Women emancipation starts with the right mentality: Mahadi Granier



PARIS-based Mosotho, Mahadi Granier has landed a prestigious post at Google where she has been appointed Program Manager tasked with driving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion across Google offices in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Known for running Lesotho’s premium fashion show, the Lesotho Fashion Week, Ms Granier left Lesotho during a time when she felt stifled and unappreciated.

Lesotho Times (LT) deputy editor, Silence Charumbira, this week spoke to Ms Granier who said dreaming without action was not enough to emancipate the Mosotho woman.

She said an enabling environment must be created at all societal levels beginning at the household level, for girls and women to thrive.

Below are some of the excerpts of the interview:

LT: Most know Mahadi from Lesotho Fashion Week but there is so much more about the person, tell us more about yourself. 

Mahadi Granier: My name is Mahadi (Nee Ntoampe) Granier. I was born in Maseru in 1978. I started my education at Maseru LEC Primary School. Upon completion, I went to Morija Girls High School from 1990 to 1994. After finishing my Form 5 in 1994, I enrolled for a Bachelor of Science at the National University of Lesotho from 1995 to 1999, where I majored in Computer Science and Physics.

After graduating in 1999, I immediately worked as a Computer Science and Physics teacher at Sefika High School in 2000 before moving to Johannesburg to pursue my honours in Computer Science at the University of Witwatersrand later on that year. I later on left South Africa to go study abroad in 2008, where I ended up completing a two-year Masters in International Business at Grenoble Graduate School of Business, in France in 2010.

Too many of us hang around places, relationships and even jobs where we feel stuck, where we feel like life is literally being sucked out of us. But we stay in those places because of fear or lack of confidence in ourselves and in our abilities. That’s how I felt living in Lesotho. Even though innately, I’m a highly driven and ambitious person, I felt stifled, unappreciated and tolerated in Lesotho. So, I left. And I have never looked back.

I have lived and worked in many countries including South Africa, Canada, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom (UK), United States of America and currently Paris, France. Last month I accepted an offer of permanent employment from Google. I will be based in Paris, working as a Program Manager tasked with driving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion across Google offices in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Before then, I was in corporate working for organisations such as Airbus (France) as a human resource business partner, General Electric (France) as a staffing specialist, Turner & Townsend (South Africa) as a business analyst, Hatch (Canada, London and South Africa) as a management consultant, the Department of Trade and Industry (South Africa) as a director and the Provincial Treasury of the Western Cape (South Africa) as an economist.

LT: Covid-19 has decimated industries and for smaller countries like Lesotho, the effects are long lasting and deleterious. How has Lesotho Fashion Week been affected? 

Mahadi Granier: Covid-19 pandemic completely turned Lesotho Fashion Week upside down. The secret to our success was to showcase not only designers from Lesotho but from the African continent and the rest of the African diaspora.

When the pandemic hit and travel bans, lockdowns and social distancing were imposed and big events were banned, that meant we could no longer operate.

Designers stopped travelling, and customers stopped buying luxury fashion because they were sitting at home without any events to wear those items to. We lost sponsorships and all other sources of revenue.

LT: Fashion Week; how exactly did it start? Was it a childhood passion or strictly business? 

Mahadi Granier: Upon my arrival in the global fashion capital, Paris, France in 2015, I instantly knew that I had to take African fashion designers to a new level.

Firstly, I was very shocked at the lack of representation for African designers. Secondly, I was shocked to discover that in France, the fashion industry is a major contributor to the country’s GDP (gross domestic product), at 3, 1 percent more than the automotive industry.

It employs over 600 000 people. The industry is well structured around organisations dedicated to supporting fashion designers either through funding, internationalisation or digitisation of fashion creation. So, I thought, why not introduce this concept in Lesotho.

We are an exceptionally creative people with so much diversity. Why not promote our own heritage and culture so as to influence the world to invest, study and visit Lesotho? I wanted to use fashion as a tool to put a spotlight on Lesotho creativity and to paint a different image of the country that is not reduced to poverty and animals.

The world has always been intrigued and inspired by African creativity. A lot of African designers are extremely talented but lack the necessary support infrastructure to take their businesses to the next level. I knew that by investing in the exceptional African creativity, I would make a significant impact while also giving back. That’s how Lesotho Fashion Week was born.

LT: In the context of Covid-19, what’s next for Lesotho Fashion Week in 2022? 

Mahadi Granier: Fashion events all over the globe are having to adapt to digital displays or a hybrid of digital and physical presentations, and Lesotho Fashion Week is no exception.

The Covid-19 pandemic was a big lesson to all of us, notably that fashion events no longer need to be in person. Putting together a traditional fashion week costs a lot of money, in production, travel and marketing.

The pandemic forced our designers to take their own shows and digital experiences into their own hands and make statements for themselves, outside of our physical platform. More established African luxury brands that we’ve worked with in the past want to return and showcase at Lesotho Fashion Week.

Despite the demand, the unpredictability and uncertainty brought about by the Omicron variant is making it very challenging for us to plan for the future. So, who knows what’s next for Lesotho Fashion Week in 2022?

LT: Strong, powerful women are a rare species in African societies including Lesotho primarily because of destructive traditional and cultural practices. This is one of the reasons for which Lesotho is saddled with huge cases of domestic and gender-based violence among other vices. What do you think can be done to emancipate as well as empower African women? 

Mahadi Granier: An enabling environment has to be created at every level of society, starting at the household level. Home is where attitudes, ideas, values and beliefs are shaped and it is important that parents and guardians instill the right values and beliefs, as they work as enablers and catalysts for their children’s success.

A child’s formative years are when cultures and norms are moulded. It is important for parents to invest their time and be intentional in positively influencing and encouraging their daughters. It is equally important to teach boys the importance of respecting, honouring and empowering women.

It is time African parents re-think what investing in their children means, by investing firstly in themselves, so as to better invest in their children. Unfortunately, mindset is everything when it comes to emancipating as well as empowering African women.

LT: You are based in France, tell us how you ended up there. 

Mahadi Granier: People will also strive to improve their current conditions and I’m no exception. I moved to France in search for greener pastures and for improved quality of life.

As a mother to three young children, high quality education and better future for my children is top of my mind. I have always wanted to pursue a Masters degree and France has some of the best Business Schools in the world. And of course, France is one of the most beautiful countries worldwide.

Crime is very low here, the wine and the food are amazing and most importantly, French people work to live instead of living to work. I absolutely love this work-life balance philosophy.

LT: Tell us more about your Google post and how it came about. 

Mahadi Granier: The thought of going back to corporate was triggered by the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The mandates and restrictions that were imposed prevented from fully operating my business.  Those circumstances forced me to re-invest myself.

At the time, I didn’t know what to do next or what field to get into from the entrepreneurial space. All I knew was that I wanted to work for an organisation that would allow me to have an impactful professional voice.

So, I started to look back at my career path for clues and it dawned on me that even though I had a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, I never pursued a career in the tech Industry.

After I finished High School, I was very fortunate to receive a full scholarship to study an undergraduate degree in Computer Science. At the time, there was a huge drive to lure young black women and girls into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Not long after I started my degree, I quickly realised that Computer Science was not for me. I began to realise that class after class, I was dealing with the same kind of technical, non-humanitarian problems with very limited focus on human-focused areas. I was also discouraged by the lack of visible application of much of the material taught.

I could not visualise how in future, I would use computer science skills for a specific purpose. My classes never allowed me to see the connection in the bigger scheme of things, and as you know, very often, we become what we can see. I was also very often the youngest, the only black or the only female in the class.

This means that I required many hours of programming, which by necessity came from what would otherwise be social time. It also involved a distinct loss of femininity, both physically and mentally. I was also taken aback by the lack of female professors and corporate role models.

This lack of representation made it hard for me to psychologically see myself craft a successful career as a Computer Scientist. As young as I was at the time, I intuitively knew that role models played a very important role in sustaining my interest in the field as well as instilling confidence in myself.

Role models also provided a source of advice about not only academic issues but gender-specific issues which my male professors, even though were sensitive to, simply were not able to understand.

So, one day during lockdown, and for the first time in over six years of entrepreneurship, I decided to look at job openings. I came across an opening at Google in Paris. They were looking for a Program Manager to drive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I applied, went through eight rounds of interviews and in the end, I got the offer.

LT: What are your major targets in this new role? 

Mahadi Granier: My primary objective in this new role is to build thoughtful, intentional, and transformational changes within Google’s diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.

This means elevating and amplifying voices from underrepresented groups, creating a culture of belonging, ensuring that accessibility is front and centre across all communication mediums and events, educating Googlers about the impacts of their actions and unconscious biases, as well as their responsibility to empower previously disadvantaged communities across all intersections of race and gender.

LT: What is your advice to young Mosotho women dreaming of conquering the world? 

Mahadi Granier: With the right mindset, most things are possible. If success finds you at a time where you have the wrong mindset, you will unconsciously sabotage all of that success and find yourself right back to square one.

As the world around us develops, a young Mosotho girl also needs to develop. She must dream but equally be obsessed with acting. Dreaming while standing still is not an option.

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