknowledge and honor the pioneering women who pursued their dreams before us despite the societal barriers. Their braveness and boldness opened doors for us and made the journey less stressful. Gone are the days where women were deemed to only stay home and look after the homestead, but now women can do it all if they choose to. My employer of choice has inspired a culture of equality, equity, and inclusiveness therefore together with the work that the woman that came before us and the organizational culture I have not experienced major challenges. Despite progress, resistance to women’s leadership and managerial roles still exists in some sectors and have led to the “Superwoman” Syndrome.

IWIB: Can you share a few things you have done to gain acceptance among your male peers and the general work community? What did your female co-workers do? Can you share some stories or examples?
MNT: I have developed a culture of speaking up, and improved my communication skills, I recognized the value of my opinions and believed that what I must share is worth listening to and this has gained me acceptance and respect among my male peers.

IWIB: Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “things you need to thrive and succeed as a woman in a male dominated industry?
MNT: One needs to be reliable and consistent. Be comfortable with stepping out of your comfort zone. Be prepared and knowledgeable in your craft however be willing to keep learning. Set clear boundaries with your co-workers, wear your confidence boldly but do not lose your feminine touch because you are unique for a reason.

IWIB: Why is there a push to get women in male-dominated industries but not one to get men in women-dominated industries?
MNT: In the past women were disadvantaged and limited in their career choices but the boy child could be accepted in whatever career they decided to take up, therefore it is essential that we be deliberate in undoing the mistakes of the past, however a balanced approach does not leave the boy child completely out of the picture.

IWIB: Why is there a need for woman in a male dominated industry?
For representation, equality, and inclusion. Women bring something “extra” to working environments, including diversity of thoughts, positive cultural and behavioral changes in the workplace, analytical and critical thinking skills, leadership abilities and crisis management.

IWIB: What advice would you give to women who want to get into a profession like yours?
Dedication and self-discipline are crucial in the field of Mining finance especially during peak times and deadlines are looming. Believe in yourself and in your skill and know that you can do anything you set your mind on.