From selling burgers to human resources director at a major company


KZN-born and bred, Lungile Langa, the new group human resources director at Servest, is an inspiration to scores of women in South Africa and Africa.

She refused to wallow in despair after graduating with a BA  degree in Psychology from the University of the Witwatersrand. For five years, Langa worked at McDonalds selling burgers, because she couldn’t find a vacancy in her field of study.

Today, she’s at the helm of Servest’s human resources, a company that employs over 24 000 people, with a presence in multiple African countries across 11 110 sites.
Said Langa: “I had a degree in psychology, but to get to where I am today, I first worked at McDonald’s. In our company we have opportunities for cleaning, landscaping, security, among others. We are making opportunities available to youths, and it doesn’t matter where you start, just start and use the opportunity as a stepping stone to build your career,” said Langa.
According to Langa, success depends on hard work and determination.

“It’s important to look at things through a different lens, and say I have matric or a degree and I can do it. You can start as a cleaner, you’ll have a salary and will be exposed to the working environment where you might gain access to other opportunities to develop yourself and gain better understanding of the work environment,” said the go-getter.
Langa got her big break after five years when she landed her first human resources position at a medium-size company. She worked there for two years, and continued with her studies part-time. The mother of three, has a Master’s qualification in human resources and a Master’s degree in Industrial Psychology.

She is currently completing her PhD in Consulting Psychology. Through her research, she is hoping to contribute to the training of industrial psychologists as expert psycho-legal witnesses in our magistrate’s courts and high courts. Her 20-year career span took a meteoric rise from knocking on doors to being headhunted and serving in executive roles at some JSE-listed companies.

She has gained extensive experience, including 12 years at executive management level, serving as the first black female executive committee member of a JSE listed company.
Langa also worked in human resources at a major telecommunications company, and established her own industrial psychology consultancy.
“Once you have grown to a point where you are comfortable in your skin, you can graduate to a place where leadership is about serving. “With time, you start thinking about what difference you can make to the people who rely on the decisions you make in boardrooms and how you can serve them,” she said. Langa added that one of the major challenges facing the human resources industry is the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) on the workforce.

“Technology is a huge driver of change. It brings efficiencies in the way we do human resources. While technology enables us to offer our services more efficiently, we also need to consider its impact, especially in the context of South Africa where we are battling with spiralling unemployment,”.
She pointed out that contrary to popular belief that 4IR will displace jobs, she believes that it will create more job opportunities as new industries and ecosystems will be created.
“It is imperative that companies should start re-skilling and upskilling their workforce to take on the new roles that will be available in the future,” said Langa.
She is a firm believer that inclusiveness in the workplace has a direct impact on the bottom line, acknowledging how diversity makes it possible for certain markets to open that previously would have been impossible to access. “South Africa is a patriarchal society where men are seen as leaders and females as followers. People need to connect with the idea that we are equal partners and equal leaders in the boardroom. The dialogue needs to continue and this narrative needs to change.

While men have their own attributes, as nurturers women bring a certain dimension to the workplace. We shouldn’t feel that we need to act like men in order to lead effectively in a male-dominated industry. As we embrace our differences, we have made an impact and will continue to do so. But first, we need to authorise ourselves to be women leaders, and not try and be something that we are not,” she said.