Anene Engelbrecht redefining transformation

Anene’s experience as a deaf financial controller shows how communication improves inclusion.

Here’s a conundrum for transformation advocates: According to PwC’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Survey (2020) 76 percent of organisations around the world include diversity and inclusion (D&I) as one of their key priorities or values. Despite this, only 22 percent of their employees say that they are aware of any D&I efforts being made by their companies.

The report draws from some 3,000 respondents across 25 industries and 40 countries, and it reveals a gap between aspiration and action, as well as a failure to communicate the need for and effect of D&I programmes.

How, then, do we bring these numbers closer together and begin to really transform our organisations? Insights from McKinsey – looking at sentiment around diversity and inclusion as two discrete factors – suggest that diverse hiring practices are not enough, and that inclusive leadership, accountability, commitment to fairness, equality, and freedom from bias and discrimination must come into it.

And that has certainly been Anene Engelbrecht’s experience, as the first deaf financial controller in the global Radisson Hotel Group and the only deaf financial controller in South Africa’s hospitality sector. She describes her colleagues as “amazing in their communications to ensure I understand and am able to follow in conversations and meetings”.

In addition to her training and talent, this inclusive culture has helped her to flourish in her role which includes “ensuring financial accuracy, adhering to policies, and accuracy in what we do, generating profits and applying savings where applicable”.

Moving up the ranks
It’s a dream role, Anene explains, because of her passion for hotels. Anene joined the Radisson in May 2016 at Radisson Blu Le Vendome, where she has become the Cluster Financial Controller for Radisson. She has also worked as the Hotel Accountant for Westin Hotels, then as a Group financial manager for BON Hotels before she joined Radisson.

Being a cluster controller meant managing finance for two hotels, two teams, and dealing with the owners of both entities, she explains. “It was a challenge, but very rewarding.

“Today I’m grateful to be at Radisson Blu Waterfront. It was always my dream to work here as it’s the flagship property in the Middle East and Africa and has beautiful surroundings. I can’t imagine myself working anywhere else and being as happy as I am now,” she says.

A mind for admin
“I have always had a liking for admin and organising things,” Anene says. “I like to know what is going on financially and how the structures work in a company, from administration all the way to the top.”

Through her studies at the Hotel School, and a bursary from FNB, Anene was able to bring these two interests together. “My journey started in hospitality in 1999. I then moved more towards the financial side, for the last 19 years.”

The challenges of Covid-19
Anene was born deaf and reads lips, meaning that the last year or so has been particularly challenging: “Masks are such a big obstacle for me,” she explains. “I must ask people to lower their masks so I can read their lips. Some are fine [with the request], especially when my mask is on and we are alone in an open space, but others object due to safety.”

They then write down what needs to be said, a choice Anene says she respects. And this highlights another key success factor for D&I. As Gallup puts it – in their perspective paper – “a culture of inclusiveness is rooted in respect”.

Lessons learned
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a time of learning for Anene – about her workplace and herself. “I have learned I need to be out there, seeing people’s faces, body language and socialising. I cannot work from home and be alone daily; I need interaction. This also eliminates the frustrations of miscommunication, which happens very easily when emails or WhatsApps are being misread.”

On the positive side, she says, Covid-19 has also changed her perspective, “showing that it is possible to get things done from home, which helped me be available for my children when they needed me. Life has become less rushed.”

And that’s where you’ll find her, when she’s not working at home or from the Radisson Blu Waterfront with its incredible Atlantic Ocean vistas – “spending quality time with my beautiful family, or at any scenic place, just to switch off and relax”.