Nazreen Pandor marches to the beat of her own drum. A daughter of political activists in exile during South Africa’s apartheid days, she understood quite young that injustice was something to be fought out.
Over 20 years later, she has made it a crucial part of her life and career in an innovative way and in an unsuspecting place.
“I grew up knowing that I had a bigger purpose, it wasn’t just about me but it was about how I could contribute to society so even when I became a director at Mazars it wasn’t that I got this job, so let’s build but it was about how can I use this job to give a voice to other women in corporate South Africa,” she says.
For the past five years, Pandor has been a director at the Human Rights and Social Compliance division at Mazars, a global auditing and tax advisory. She began her career as a lawyer at boutique law firm Mallinicks, now known as Webber Wentzel, and was trained by one of South Africa’s leading public lawyers. She left that experience knowing her strength in the world.
“I step into the world knowing I’ve been trained by the best, so I should be the best,” she had told a South African magazine last year.
At the firm she has spearheaded two very important projects that echo her commitment to social change even within the corporate environment. One is the Mazars’ Women’s Forum, a place for women within the firm to meet, talk and network with each other. The forum hosts breakfasts in both Johannesburg and Cape Town quarterly. She says it provides an avenue for women, like herself, to find role models and mentors in a network they are already a part of.
“I was lucky enough from a young age to have a number of role models and mentors who were saying to me, ‘you’ve got to network, you’ve got to network, you’ve got to network’ so it was something that was always ingrained in my mind.”
The other project is the ground-breaking Youth Employment Index which wants to involve the youth and various stakeholders as they deal with a daunting economic trend.
“It’s about creating decent employment. Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, not everyone is going to get out of school and have the idea to start something big. Some people will have to fall into blue collar and white collar employment, but how do we make sure that when our young people are coming into these places, we are stimulating the economy…”
As soon as we meet her, Pandor, calm and confident, radiates an assertive elegance in a sweeping green dress.
“I have my dresses made,” she says before we could ask about a stockist.
Pandor is a practising Muslim and has incorporated her faith into all aspects of her life and personal style. She never ignores a call to prayer and even excuses herself from meetings to pray. Her outfits match the aesthetic of the cutting edge Islamic fashion and her sheila, headscarf, is colour-coded and styled in line with the look of the day.
There are difficulties with keeping up with her faith and career in a very South African corporate environment but she feels it is her challenge to face.
“I’ve always found it very difficult. It’s almost like when I am wearing a scarf I’m forced to have a different persona and because I’m a very vocal person, people look at me [and think] ‘so she does have a voice’,” she says.
The scarf is a recent addition to Pandor’s wardrobe and a crucial step in her personal quest to live out her faith. However, her commitment to it, like her hybrid corporate-social projects,
“On days that I don’t wear my headscarf, I feel naked. And I was a girl who never thought about it twice, I was in my power suits and it was very different…”
It was a major adjustment in her life but it is all part and parcel of Pandor’s belief in leading by example. As her career and personal life show, she is a woman’s woman, the kind of person many young women will model themselves on without hesitation. She is inspiration that will be tried and tested.
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