Sponsored: Conversation, collaboration and investment in women

There’s one word that described the desire for equality in this sector of this technology generation: audacity.

01 April 2024

There’s one word that described the desire for equality in this sector of this technology generation: audacity. This was the opening comment by Nomonde White-Ndlovu, chairperson of the Wired4Women advisory board and CIO of Bidvest Bank, as she addressed the Wired4Women gathering in Waterfall, Johannesburg, to celebrate women in technology and to share experiences and personal journeys on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2024.

Event sponsor, BCX’s Mpho Hlefana, Managing Executive, Marketing, touched on this year’s international theme: Invest in women. Accelerate progress.

“It’s through meaningful collaboration, connection and investment in women that change will happen around gender equity,” said Hlefana. “This country’s history is rich with stories about strong women that demonstrate the power we have together and prove to future generations that gender parity is possible.

“That’s why it’s so important to have a safe space, to share journeys, debate issues and ask questions of the role models at the top of their game, who have been through the challenges of gaining acceptance and respect at all levels of their careers. We need to develop talent and this needs deliberate and strategic investment by organisations and individuals.

“One statistic is that inclusion of women can boost margins by as much 30% within organisations. We have to feed the rise of the ‛she economy’ and investment therein is good for business. We must look at the attributes women of all ages have to take businesses and the economy forward.”

Hlefana also stressed the importance of empowering: “We need to invest in multiple ways, including education, entrepreneurship and career advancement. This requires that we support each other and stand in solidarity. Investment in women accelerates progress.”

Discovery Limited’s CIO Sne Dlamini’s opening message was about watching our thoughts, which inform the words spoken. “If thoughts and words are negative, change them,” said Dlamini. “This doesn’t mean it will affect our authenticity.

“Women are underrepresented in many areas. We have to lead the change. This is not limited to South Africa, but representation is stagnant globally. We are not seeing impact in numbers, thus we have to understand the role we need to play and how to shift the gender parity needle.

“Change hasn’t happened as fast as we would have liked, but it’s not for lack of trying. We as women must change the narrative, and be more deliberate about how we develop and promote women.”

Micro aggressions

Dlamini says gender bias is still evident, even if unconscious or subtle on the part of male colleagues, and mentioned the importance of fighting it in the small ways, such as not allowing being spoken over. It’s vital to keep educating male counterparts to overcome even micro-discrimination.

“Why shouldn’t I be emotional? I’m not a robot! Plus, there are Queen Bee male counterparts in the workplace, but they don’t get named and shamed. We must dismantle stereotyping and address unobvious issues that still sit underwater.”

Dlamini said that career progression is never going to be a linear process. She advised that growth comes from challenges and that sometimes a career requires a lateral move, stressing that a lateral move also means growth.

“We may not be moving up, but we are accumulating skills, which is in itself a promotion, and if you are serious about growth, consider a lateral move.

“Be clear on your ‘why’ – your personal brand. Everything must drive your why. Cultivate strong technology foundations and always remember that 70% of our growth is learning; there are always new skills in technology, so be credible in your technology conversations.

“Also be willing to take a leap of faith when a job spec crosses your desk. It’s been mentioned before, but men will jump at something even if they only fit 50% of the criteria. Women hold back, saying: “I have only nine out of 10 of the stated skills criteria. “We need to believe in ourselves and remember that the best learning comes from what happens on the job.”

Showcase skills

When it comes to not getting credit for their work, Dlamini said women need to share and showcase their skills and accomplishments. “It’s also important to let the individuals on your team present and bring ideas to the table. Even if, like me, you struggle with networking skills, these can be built! Get a coach! It’s very important that you make connections at work.

“When it comes to the importance of investing in women and driving change, this starts with me. This is relevant across the hierarchy and not just for leaders. Develop women, versus recruiting them. Be deliberate about supporting women-owned businesses and create space for women to grow. Address gender pay gaps. Women should be at least on a remuneration par with men.”

Moving into the panel discussion, moderated by White-Ndlovu, Dlamini was joined by Nirvani Dhevcharran, CTO: Platforms and Operations, The Foschini Group (TFG) Infotec, and Faith Burn, CIO, Eskom Holdings.

White-Ndlovu highlighted Dhevcharran’s passion for sustainability and mentioned that in 2019, the latter was the only South African woman to be selected to be part of a Global Leadership Programme for Women in STEM with a focus on sustainability. As part of this programme, she spent most of November 2023 in Antarctica to understand the human impact on this most pristine part of the world and was able to interact with other STEM women leaders. Asked to describe her experiences there, Dhevcharran said: “Antarctica was incredible, simply breathtaking. You were there in the moment – there is no cellphone coverage so there was a withdrawal period, which demonstrated how hooked we all are on technology. “There was huge diversity in group age, with the youngest being 25 and the oldest 70. Having always worked with men, I was unsure of how I would interact with 87 other women, but we shared some incredible experiences that brought us together.

“We were on an expedition ship and we bunked up together. There were times when we were not allowed outside, such as during a blizzard and when temperatures dropped to -100oC. It was a trip into unchartered waters and we saw so much – from whales and penguins to seals.”

Asked by White-Ndlovu why sustainability is so important, Dhevcharran said the core of her trip was to see the real impact of climate change.

“I saw the ice melting and affecting the krill for which the ice shelf is a critical shelter and feeding ground. Melting has disrupted the krill population and negatively affected the vital role it plays in feeding other Antarctic species, seriously diminishing their numbers.

“What I also found is that sustainability expectations are different for each country. However, through this networking opportunity, we were able to share lessons that we can also adopt.”

Talking about her own her career journey, Faith Burn said. “My time with Eskom has been the most rewarding – albeit challenging. It’s an honour to be able to tell my grandchildren that I served my country.

“My fundamental departure point for success is that you need to be prepared to make sacrifices. I have raised my children, but not always been the one to collect them from school, bathe or feed them, but I have been there for them when it really counts. Children will get to a stage where they realise what really matters.”

One point that was mentioned about being a senior executive is that it’s lonely at the top and underlined the importance of not glamourising holding top positions. Burn said: “I spent a significant amount of time chasing a title, but I needed to let go and chase growth, meaning and purpose.”

Hooked on technology

Also stressed at the event was that if women were in a toxic environment, they should vote with their feet into a different role or company.

In closing discussions, White-Ndlovu said how proud she was of the work Wired4Women has done and continues doing and introduced two new members who have joined the forum’s board: Discovery’s Dlamini and Telkom’s Chief Marketing Officer, Gugu Ntembu.

She also announced the launch of the only South African awards devoted exclusively to women in technology,; the Wired4Women Awards. “These awards will recognise the many achievements of women in different fields across the industry, with award categories carefully chosen in the areas of leadership, entrepreneurship, business and young talent,” concluded White-Ndlovu.