During the Women’s Dinner, Ruwayda reflected on the impact of female role models and of finding one’s unique purpose.
Speaking at the dinner, held at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Sandton on 3 August, Ruwayda Redfearn, who was recently appointed as the first female CEO of Deloitte Africa, said that Women’s Month reminds us that, “we are standing on the shoulders of the 1956 generation who dared to challenge the status quo thus paving the way for us to rightfully occupy spaces. These are the women we owe this celebration to. They paid a price and benefitted a nation in the future.”
Yet this is still a struggle that women carry today, she continued, and some battles will be won for future generations to benefit from. As a South African woman of Indian descent, Ruwayda spoke of the challenges that she’s had to overcome and the opportunities she’d been given and how we use these to uplift others.
Growing up in Durban, Ruwayda said her destiny was shaped by her parents’ decision to use their factory worker experience and limited income and education to open their own clothing factory. Spending her high school years helping out in the factory, she aspired to become a fashion designer. “But my parents’ intention was really to create choices for their children – choices and opportunities that they themselves never had,” said Ruwayda. “That is our responsibility now, something that I commit to doing for others for many years to come.”
Ruwayda says that her upbringing gave her a sense of purpose, which she tries to bring to all areas of her life. Speaking of Deloitte’s long-held commitment to empowerment, inclusion and diversity, Ruwayda expressed gratitude for the opportunities they have given her to build herself as a leader and to grow and shape her career.
Gender parity goals, she said, are rooted firmly in the firm’s history. “Deloitte Africa developed a female sponsorship programme, the key goal being to connect our top leaders – both male and female sponsors – and our top female talent, with a view to assist these protégés to stay the course with the firm and to develop them into partnership,” she said. “The progress of the firm has always been linked to the success of its people.”
Ruwayda is proud that when she took office on 1 June 2022 it was with an executive that is 43 percent female – the highest proportion since Deloitte formally became an integrated African firm on the continent. The firm recognises the need to accelerate the pace of the journey towards gender equality, she added. “We recognise that it is not a woman only issue and we challenge ourselves every day to confront limiting attitudes and unconscious bias whether it be in public or in the boardroom.”
The firm has also instilled a culture where there’s a continued emergence of female role models. “We believe that this is one of the most influential ways that an organisation can provide support to young female professionals. The impact of our female role models shows that it is possible for young female professionals to become future leaders of our firm.”
Speaking of how women can celebrate and support each other, Ruwayda shared a story of the different ways in which she and three girlfriends approached the Two Oceans Half Marathon – after they impulsively decided to enter despite their collective lack of experience. “I, in my typical way, researched copiously, put together a training schedule and set out a detailed project plan breaking down minutes and kilometres of running required.” Two of Ruwayda’s girlfriends decided to rather prepare by cycling and walking, while another bowed out of the marathon, deciding to drive the others to races and provide support. Ruwayda and the two friends who competed alongside her all finished the race in different ways and times.
“I think there are a few lessons in that,” she said. “The first is that we will not get to our end goal in the same way. Not all of us have a linear career path. Just as my friends used different ways to prepare for the race, our career paths will also differ. As women we do not all want the same things out of life and that’s okay.” Whether women are homemakers, run NGOs, become corporate CEOs, or pursue different dreams, they are equally important to our collective success.
“The important thing is to embrace our success in all its diversity and make it work for us all. In pursuit of this diversity, I’m conscious that women still face many challenges,” she said. These are in many areas including mental health, overall wellbeing, and career prospects. “It is essential that we all have support structures that keep us going and also become our source of comfort when the going gets tough.”
Ruwayda touched a chord with the final words of her speech. “I’m proud to be the first female CEO of Deloitte Africa,” she said, “but I also look forward to a time when it is no longer remarkable to be appointed as the first female.”