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  • Writer's picturePaula Fray

Q&A: How mentors paved the way for Bongiwe Mlangeni

As preparation for the Women Media Mentors (WMM) Programme kicks off, we catch up with founding director and chairperson at fraymedia Foundation, Bongiwe Mlangeni about her journey as a media practitoner, and the mentors who shaped it along the way.

1. Looking back to the beginning of your career, how did your first mentorship experience shape your entry into the media industry, and what was the most important lesson you learned during that early stage?

The start of my career was greatly influenced by my first mentorship experience in a community youth development organisation where I interned post-university. It was a formative time where I had much to learn about the professional world. My mentors, a group of visionary black women, noticed I loved to write, so they helped me make the right connections and find opportunities that got me started in journalism. The most vital lesson they imparted was the power of networking and seizing opportunities that align with one's skills and interests. This time of my life also demonstrated the importance of giving one's time, energy and other resources to make a difference in the lives of others.
2. As you progressed in your career, can you describe a critical moment where mentorship played a decisive role in your development? How did this relationship help steer you towards leadership opportunities?"

There were two key times when mentors really made a difference in my career. One mentor encouraged me to integrate my academic pursuits with my professional aspirations, which gave me the courage to broaden my skills and explore avenues beyond media. Another guided me on how to manage non-profit boards and fundraising. Both mentors gave me the push I needed to think bigger and step up as a leader. 3. The media industry can present unique challenges, especially for women. Can you tell us about a time when mentorship was vital in overcoming a professional obstacle? How did this experience strengthen your leadership skills?

During a difficult phase in my media career, mentorship was crucial to navigating the challenges I faced as a woman in the industry. A mentor, using her expertise in law, counselled me on managing relationships with senior managers and the importance of proactive communication and setting clear boundaries. This guidance helped me learn how to handle tough situations at work. Her guidance on managing upwards and planning for difficult conversations with care and openness was a gem. I seldom enter serious work conversations without a strategy and I am very good at setting boundaries as a result of her initial guidance. 4. Reflecting on the impact that mentorship has had on your professional life, can you share a particularly transformative piece of advice or support you received from a mentor that has been a touchstone for you?

This example is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it was so helpful on my journey. One piece of advice from a mentor was particularly grounding for me, it came when my career was approaching a first peak which coincided with me starting a family. I was torn apart by how to balance being a mother and career woman. Seeing the guilt, my mentor said: "Focus on your children when they're young, as they only grow up once. You can always catch up on your career later." This advice was the permission I needed to give myself. I used the five-year hiatus from work life to further my education and build new networks. When I re-entered the workplace, I was fortunate to secure roles at the leadership level which propelled my career to new heights.

Women leaders willing to participate as mentors can sign up here:

Young women leaders wanting to participate in the mentorship programme as mentees can sign up here:

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