Use your influence for change: women execs gather for inspirational event

CFOs and CHROs gathered to share ideas, learn from thought leaders, and be inspired.

A group of over 120 female finance and HR executives gathered on 4 August 2021 for a unique online immersion. The top CFO and CHROs of South Africa biggest companies and organisations had each been asked to invite one of their mentees to share ideas with their peers and thought leaders.

The great mix of inspirational speakers, thought-provoking interactions, and exciting gift boxes was made possible with the support of leading partners of the CFO and CHRO communities, Workday, Dimension Data, Momentum Corporate and CaseWare Africa. The contribution of these great underpinned the delivery of a truly stellar event.

Of course, there could be no discussion about the current state of affairs without referencing the Covid-19 pandemic, but rather than dwelling on what has been, the focus of the event was to consider the lessons learnt in the past year and work out how these could be applied in building a compassionate, empathetic and human-centric future workplace.

The event started with four quick “snapshot” interviews, in which executives authentically shared their experiences and learnings from the last year. Themes like the importance of setting boundaries, and practising what you preach emerged.

Then the keynote speaker, Ambassador Nozipho January Bardill, came into the Zoom “spotlight” and delivered a powerful address with the theme, “You can’t change the world, but you can change your sphere of influence”.

Nozipho acknowledged that the event was taking during a raging pandemic when there is a lot of pain, despair and broken hearts.

“Personally, I have lost that sense of freedom and physical health because I have had Covid-19 myself and had to deal with it. I have also dealt with a little bit of mental health where you don't know whether you are coming or going.”

But Nozipho says in all of that, the pandemic became an opportunity for her to write a book “Write to Speak” and was also an opportunity for her to say, “You can affect us but you can't paralyse us.”

She explained that looking at the issues of the pandemic from the institutional perspective and sitting on the boards she sits on, she has noticed that it has affected the way leaders influence people.

“One of our colleagues got really ill from the disease and had to do surgery because it affected her brain. She took leave and was away for about two months and unfortunately she was reinfected. In the end the issue of sick leave had to be addressed in the organisation.

“How we deal with sick leave as an institution in an environment where we are having a pandemic that affects every single person differently and where our sick leave is sometimes structured in a one-size fits all kind of way.”

Nozipho shared that because their hearts and minds were in the right place, very quickly they had to change their organisation's sick leave policy and make it individual specific.

“This took some influence but because we were in the same thinking space it was not a hard decision to make. And I think that's the challenge for many of our organisations going forward — that we are going to have to change the norms and look at ways our organisational systems and policies work and change them drastically because many people are dealing with the long Covid.”

Nozipho shared another issue that has come to her world, that there are many women that she knows who have experienced gender-based violence at home.

“And the question is; what provision are we making for women who are victims? Are we sticking to the claim that the public and the private should be kept forever apart or taking a more radical view on this? Are CHROs and CFOs aligned in their thinking on these matters? Should shelters be offered by companies as well as counselling or should companies advocate for justice and the rule of law to protect the women and their interests who are at work and at home?”

Nozipho said these questions come up at a time when the women of South Africa remember that they are a large portion of the population in the country.

“We occupy 52 percent of the demographic space in the country. We have struggled for a more just, equitable and peaceful country for many years before, during and after 1956.

“We continue to insist that we need to end the violence and femicide that has been labelled as the second pandemic in our country and we will continue to strive for equality of opportunity in how we are treated in our families at home and the division of labour at home.”

She added that women must continue to fight for the access they have to senior positions at work and how equally resources are shared (equal pay to work of equal value), to better care facilities for working moms (maternity and paternity leave) and other demands that will forever be their desire for a happy and fulfilling life.

She concluded, “Happy Women’s month to all of you, we have big problems in our country. We have learnt a lot from the Covid-19 virus as it has touched us deeply in our souls but we still have a lot of work to do. I believe South Africa has a hit rock bottom stage which only can go one way and that is back up.
“We can make a difference and influence our institutional situations, we can take a bit of more time to think about how we can do thought leadership differently and together we need to come out of our silos and work in collaborations, partnerships and find solutions to our social and economic problems.”

The Zoom chat was overflowing with comments of endorsement and support for Nozipho’s message, making it clear that her words touched a chord, and that South Africa’s women leaders are ready to be agents of change.

Following the keynote, Nozipho was joined by four panelists to discuss how to build a future workplace that is sympathetic and accommodating to the needs of both men and women. Caryn Baird, human capital executive at FirstRand Group, Avashnee Ramdial, CFO at Stanlib, and Phillipa Geard, the founder of RecruitMyMom touched on the evolution of the workplace to one that is flexible, accommodating and more human than ever before, but underpinned the importance of balancing this change with the need to do good business and good in our communities.

The last segment of the evening was dedicated to the women of the CFO and CHRO communities. An interactive session, facilitated by leadership practitioner and long-time friend of the communities Inge Walters, saw the executives and their mentees break away in small groups to discuss their greatest challenge from the past year. After reconvening in the main room, they then broke away again to consider how they could broaden their bravery in the years to come – identifying the practical steps that they need to take to make a permanent change for the better.

The women executives were blown away by the events of the evening, and left inspired, motivated and armed with the next steps to take to create their Brave New Workplaces. CFO & CHRO South Africa editor in chief Georgina Guedes closes the evening with one more vote of thanks to Workday, Dimension Data, Momentum Corporate and CaseWare Africa.