Mary Bomela appears in the corridor of her office in Johannesburg, stopping every second to greet and speak to staff. It’s easy to see why she draws people to her – she’s assertive, forthright and has a ready smile.
“Okay, that’s enough, get back to work now,” she then tells them, laughing.
Bomela is CEO of Mineworkers Investment Company (MIC), a sustainable asset base for the benefit of mine, energy and construction workers and their dependants. She always knew she wouldn’t follow a traditional career path like her parents did. She knew a qualification in finance would enable her to work in any industry and break the glass ceiling. Thus she studied to become a chartered accountant and also acquired an MBA degree.
“In my previous life, I worked for the mines. Actually, it’s funny. The irony of it is that, as the Mineworkers Investment Company, we don’t invest in mines,” says Bomela.
A former Financial Manager at De Beers, Bomela worked both in mine operations and in the corporate office before discovering that her investment knowledge made her an asset to MIC. For Bomela, the male-dominated industry is easy game once you have the know-how.
“I don’t think it’s about being male or female. It is a bit daunting sometimes being a woman and there are only males but once you’re in your comfort zone, it’s just about being yourself especially if you know what you’re talking about. It’s preparation over everything. If you have your facts, it makes it so much easier, just stand your ground.
“Along my journey, I’ve always had mentors for different aspects of my life and stages of my life. I use men as mentors because they know how to manoeuvre this world – the political world, the inside stories that you sometimes don’t get,” says Bomela.
In spite of being able to hold her own alongside her male counterparts, Bomela admits that being a woman often poses other challenges.
“I’m a CEO, mother and wife, I just found that a lot of my counterparts have wives at home that they can lean on whereas as a mother if your child is sick, you have to make sure that you can take care of them or if there’s a dinner, you don’t want to drive alone. Sometimes our male counterparts don’t appreciate that challenge.”
Bomela juggles her many roles but is adamant that a balancing act is a myth. A strategist at heart, she broaches everything like an investment decision – options weighed and priorities set.
“Equal balance does not exist – where you want to be perfect at work and perfect at home. I just say as you go along your journey at different times in your life, your priorities change. There are times when other things have to suffer because you’re concentrating on another. But for me the important thing is never to compromise for too long. It’s a short-term sacrifice.
“Sometimes as women we have so many balls in the air that we think we can catch them all at the same time. If we do that, one is bound to fall at some stage. Juggle fewer balls and set your priorities, they will change as you move along – your commitments will change with your life,” she says.
Bomela is pioneering the work-life balance at MIC which focuses on prioritizing over balance. Research by Kenexa Research Institute in 2007 showed employees were more favorable towards an organization’s efforts to support work-life balance. For a woman, it’s a necessary model.
“Our office is about 70 percent women and it’s nice to have an environment where people can relate to each other and understand the problems and issues. There’s flexibility, you can work from home if you need to, you can rearrange meetings. There’s an understanding.”
For Bomela, her priorities are set, leading MIC and her family – all the other balls just fall in place.