JSE CFO Aarti Takoordeen talks people-friendly policies

CFOs share how their people-friendly policies, like parental leave, have changed from traditional policies.

On 7 October, CFO South Africa hosted another edition of its CFO Community Conversations in which CFO Aarti Takoordeen shared some of the processes and discussions within the JSE around the exchange’s people-friendly policies.

The JSE has recently introduced a number of people-friendly policies including a gender-neutral parental leave policy, which was co-created by Aarti, working closely with the company’s HR director, Donald Khumalo. Together, they developed the people case and the financial case for this approach.

After a warm welcome, CFO South Africa editor in chief Georgina Guedes introduced Aarti, who won the Young CFO of the Year Award in 2014 and is one of the longest standing judges on the CFO Awards panel.

“We can’t hide from the fact that Covid-19 has emphasised the importance of authentic leadership like never before,” Aarti started. “It is a dichotomy, because as much as we’ve become faceless, touchless and fully digital, the importance of human connection, with colleagues especially, has never been more pronounced. It’s forced us to become more considerate and more empathetic to people’s personal circumstances.”

She explained that the fact that people are dialing into their colleagues’ personal spaces, has developed additional layers to their relationships. “We’ve never before been able to fully recognise the personal circumstances of our colleagues, but now we can’t ignore them.”

Aarti said that she has been reading a lot about mental illness lately and how lockdown has influenced that. “We have to be a lot more understanding of these living circumstances, which allows for our own growth as managers.”

She explained that, at the JSE, these learnings are shaping the company’s HR policies and practices, and that they are promoting a more flexible organisation that is cognisant of its most valuable asset, which is its people.

The exchange has implemented initiatives like “No Meeting Wednesdays”, where colleagues are allowed to block their diaries out every second Wednesday and not accept any meetings. “This allows people to focus on their home life or on things they’re not getting around to doing due to lockdown extended hours,” Aarti said, adding that this initiative has, “ironically”, increased productivity.

The JSE also has HR entries in their diaries for online yoga, virtual meditation, fitness sessions and various other initiatives that help employees tackle some of the challenges that have arisen out of the pandemic, such as a healthy work/life balance, tips for homeschooling and how to effectively manage teams and performance remotely. “These have really allowed our employees to equip themselves with the right tools during these challenging times. It really challenges traditional thinkers, because the results of those types of initiatives have been that we have a much happier and more productive workforce.”

The company’s four-month gender-neutral parental leave policy, which also allows people to take leave for surrogacies and adoptions, has also been well-received. “We have a very supportive culture and we recognise diversity. The JSE is approximately 74 percent black, over 60 percent of the board is female and 80 percent of the executive committee is female. So the JSE is largely run by women, which might not necessarily be the reason for the more empathetic culture, but we do stand out as an organisation that is incredibly gentle in recognising diversity and inclusion,” Aarti said.

She then handed over to the attendees, who shared their companies’ people-friendly policies.

CFO Fulu Ravele explained that in July 2019, Renergen decided to draft a new maternity policy that encompasses everyone. In that process, she said the company tried to stay away from traditional gender references in the policy. “I didn’t want people to read the policy and think that it only applies to a male or female, but look at is as a policy that applies to everyone who is a parent.”

“At Standard Bank we have quite a number of people-friendly policies,” said CFO of Standard Bank’s PBB Client Coverage division Tendani Sikhwivhilu. “One of these was that the organisation introduced special leave to help employees set up their kids’ schooling arrangements and to help them adjust to the new circumstances we were in because of Covid-19 and lockdown.”

Fulu explained that it took them more than a month to get the policy approved, as the board was concerned that, if everyone is allowed to take parental leave, how would the company fill that gap when the person went on leave as it will be for a prolonged period. “With this in mind, we’re looking at setting up a skills transfer plan within the business, where employees can share their skills with their colleagues to minimise the impact of the skills gap when a person goes on leave. This will also provide an opportunity for people to work in disciplines that were not available to them previously.”

The ETDP SETA doesn’t have any work from home policies in place at the moment. “It was a concept document which we had to refine when lockdown was announced, but it hasn’t been approved yet,” explained CFO Nonhlanhla Mona. “When we implement this policy, it will be a lot easier because we’ve had a trial run and know what works for us and what doesn’t.”