Christine Ramon: Empowering women leaders

AngloGold Ashanti CFO and winner of four CFO Awards discusses work, women, ethical leadership and family this Women's Month.

Christine is a woman executive in an industry and at a level where very few exist. In fact, she points out that there is only one woman CEO at a JSE Top40 company (Absa’s Maria Ramos). This dearth of women is something she decries, saying that big business is not accommodating enough for women – at all levels.

“In the patriarchal society we live and work in, this isn’t something we can ignore,” she says. “There are certain companies that have embraced diversity at board level, but it’s still been a challenge at every company I’ve worked in, to develop and advance senior female executives in companies.”

She is a member of the 30 percent Club, in which various sectors aim to achieve a target of 30 percent of women at senior levels. “Lots of companies say what they are expected to say, but how many companies actually deliver on this and go about creating an environment that’s enabling? Do they put their money where their mouth is? Can they show us where they’ve advanced women in their pipeline to become senior in their company? Can they show us the numbers?”

Creating an enabling environment is critical, and Christine says she has had to put her foot down about expectations of her availability. This is not to say she doesn’t work extremely hard. She tries to get home at seven each night to have supper with her family – she has two daughters, one of eight and another of 16. But once they are in bed, she starts up again, working well into the night.

She has a “no weekends” rule, which really means “no Saturdays” because by Sunday evening she’s back on her email, preparing for the week ahead. “My eldest daughter says she doesn’t want to be a CA because we work too hard,” she says somewhat ruefully.

Christine believes that she’s doing what she can to make AngloGold Ashanti a better place for women to work. Certainly, she’s bringing senior women along with her.

“Women leaders who have been through it can actually break the mould. When I joined AngloGold Ashanti, there wasn’t one woman in the finance executive team. I brought two in – our chief information officer and our Senior VP of finance. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith on a person with high potential and give them an opportunity – the kind of opportunity that’s often given to men.”

For AngloGold Ashanti, diversity and empowerment are not just a South African matter, but must be extended to all the regions in which the company operates. “We focus on ensuring that there’s localisation in all our regions, and encourage more rotation in the business. It’s healthy to rotate people across geographies,” says Christine.

When she joined the company, in her direct reporting team she changed three people, two of whom were women and equity. Christine says that they are reviewing their operating model and she will be making recommendations that will result in further opportunities.

“The role I play is more about understanding who the high-potential talent across the Finance function is, understanding the business needs, and especially understanding where the scarce skills are and then seeing if there are opportunities in those roles to make a difference,” she says. “What lacked a bit before was a pipeline of talent and we were a bit too comfortable with the way we’d done things. I’ve bought more structure into giving input into talent management.”

Christine also believes strongly in the recognition of those who work with her, and when receiving the High Performance Team Award, she said, “I would be nowhere without my team. I’d like to dedicate this award to them.”

She believes receiving that award has motivated the people with whom she works.

Christine is outspoken about the current state of the CA profession in South Africa, describing it as being “in crisis”. In her acceptance speech for the CFO of the Year Award, she said that the time has come for CFOs to stand tall.

“Doing the right thing means that one has to be an ethical and responsible leader; that one has to be true to one’s values and be a role model for others. I think when one takes into account that the accounting profession is in crisis, it’s important that leaders in the profession are seen as role models and are active leaders; that they speak up for the profession and actively support other CFOs out there.”

She explains that the role of the CFO has evolved significantly over the past ten years. Instead of just focusing on technical accounting and management reporting, CFOs are now far more strategic and integrated into the business.

“A CFO has to be effective across the organisation, laying down a governance framework, communicating, influencing, role modelling and working in an environment where one must predict the unpredictable. It’s about doing things in a way that shows moral and ethical values. And it’s not just about applying your judgement in one situation, but considering what precedent it sets for the future, and the impact decisions will have on all stakeholders,” she says.

She says the recent spate of governance failures including the high-profile cases of Steinhoff, African Bank and more recently VBS, have put the spotlight on the accounting profession. “I am an accounting professional working in the industry and this is damaging to our profession.”

For this reason, she says it’s critical that CFOs also acknowledge the role of management in these cases. “It’s all very well to blame the auditing profession and say that there’s been collusion, but the first line of accountability lies with the management of the company. Don’t throw the profession under the bus but ask what we as CFOs can learn from what has happened. These investigations are going to take time, but we have to capture learnings from these events.”

Christine prioritises her time with her family on the weekends, and that includes her twin sister, another sister and two brothers. One is a medical doctor, another is a Deloitte executive, one brother is a COO and one is a CFO. Her brother Veran and her twin Justine stood by her side at the CFO of the Year Awards, expressing their pride that one of their super-successful family had taken the coveted award.

“There is competition, though,” says Christine. “But it’s healthy competition. We banter with each other. And we work in completely different spaces.”

For Christine, “me time” is “family time”, although she does make the space to go to the gym, pamper herself at the salon, and indulge in a bit of shopping – especially if she’s travelled to London.

“I’ll schedule a business meeting off Regent Street, so that I can catch an hour or two of retail therapy before zipping back to the airport,” she laughs.

It’s clear that Christine is a driven and focused CFO, but she applies the same focus to creating something like balance in her life. 

This article was originally published in the latest edition of CFO magazine