According to Statistics SA, 44% of skilled posts in South Africa are filled by women. This figure hasn’t shifted in over a decade, highlighting the fact that while women comprise 51% of the total population they continue to be under-represented in the workplace. This is especially true of women in Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or board member positions, where the percentage sinks down to 10% and 17.4% respectively, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) data. Absa Bank’s CEO, Maria Ramos, continues to fly the flag as the only women CEO of a Top 40 JSE-listed company.
Globally the situation is not much better, with PwC reporting that while 40% of the global workforce comprises women, just 5% of global CEO positions are held by women.
Five of Citadel’s senior female executives share their insights and the lessons they wish a mentor had shared with them.
MARINA KNOX, DIRECTOR: HUMAN CAPITAL
It’s hardly surprising that, as a psychology graduate, Marina Knox taps into the deeper, personal reasons impacting women of all ages in the workplace. Her five lessons are:
- Find your key differentiator. “Take the time to find your unique gift.”
- Be kind to yourself. “We can be our own worst critic, so let go of the self-doubt and criticism.”
- Give yourself permission to express and live all the elements of your life.
- Be authentically you. “After all, internal congruency just makes life simpler.”
- Pay attention to your “eina lessons”.
Eina lessons? These, explains Knox, are experiences in our lives which result in intense emotions, but which hold vital lessons for us all.
“We all have our own ‘hot buttons’ – mine is a fear of failure,” she says. “These are the underlying drivers that pull our strings and make us react or see a situation shaded by our ‘own stuff’. The eina lessons I have learnt have all been when I have been in tears and deeply hurt by the actions or words of others. The intense reaction I experienced, however, reflected my own insecurities.”
Understand your frailties, appreciate your “buttons” and know yourself. It will help you to recognise – and temper – your reactions.
KIRSTEN SMIT, ADVISORY PARTNER
Ever keen to share her insights and knowledge with youngsters entering the world of work, Kirsten Smit is particularly passionate about advising women, and helping them achieve their destinies. Here are her five essential tips:
- Learn to let go. “You can’t do everything perfectly. A lot of the time it is more important to just get it done. One of my biggest lessons as a full-time working mom of four has been to stop sweating the small stuff. By just getting things done frees up time to focus on the things that are most important.”
- Don’t be afraid to question the status quo. “Your opinion is valued – so share it! You can never expect to make a difference or create change if you don’t share your thoughts and ideas.”
- Be kind. Always. “It will come back to you a hundredfold. And it’s the right thing to do.”
- You can work and be a good mom. “Working mom guilt is real.Life/work balance is difficult to get right, but the flexibility offered in today’s workplace makes it a lot easier, so make it work for you.”
- Never stop learning. “A previous mentor of mine always used to say that if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Read widely, take every opportunity to add to your skill set, and try new things.”
ANELISA MTI, ADVISORY PARTNER
Helping others rise is part of Anelisa Mti’s credo. As part of a big and dynamic family she is most inspired when she’s in the company of her nephews and other youngsters. Mentoring comes easy to a woman whose career choice focused on how she could make a difference to South Africans. Here are her five tips for young women following in her footsteps:
- Plan your path. “Plan where you want to go in your profession. Through planning were you want to go, you can develop the steps that you need to take to achieve your objective. This might change from time to time as you discover yourself, but it will make sure that you know the road you are taking towards fulfilment in your profession.”
- Trust yourself. “You have a unique voice. You not only bring a young voice, but the female voice. Trust that voice and let it be heard. As much as you are still learning in your profession, you could also teach by bringing in a fresh perceptive.”
- Keep learning. “Continue to find new and better ways to do things within your profession. Find ways to keep pushing the boundaries of what you know and look beyond the tasks that are assigned to you so you constantly push the limits of your capacity.”
- Don’t be afraid to be wrong: “When you are young you might be afraid to think outside the box, simply because you could be wrong. Remember there is more than one way of thinking. Don’t be afraid of being wrong, of small failures, of making reasonable mistakes. Some things you learn through practise and these too could also open up new possibilities.”
- Take constructive criticism in your stride. “Understand that you are still learning and that criticism can help to make you apply yourself better. It is not a reflection of what you lack.”
JODI SUCHARD, ADVISORY PARTNER
Some hard knocks and early personal tragedies shifted Jodi Suchard’s outlook on life. It made her tougher, and it made her even more determined to succeed. She learnt a long time ago that how others perceive you isn’t important, it’s how you view yourself. “I’m not driven by other people,” she says. “I want to be the best – not average – in every environment. And that’s a big challenge.”
Suchard’s lessons for young women following in her footsteps are honest and clear:
- Know that “balance” is hard to achieve – “I’m a mother and I have a lot of responsibilities at home, but you can’t bring that to work. You have to separate your working life and your personal life.”
- Positivity in life is key – “Strive to stay positive no matter what is going on around you. That means sometimes separating yourself from the drama and sometimes keeping your home life issues separate from what happens at work.” She adds, energy is infectious. “If you are vibrant and happy and strive to enjoy every day, then you inspire those around you.”
- Inspire yourself – “You have to motivate yourself, you can’t expect other people to lift you up. If you can’t inspire yourself then you need to look within yourself to understand why. I love what I do. Every day for me is a new day, I love people and interacting with them and trying to make a difference in their financial world. That motivates me.”
- Never bring anyone down – “Be it individuals or other corporations to which people are aligned. It just opens up a whole can of worms. I act the way I want people to behave towards me.”
- Don’t sweat the small stuff – “If people don’t pitch for a meeting or if someone disrespects you, well, it’s irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. Sometimes at work you have to put on a facade and act out a role, and then deliver on those expectations.”
Finally, adds Suchard, always acknowledge and value the support around you.
HILARY DUDLEY, MANAGING DIRECTOR: CITADEL FIDUCIARY
When it comes to lessons to hinge your career progression on, Hilary Dudley’s advice to young women starts with a question: How do you eat an elephant? “Bite by bite,” she replies. “When things seem overwhelming and your goals, workload or deadlines seem impossible to achieve, then do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”
This realistic approach to life, work and everything else is the hallmark of Dudley’s advice to the new generation of women moving into the workplace. She adds:
- Look after yourself first. “It’s not selfish; you owe it to others. If you are not doing well you are not in a position to be there to support and uplift anyone else, whether it be your clients, colleagues, family or friends.”
- There is no such thing as work/life balance. “There’s just life balance. To be balanced you need to be where your feet are: be in the moment; be mindful.”
- Each one reach one. “You can have a positive impact on the world in small ways, your contributions don’t have to be big, expansive gestures.”
- Positivity breeds positivity and the same applies to negativity. “You can’t ever hope to control what happens to you in your life, the only form of control you have is how you react to these events.”
- Keep an open mind. “Try to withhold your personal judgments. Being open to new ideas and experiences can result in unanticipated inspiration.”
Finally, says Dudley, don’t fall into the trap of saving things. This may seem at odds with Citadel’s wealth management advice, but Dudley isn’t talking about savings and investments, she’s talking about getting the most out of life in the here and now. Be it celebrations, praise, compliments, treats or that expensive bottle of whiskey you have saved for a special occasion. Don’t put it off. Have it now. “Remember, being alive is a special occasion,” she says.