Advancing Women in the Workplace Mentorship Program Launches 3rd Cohort in South Africa

June 2024

The Vance Center and its South African Legal Fellows Network (SAFLN) this month welcomed the third cohort of the Advancing Women in the Workplace (AWW) mentorship project.  

Attendees, including current and past mentors, mentees, and support committee members, at the AWW Cohort 3 launch event in Johannesburg, June 13, 2024. Photo credit: Dr. Kim Lamont-Mbawuli/AWW

The new cohort kicked off with tailored onboarding events for the three key groups of participants: mentees, mentors, and members of the mentor support committee, which offers guidance and insight to mentors.  

Mentees: A virtual onboarding session for the new group of mentees on May 27 began with opening remarks by Judge Nokuthula Daniso of the High Court of South Africa, who emphasized the importance of mentorship in shaping one’s career and personal development, noted the diverse career opportunities within the legal profession, and stressed that individual values and strengths play a role in career choice. Former AWW mentees Ayanda Masina, Amanda Dladla, and Lebohang Mosala presented the expectations for mentees to drive their mentorship journey and shared what they learned from the program and how it has benefited them and their careers. They encouraged mentees to actively participate in program events, training, and discussions and identify opportunities to give back to their communities. The conversation ended with new mentees expressing excitement and gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the program.  

Mentors: On June 4, the mentors were welcomed with a keynote by Deputy Judge President N M Mbhele, Free State Division of the High Court, the first female deputy chief justice in the Free State province. She stressed the vital role of women in the legal system and national development, and the need to nurture women legal professionals who understand the centrality of law in democracy, as well as the importance of mentorship and leadership in addressing complex challenges. Former mentor Anthea Platt SC highlighted the benefits of mentoring relationships, including the opportunity to learn from each other, gain new perspectives, and reevaluate one’s own career path while emphasizing the importance of building trust and rapport with mentees. Former mentor Balindile Shezi shared her positive experiences and personal growth from AWW and encouraged the new mentors to participate effectively in the program.  

Mentor Support Committee: On June 11, the mentor support committee members were onboarded with opening remarks by Inam Pillay, a former AWW mentor support committee member, discussing how to deal with the discomfort of conflict as a mentor support committee member. Keynote speaker Obioma Okonkwo, Vice President of the Nigerian chapter of the Vance Center’s Women in the Profession (WIP) program, explained the role of mentorship in a lawyer’s career trajectory and shared her personal experiences. Laura-Jane Jacobs, Legal Project Manager at DLA Piper and another former committee member, explained the role and expectations for mentor support committee members.

Each onboarding session also included an introduction by Vance Center Africa Program Director Adaobi Egboka on the vision, history, and accomplishments of the AWW program in South Africa; opening remarks by SAFLN member and Cohort 3 sponsor Zodwa Velleman; and closing remarks by SALFN Chairperson Nontu Made.  

Launch Event: The program’s official launch, in a hybrid event hosted at PPS for Professionals in Johannesburg on June 13, built on the distinct onboarding sessions and revealed the mentor-mentee pairings. Keynote speaker Tumi Dlamini, Advisor to the African Peer Review Mechanism, discussed the importance of mentorship for personal and professional growth, for mentees and mentors alike. She emphasized the role of informal mentorship in community and personal development, shared personal anecdotes, and stressed the significance of staying true to one’s values and relying on that sense of self to choose a path and make a positive impact. While advocating for women to secure their seats at the table, she stressed that defining one’s purpose and passion is even more crucial.  

Following the keynote, former mentor and South African Legal Fellows alum Trudy Moshodi moderated a panel discussion, “Passing the Gavel: How the AWW mentorship program unlocks success for women in the legal profession.” Panelists Shireen Said, Deputy Director General at the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development; Thandeka Mdebuka, Chief Governance, Risk and Compliance Officer at ATNS; Edith Makandi, human rights lawyer and gender specialist; and Carlisa Bydume, Senior Legislative Policy Liaison, discussed the benefits of the program and strategies to throw more light on the mentorship program and process.

Attendees, including former mentors and support committee members, at the AWW Cohort 3 launch event in Johannesburg, June 13, 2024. Photo credit: Dr. Kim Lamont-Mbawuli/AWW

This third cohort represents the next phase of the AWW program, following the March 1 closeout of the original two-year project, supported by the U.S. Mission to South Africa. Recognizing its value for Black women legal professionals in South Africa, SALFN, with funding from active member Zodwa Velleman, is continuing to support the mentorship program. Cohort 3 is dedicated to the late Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, the first Black female judge on South Africa’s Constitutional Court, who delivered the keynote address at the launch of AWW in 2021 and passed away in May 2024. 

It also marks the first time AWW has included a male mentor, recognizing the need for male allies in efforts to advance gender diversity. Exemplifying the “pay-it-forward” model that AWW has encouraged, two former mentees have also stepped up to mentor law students, in an effort to provide support early in their career journey as legal practitioners.

The Vance Center continues to engage on issues of gender diversity in South Africa through new initiatives aimed at mobilizing members of the legal profession to take action to advance racial equity. At the March 1 event, the Vance Center and SAFLN released a groundbreaking survey analyzing barriers and challenges for Black women in South African law. These new initiatives will draw on the survey’s findings to identify opportunities and a path forward for Black women legal professionals and the general legal landscape.  

Read the survey