Four dynamic and powerful women were the guest speakers at a Valentine’s Day Breakfast hosted by Symphonia on the 14 February. Although admitting to being daunted by the theme of the morning: “The role that love played in the workplace during their careers”, all four inspired the audience with their different takes on the topic.


In opening Sarah-Jane Wilson, Director of Operations for Financial Services at the Foschini Group, quoted the words of the song, “It’s not what you do but the way you do it.”  Expanding on this she said that creating a loving atmosphere within the workplace means being available to one’s staff, showing them appreciation, taking ownership for one’s mistakes and encouraging others to do the same -emphasizing responsibility and accountability.”

Sarah Jane Wilson. Image supplied by Symphonia

“One needs to give people the time they need and to engage with them on a personal level,” she said. “One also has to have the courage to be vulnerable.” She illustrated her talk with anecdotes of her own experiences.


Dr Marietjie Venter, a non-denominational ordained minister and a well-known speaker, academic, marriage officer and principal of the Anjali School of Yoga, mused on the importance of Valentine’s Day. “Valentine’s Day brings people to the point of embracing Love. ‘Love makes the world go round.” Describing how the different roles she has played, she reflected on the different perspectives she adopted in each and on the extraordinary people she has met:”It is a privilege to be challenged by the perspectives of others. The workplace offers an opportunity to grow. It is a place where people push all your buttons – it is a wonderful place to learn about yourself.”

Marietjie Venter. Image supplied by Symphonia

Asking us to reflect on any aspect of our lives that has made a difference to the way we function, Marietjie said that for her, her yoga practices and yoga breathing, conscious breathing, have made all the difference. When focusing on breathing one has to be conscious and in the present moment. “Love is part of our blueprint, just like the acorn contains the blueprint for the oak tree. We need an awakened awareness for this love to flourish. We should honour and respect that blueprint in others. Being judgmental obscures that love. “Quoting lines from the opening of the Winter Olympic Games, she said: We are how we treat each other when the day is done.”
Lillian Masebenza, Founding Director of Mhani Gingi Entrepreneurs Network and a woman of many talents and qualifications has been feted by people all over the world for the community work that she is doing. She founded Mhani Gingi (‘an Industrious Woman’) an innovative model for fighting poverty and for which she was awarded an Ashoka Fellowship. One of her proudest moments was her meeting with “Tata Nelson Mandela”.

Lillian Masebenza. Image supplied by Symphonia

Lillian described the workplace as being a place of convergence where all differences between people –differences on every level – are to be found. “How you treat people, from the toilet cleaner to those at managerial level will be reflected back at you. Love is a two-way stream.”  Moving from the work place to retirement she spoke of the Mhani Gingi community programmes that she  is now involved in. These include creating food gardens in open spaces, introducing nutritional programmes at schools, establishing early learning centres and Hope’s soapmaking and pottery business, items of which are bought by the Cape Grace. She encouraged all women to get involved with or to support the Women’s Initiative Trade Fair taking place from the 6-8 March.


General Manager of Symphonia, executive coach, integration specialist and consultant Ann Beukes, elaborated on a quote by Carl Rogers. He said: “People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, ‘Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.’ I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”

Ann Bakkes. Image supplied by Symphonia

“Love in the workplace,” Ann said, “means allowing people to unfold. And to let them unfold, you have to be present as a leader so that you can truly see what is happening – giving your non-judgmental, undivided attention to your staff.” She elaborated:

*To be present you need to be connected. “It is easy to find connection if you look and are present – you don’t have to even like the person!

*Listen to hear not to answer.

*Delegate appropriately – by doing so you are giving the person the opportunity to be skilled. This requires trust – trust in oneself and in the other person.

* Having delegated one needs to give ongoing support. “Even strong people need support,” she said.

*Echoing what Sarah Jane had to say, Ann also stressed the importance of allowing oneself to be vulnerable, “to be real about the things one is uncomfortable with, which requires courage and truth. When you are vulnerable in the workplace you give the people around you the permission to be real people. There is no trust without vulnerability.”

*And finally, people want feedback. They want to know that they are doing their jobs well. If they are underperforming a loving approach is to say “I love you too much not to tell you …” and to ask of them of them if they are in the right job….

Although not working in the corporate world, I felt very privileged to have been invited to the Valentine’s Breakfast and came home feeling inspired by the wisdom and experiences of each of the speakers.