Inspired by matriarchs: Sne Dlamini's journey to owning her space in the IT industry


Discovery Insure CIO Sne Dlamini has faced adversity and come out as a corporate heroine of her own. Her ambition, courage and tenacity are the result of being raised by women who didn’t ask for respect, but commanded it.

Sne Dlamini, CIO at Discovery Insure, is the product of a strong matriarchal family structure having been raised by her mother and grandmother. So, Sne’s confidence and belief that she could be whoever she wanted to be, is very much a result of the women in her life telling her so from an early age.

Sne’s courage, on the other hand, stems from being the daughter of a man who fought for the country’s liberation during apartheid. Seeing her father fight for justice ignited a fire in her to inspire and empower others.

“My father was in the struggle,” she explains. “He was constantly moving around from one place to another in fear of his life. This was a security concern for my mother, therefore my sister and I went to live with our grandmother at Ixopo. It was not until he passed on that we moved back home to Pietermaritzburg to live with our mother – who was at that stage raising two teen girls as a single mum.”

She was a real Daddy’s girl, and her father really maximised the little time they had together. Being raised by strong women and a radical human rights activist cultivated Sne’s core values.

“The power of community and connectedness, which was often displayed as sharing something as simple as a plate of food growing up – those are principles that stuck with me,” she says.

“I see a lot of my dad in me, especially in terms of my leadership style. I do not shy away from making tough decisions, as long as they are principled. On the other hand, I see how the nurturing, caring and faith-filled life of my mother, who was a nurse, created a balance in my leadership style. I know how to adapt my style based on the context. Where the situation calls for empathy, I can show up authentically and where there is need for urgency in decision-making, I can step up to the challenge!” she explains.

Slow down to speed up

Sne was undecided about what to study after completing matric. She took on some volunteer work at a small local business and that’s when a light bulb went on. “A close family friend had just started his own IT software development company, and it was the very first time I was exposed to this world of IT. It really piqued my interest,” she says.

So, she studied computer science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and followed that with a BCom (Hons). During her honours year, Sne was offered two graduate programme opportunities. Ironically, she was presented with a plaque with the wording ‘CEO-in-the-making’ by the company she didn’t join.

“Although I accepted an offer elsewhere, I still have that plaque and it sits in my office. Subconsciously, it motivates me to strive for excellence and to see myself as a future CEO,” she notes.

Sne started her professional career at Unilever, as one of 50 graduates of the Unilever Future Leaders programme. “Unilever was undergoing their One Unilever transformation, where we were consolidating multiple SAP environments into one. Here I was, with no experience and we were on the verge of kicking off the project. I was like a sponge, hungry to learn and to contribute. With a lot of support, I was given the space to fail fast and fail forward,” she explains.

Unilever really set the tone for Sne’s career, it enabled her to thrive in a fast-paced environment, and provided a mentor to guide her in the corporate world. She spent five years there working on various projects, including the integrated WMS implementation for the warehouses in Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg.

Then PPC came calling. “The selling piece for PPC was that they were undergoing a huge African expansion drive, and I was primarily working on SAP implementation. We also implemented a CRM system across Africa, where I played an IT lead role,” she says.

It was a fruitful stint, however Sne soon returned to Unilever to take on the role of senior IT manager: Africa Supply Chain and Tea Plantations. It was a good call, as she was later promoted to head of IT for Central Africa.

Next stop,India!

“I was then approached by my sponsor to explore opportunities internationally within Unilever: a shared services assignment. It gave me an opportunity to contribute at a much larger scale as the global release manager. The role was based in Bangalore, India, which is essentially Unilever’s Silicon Valley i.e., the global IT hub,” she explains.

Sne’s stint in India was a bit of a culture shock, but through a patriot programme, she was able to integrate with her new environment. “We wanted to build a new global release management capability that would be rolled out globally. It was at a time when agile methodologies were growing from infancy to high maturity. I went to India and collaborated with a strategist to carve out a strategy that aligns to a more fit-for-purpose agile framework that would mature into DevSecOps. Certainly, a unique career opportunity that enabled one to make a global impact. The framework is still used now,” she says.

Sne points out that the move to India and taking on important roles across Africa would not have been possible without the support of her husband.

“To say that I have a supportive family structure is putting it mildly,” she points out. “I had three young children to factor in before my move to India (they were four, five, and seven years old, respectively) and my husband supported me without hesitation – even against societal norms. It was a huge compromise on his part, I must say, because he has a thriving career in his own right and was venturing into entrepreneurship – juggling business and family is no small feat. It is not always easy, but he is my biggest cheerleader!”

After her time in India, Sne joined Danone, where she was responsible for the Middle East and Eastern and Southern Africa (MEESA) region and leading the transition from an independent third party-logistic partner (3PL) to Clover. “Manufacturers typically focus on their core capability and then outsource other services like warehousing and logistics to a 3PL,” Sne explains.

However, it turned out that the Covid-19 pandemic would be an even bigger challenge – and a successful remote working project – as she and her team suddenly had to prepare IT systems to manage a vast increase in remote workers.

Discovering innovation drivers

Now at Discovery Insure, Sne and her team are making technological strides in vehicle safety features, wireless tracking devices and auto claims processes.

Sne is also passionate about mentorship and thought leadership and currently serves on the Wired for Women and International Data Corporation (IDC) South Africa Advisory boards.

“I am also a member of the Chartered CIO Council of South Africa and recently qualified as a chartered CIO. I am passionate about making a bigger contribution to the IT and digital landscape of our country and Africa at large, and my contribution to the broader IT industry sees me engaging in industry-wide conferences, thought leadership round tables, IT council and panel discussions, and various women-in-IT forums,” she explains.

Despite the demanding schedule, Sne carves out time for her family and her religion. “As a mum of three, I enjoy my Saturday hikes with my kids. I am an adrenaline junkie and obsessed with extreme sports. I enjoy running, reading, and I am an avid traveller, though I wish I could do more of it.” she says.

“Being anchored in faith: my devotion time (prayer and meditation) and my personal relationship with God has been my biggest driving force in navigating the corporate world,” Sne concludes.

This interview was originally published in the first edition of the 2024 CIO Magazine. Read it here.

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