Women doing it for themselves at the CFO and CHRO Women's Dinner

The Women's Dinner, held at the Radisson Blu Sandton, tackled the importance of sponsorship of women, by women - and also by men.

Fifty of South Africa’s top women CFOs and CHROs, along with their mentees, gathered at the Radisson Blu Sandton to network, share and offer support to one another, over fine food and inspirational presentations. 

The theme of the event was “sponsorship”, and two special guests, Christine Ramon, AngloGold Ashanti’s CFO, and Winner of the CFO of the Year Award, and Tantaswa Fubu, Group Executive: Human Capital, Internal Audit and Corporate Affairs at Barloworld, shared their personal stories about those who supported them on their path to success, and what they learnt along the way. 

CFO Dinner: Leading CFOs and CHROs share how sponsorship shaped their careers 

Inge Walters, leadership practitioner the founder of Eve Learning, facilitated the evening’s programme. 

She presented the findings of research that showed that not much has changed in the representations of women in senior positions in Africa: 5% of CEOs are women, 29% of senior managers are women, and 36% of promotions go to women. 

“It’s slightly better than 10 years ago, but not massively. If we rely on these increments, we are never going to get there,” she said. 

To achieve sufficient gender representations in senior management and on boards, she said that the following needs to be done: 
•    Make gender diversity a top board and CEO priority 
•    Anchor gender diversity strategies in a compelling business case
•    Confront limiting attitudes towards women in the workplace 
•    Implement a fact-based transformation strategy

The audience was then asked what holds them back. Responses included: 

“We don’t have a loud voice. We have to have a louder voice, show up, and use it.” 

 

“Men in leadership don’t recognise that they are the ones making this happen. They think other organisations have this problem, not their own.” 

“In business, what is seen as good behaviour is very masculine. Everyone strives to be that and women have to fit into that. We’re not giving women space to be themselves.” 

Inge responded:

“There are external barriers, but also very strong internal barriers. Systemic external barriers are difficult to shift, but we can start working on ourselves first. It’s a helpful place to start, and the focus for tonight.” 

She then listed the characteristics that research shows successful women have in common: 

•    92% have grit and resilience 
•    90% have a robust work ethic 
•    82% are results oriented 
•    84% have children (showing that this is not a barrier to success) 
•    84% have switched companies, and 
•    90% say they have benefited from significant sponsorship

Inge again turned to the floor to ask for a definition of sponsorship. 

“Someone who takes a chance on you. Someone who’s just there for you.” 

“Somebody who acts as am ambassador, an advocate for you, who creates opportunities to shine the spotlight on you in front of significant leaders and creates opportunities in the business for you by saying, ‘I know someone who would be perfect for this role.’” 

“It suggests a level of commitment to an individual to be able to utilise a network or to make it happen for another person.” 

“Sponsorship, like in sports, is someone who puts their resources and time opening up a network to this individual, to set them up for success. They put their weight into opening doors and removing obstacles, to let you through to become the successs you are destined to become.” 

Inge responded:

“What makes it different from mentorship is that proactivity, that skin in the game.” And then encouraged the women to “be the sponsor that you are looking for.” 

After the open discussion, Inge then chaired a panel with Christine Ramon, AngloGold Ashanti’s CFO, and Winner of the CFO of the Year Award, and Tantaswa Fubu, Group Executive: Human Capital, Internal Audit and Corporate Affairs at Barloworld. 

The hosts of the evening then delivered a surprise for their guests. Every mentee was invited up to the stage to select the name of a senior executive out of a hat, and to then approach that person with a request for sponsorship – to actually do it, rather than putting it off until later. 
Although this was an initially awkward process for many, the energy levels in the room soon skyrocketed as women overcame their reticence and held animated conversations with one another over dinner. 

Inge concluded with a final learning from the sponsorship requesting process. “Some of you might have got a no! You should count it as a success just for having done it. We need to get more comfortable asking for things and doing things for other people. It becomes a part of who you are when you show up at the workplace. Then we won’t have to get together and say, ‘let’s do it,’ because we already will be.” 

The Women’s Dinner has come a long way in the two years since it was first hosted. Says said Graham Fehrsen, managing director of CFO South Africa:

“We realised that women needed the opportunity to swap notes and share ideas about the issues facing women in the workplace, so we brought them together in 2016 – I think there were only 12 of them. The next year, after our first round of guests told us that they wished they could share their learning, we encouraged women leaders to bring their mentees along with them. And this year we expanded to welcome the women of our CHRO community as well. We hope that tonight will inspire and enlighten, but also provide a platform for delivering on good intentions.” 

The Women’s Dinner was sponsored by Workday PwC and Transparent, underscoring these companies’ commitment to promoting and supporting women leaders in the workplace. 

“The work we do is not possible without the generous support of our sponsors, and we appreciate everything you do for us and with us,” said Graham.