Inspiring pearls of wisdom from Kumeshnee West.
Kumeshnee West is the Director of Executive Education at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB). She leads the charge in developing management and leadership courses that respond to the emerging needs of today’s leaders.
Kumeshnee holds an MBA from the UCT GSB and is passionate about ensuring that the school continues to deliver excellence to all its stakeholders. She is a key spokesperson on issues around women in leadership, leadership development and the future of work. She also plays a mentorship role to the student-led Women in Business Committee.
Q: What advice would you give to young female educators starting out in a post-pandemic world?
For the last few years, we have been talking about a disrupted world. We talk about a VUCA world that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. The pandemic disrupted every aspect of our lives and no matter where you are. Globally, we have all had a similar experience about being disrupted. One of the key things that women need to lean into post pandemic is to remember that there is always going to be disruption. And that we need to be resilient. We are going to have to continuously learn. Learn new ways of doing things, new ways of being in the world, new ways of showing up. This period has also given us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves in many ways. So I think the education space demands that we as women are going to need to show resilience, which I think women innately have.
You need to know that your voice is needed. The education industry needs to shift. We are still in a very traditional way of doing things and the world is demanding that we look at doing things differently. Looking at the needs of our students differently, because this generation that is coming through our doors in tertiary education, is very different from the ones that came in 10 years ago. They’re demanding that we be able to respond to the new way of how they are showing up. We need to be able to understand how their learning style has changed and that their engagement with technology surpasses what we know. We need to be able to learn how we can do things differently to meet that new demand.
“Women don’t need to find a voice, they have a voice, and they need to feel empowered to use it, and people need to be encouraged to listen.”
Patriarchal ways of leadership still exist in organisations like educational organisations. The shift in transforming institutions creates a more diverse and inclusive environment. It offers us, women, an opportunity to step into our power, ask difficult questions and be courageous enough to question things that do not sit well with us. I’m having to do that all the time. I have also realised that sometimes individuals are not aware that they are showing up in a way that is not serving others. If we just hold up a mirror and say:
“What you did made me feel a certain way. Maybe let me help you to show up in a different way that will not make me feel uncomfortable.”
These are difficult conversations and require vulnerability and a lot of courage. It is uncomfortable, but every time a woman speaks up for herself she is speaking up for the collective. I say this because it’s very important when we are thinking about women’s month. Over the last few years, August is always my busiest month with interviews and panel discussions. It is a hive of activity. Then September comes and then there is nothing. Where is that conversation that we were having so robustly last month? What is happening with that? It’s important to keep the conversation going.
As women we really have to show up and think more about the way in which we show up. We always go the extra mile. However, the question to ask is who is asking me to show up? Well, it’s all me. And for women in the workplace who might be suffering from a confidence crisis, just think, you are employed in the role already. Know that you’ve been selected because you have what it takes to do the work. Really believe in yourself to own your space. Know the value that you bring to the table and empower yourself to continue to learn so that you can meet the demands of the changing world. Step in, and trust yourself. Because if you don’t trust yourself, no one else will. You will simply show up as someone that needs validation constantly. I know because I did it. One of the things that make me get up in the morning by the way is knowing that I have a team that shows up and supports me, and I will be there to support them because we are doing work that shifts the way people show up for both themselves and their organisations. Ultimately this changes the way people are in the world. The way we design our courses is to start with personal mastery and understanding. Once you understand who you are, you will know how to show up as the best version of yourself and have an impact in whichever space that you find yourself in.
Q: Where do you see education as a whole going in the future?
In the last few years, education has shifted to cater to the future of work skills. What does it mean when one says robots are taking over the world? We have had a lot of conversations around digital disruption and come last year we found ourselves in the midst of it. Organisations at large had to shift and universities were also disrupted in so many ways last year. How do you deliver impactful virtual courses? Because anyone can deliver an online program. What we did prior to last year was create face-to-face, high interaction environments with lots of networking and real time engagement. That is what Executive Education is about; taking an adult learner and immersing them into an experience that is not just about the content but about the people and the peer learning.
Education was fundamentally disrupted last year. Right from early childhood through to tertiary education. The use of technology delivered learning was a space we were thrust into and one where we quickly had to figure out how to engage. How to learn to use it optimally to deliver impactful learning.
When it comes to the space that I am in, Executive Education, organisations have had to shift the way they were thinking about online learning because they need to continue to develop their talent for their business. Learning is part of their retention strategy and how we deliver that learning is where the fundamental change has had to happen. We are continuing to experiment and refine our course delivery and have already delivered online content, virtual programs and are now designing blended courses. Education has fundamentally shifted for both the deliverers and the recipients. From an Executive Education perspective, organisations have also learnt and realised the savings they can get from not having to fly people into courses, accommodate people at a course, and that they can still get the desired impact.
I recently got a very beautiful testimonial from one of our students saying:
“It has been such an incredible online experience everything has gone so seamlessly the engagement has been so great, The timing has been excellent and it has just been so professionally managed. I can only imagine what it would’ve been like face-to-face.”
While online is an excellent medium, I believe we will still miss the in between spaces. That is something we have to think about how we can create in the future. I do not think that our new world after COVID is going to be only online. I think we will see a massive demand for face-to-face courses again because people want to be in a space with everyone. However, I do think that there will equally still be a need for the hybrid or completely virtual way of learning.
“Organisations now need to realise that they need to partner up with tech companies. They have to invest in new technology and invest in new skills and new staff that can drive that into the future. I have been with GSB for eight years now and what we have done in the last year in terms of pivoting the way we’ve shifted out thinking I think it would’ve taken us 2 to 3 years ordinarily.”
Q: What are your thoughts on female thought leadership?
During the pandemic, women have shown up for their organisations and indeed for their countries in ways that have really highlighted the feminine leadership style. Authentic leadership of connecting with people, keeping people connected, and caring for people during this time. Understanding what people need to feel safe and secure. I love Jacinda Ardern and the way she runs New Zealand Shebalances empathetic leadership, with a focused directed leadership style. One of the things that she did that really moved me was saying everyone should put toys or teddy bears in their windows because children were not interacting with people. So as people would go out for walks at a very specific time during the lockdown, parents and their children could see all the toys and maybe it would feel like they were being engaged with. So sometimes it’s just small but powerful initiatives like that that make a difference during hard times.