Finance Indaba Online panellists: gender equity still has a way to go

A panel of women CFOs shared their journey and how they have survived in male-dominated spaces.

An Impact Session at the Finance Indaba Online started with a clear message from all panellists that new leaders – women leaders – are needed to bring fresh air and creative ideas to boardroom, and meet the challenges of dramatic shifts in the world economy, communities, and companies.

Group CFO of iOCO Jo-Ann Pöhl said that according to the McKinsey Global Institute report, $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. Yet globally, women are still underrepresented at board level.

Jo said balancing life and her career is challenging, but there is so much opportunity. Her constant challenge, she said, is grappling with guilt about work and home, because women have multiple roles they juggle.

“In trying to find balance I have three rules, called the D3,” she explained. “The first one is asking what can be delayed because you never know what may come up, the second is what can be delegated, and the third is what can be done.”

The first black female chartered accountant in South Africa, and CEO of Nkululeko Leadership Consulting, Nonkululeko Gobodo said the discussion needs to be shifted around, and we need to ask ourselves how to empower women to take charge of their destiny.

“I refused to fit into the stereotypes that because I am a black woman, I am weak and inferior and I belong in a certain box,” she said. “As a result of that I was offered a position to become partner at KPMG.”

She says that women are just as smart, powerful and talented as everyone else and society needs to understand that the role of women has changed. She emphasised that the fight for women to have leadership roles has been happening for 100 years.

“Society is stubborn,” she said. Women still have to play the traditional roles they did during our grandmothers’ times, and it’s not acceptable. Can diversity and inclusion interventions stop focusing on men changing, but focus instead on how women can affirm themselves and take up their space in boardrooms? Because they deserve to be there.”

Equites Property Fund CFO Laila Razack, speaking about whether she had ever been overlooked in her career as a young woman, said that she had been blessed because so many powerful women had come before her, shattered the glass ceiling, and shaped the way.

“I can’t say I’ve been overlooked, but I’ve had challenges for myself in terms of not trusting and having confidence myself, and finding myself asking questions such as, ‘Am I assertive enough? Am I strong enough? I am so young – will my voice be heard by colleagues 20 years older than me?’,” she told participants.

She said that what you learn as a woman is that you put so much more on the table, adding that she had learn to believe in herself and her abilities, and grow her confidence so that she didn’t become a barrier to her own career.