As Executive Assistant for the CEO of WDBIH, Faith Khanyile, Wendy Groenewald is constantly being kept on her toes, and she wouldn’t want it any other way
Wendy Groenewald: Putting Others First, Without Losing a Strong Sense of Self
While Wendy takes her job as the “gatekeeper” of Faith Khanyile’s diary very seriously, she marries her determination to “get things done” with a warmth and friendliness that is offered up to everyone she meets.
She joined WDBIH in 2016 and loves the variety of her job, and of course thrives in working for a women-only organisation aimed at empowering women. At WDBIH, Wendy is responsible for maintaining planners and diaries, and doing office management for the CEO, CFO, CIO, Exco Team, Business Manager, Marketing, and Youth Development and Empowerment programmes.
Wendy has more than 25 years’ experience as an executive assistant, in financial services, law, marketing and education. Just prior to working at WDBIH, she worked at a leading advocacy group for six years, juggling the diaries of three busy advocates as well as holding down the position of office manager.
She has worked at WDBIH for four years now, where she plays a key role in ensuring that the administration and day-to-day running of the company go as smoothly as possible.
But Wendy says working at the company has affected her personally. “Working at WDBIH has helped me to become more assertive; I am now able to communicate with people at all levels, but still keep the essence of what makes me unique,” she says. “I was never one to answer back or question authority, but I have now become that person, and I appreciate the guidance and mentoring that is given by the ladies in leadership!”
She says when she got the job four years ago, she really landed in a career and industry that feels like it was created just for her.
“I love working with the team that we have at WDBIH. They are very unique and really live their values, which are perfectly aligned with the company’s values. It’s all about honesty, integrity, hard work and ensuring what we do day to day has a positive effect on others. The reason I joined WDBIH initially was because I was looking for a company to work for that really appreciated a person’s individual values and allowed them to live their own truth, and WDBIH encourages this.”
Wendy thrives in her position as Executive Assistant – it ticks all the boxes for her and there is never a dull moment, something that suits her personality.
“I love the people I work with. We are all one big family AND I love the work WDB does with the community and for the youth! I am very involved with the two youth programmes and the mentoring of young South Africans, in particular young women, which is just up my alley. These youngsters are so impressionable, and we have the ability to make a positive and lasting change in their lives!”
She says that while making a lasting impression through mentorship is part of the deal, she has learnt so much from the young leaders who take part in the programmes, and the interns who have contributed to the culture at WDBIH.
Wendy says that her work life hasn’t been without challenges, especially due to the fact that she is very loyal and trusting, so in the past she was sometimes taken advantage of. But, with the influence of the team of strong women who head up the organisation, she says she has learnt so much about herself and about how to create boundaries.
I have found a new way of thinking and working where the word NO is not a swear word, and I have also found that being loyal to a person instead of a company is far better
“I have found a new way of thinking and working where the word NO is not a swear word, and I have also found that being loyal to a person instead of a company is far better,” says Wendy. “I adore Faith (Khanyile) and I am very dedicated to her, and she has really helped me to behave differently – I no longer allow everyone to walk all over me and take advantage, and that way I don’t have regrets.”
Wendy says working in a company run by women has really highlighted how empathetic leadership works, and how it can change the world.
One moment that stands out for Wendy personally is that when her stepmother fell ill and passed away, she received so much love and support and it really made a difference.
“The genuine concern and compassion I received from all the staff was incredible! As I always say, this group of women has heart!”
Wendy says what she loves about the organisation and the leadership team is that she is respected as her own person and that there is space for individuality. “We all have a job to do and by me doing it the way I find works best for me is not questioned, but is rather respected and accepted.”
She says that balancing work and home life continues to be a juggling act, and that she finds it difficult to switch off – even before she started working from home, before Covid-19 turned regular office life on its head.
The hard lockdown period due to the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa had some serious ups and downs, and Wendy flung herself into doing what she could to keep positive (including following the global baking trend).
“At the beginning, I was baking, cooking, cleaning and then baking some more…,” says Wendy, “and of course contacting staff members and having colleagues contacting me to make sure we are all okay! There was real care and concern, even from some people I would not have expected it from. I think in the beginning it was hard on the social aspect of the organisation – but now we all seem to be thriving. Working without the disruption that office banter brings, has its own advantages.”
She says that during the lockdown she realised a few home truths.
“I realised I am okay with my own company, which is something I would never have realised if the world hadn’t stopped due to the coronavirus.”
While Wendy is generally positive and prides herself on lifting others up, she says there have certainly been some bad days over the past few months. But she has also accepted that not every day can be a good one. Her home and her animals are her comfort, and she chooses to look on the bright side whenever she has the opportunity to do so.
“Petrol is expensive, and I have enjoyed not having to fill up every week! What a saving,” laughs Wendy.
She says she gets her positive spark and openness from her mother. Growing up in Bloemfontein, in the Free State, with a mom who was a teacher, she says her mother had a huge influence on her life.
“Like my Mom, I love helping people and making a difference. I love being busy. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I can’t sit still, not for a moment. I also really love to learn so when other departments or aspects of the organisation call, I listen and answer when I can! The great thing about WDBIH is that people are willing to share what they know, and I never stop learning.”
Her mantra in life is “Batho Pele”, something she borrows from Nelson Mandela’s government.
“It was originally about municipalities being people-centric, but I decided to take it as my own personal mantra. It means putting other people, of all creeds, first before considering your own needs, and that sums me up in two words!”