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Takeaways From the ‘Lead with Her’ Conference

By Jeanett Modise and Nana Phiri, 11 April 2022

Globally, 2.4 billion women of working age still don’t have equal economic opportunities. Now is the time to accelerate gender equity for a more sustainable future for all. At the recent ‘Lead with Her’ global conference, hosted by Duke Corporate Education and sponsored by Sanlam, women changemakers discussed how to lift one another up and #breakthebias.

Sanlam’s Group Human Resources Director, Jeanett Modise, and CEO: Sanlam Specialised Finance, Nana Phiri, joined two panel discussions addressing equality head-on. One of the biggest themes to emerge from the conference was that there is power in learning from each other. Women need to collaborate and support one another to live with confidence.

Jeanett Modise

Nana Phiri

Here, Modise and Phiri share what they learned from each other, their fellow panellists and the keynote speaker, Astronaut and Engineer, Dr Mae Jemison.

  1. The odds are stacked against women. But the sisterhood will prevail. It will take almost 122 years for the gender gap to close in sub-Saharan Africa, at the current pace. Currently, 178 countries still have legal barriers preventing women from full economic participation. In 86 countries, women face job restrictions. In 95 countries, women are not guaranteed equal pay for equal work. How do we change these data points into real action? Sharmla Chetty, CEO of Duke, said it is about being intentional about progress. COVID-19 has set us back. Now is the time to make a commitment and act together.
  2. The pipeline is not leaking; it’s broken: In a powerful video, former CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, spoke about how unconscious bias attacks women’s confidence, which attacks their competence. She believes the traditional nine-to-five job is set up for married men; it doesn’t necessarily work for women. The high drop-out level of females at management levels two and three attests to this. She says we need to ‘redefine work based on flexibility and care’.
  3. How can majority culture ‘do better’ at being allies? In a panel discussion, Modise spoke passionately about how company culture is dependent on the calibre of its leaders. “Real leadership is a team sport… Leaders need to create an environment of trust and empowerment where people can advance and be their best. We need to achieve a critical mass. We need the right leaders at the right level to be change agents for building equity. Leaders must be ‘sponsors’ who invest in the growth of others. Hire a leader who will be a multiplier who elevates and enables other women.” Leaders inspire others to live with confidence and lift one another. Samantha Hammock, Executive Vice President of Verizon, added that many key decision-makers want to be allies to women but aren’t sure how. It is a case of intelligently providing guidance to prompt people to support women in the right way.
  4. A word from the first-ever black woman in space: Dr Mae said that when she saw the earth from space for the first time, she was acutely aware of her connection to the universe. That she had just as much right to exist as any other speck of stardust. As the ‘first’, she said it wasn’t always plain sailing. “Staying in the room is not easy, but it’s necessary for those who come after.” She said it is time to turn up the heat and hold the gatekeepers responsible. Women typically do better than men in science and maths throughout school. So, why are there so few women in STEM subjects at university level? Who is turning women away? It is time to ask the tough questions.
  5. It is time to move from compliance to conviction: Dr Virginia Bastian, Global Head of Talent at Deutsche Bank, said now’s the time for senior leadership to hold themselves accountable. Deutsche Bank is using numbers and KPIs as its strategic levers to amplify equity. It is examining the role of attrition, promotion and hiring to move women up in the organisation. It is devoting time and resources to heatmapping where women ‘drop out’, through its ‘Listen, Learn and Change’ ventures. This places great emphasis on real-time course correction. It also sets out clear hiring KPIs to weed out any unconscious bias.
  6. We need to start the fires: Natalie Maroun, Managing Director of the Performance Agency, said that women need to be outraged by the glacial pace of change. “We need to get into good trouble. To become comfortable with the idea of being troublemakers. We are taught not to be fire starters. But now, we need to ask the uncomfortable questions. Turn up the heat. Refuse tokenism. And demand equal. Marginalising women marginalises the world.”
  7. Firsts need to become norms: Speaking on another panel, Phiri said that her promotion to CEO: Sanlam Specialist Finance was a fantastic win for women and gender equality in the workplace. But she wants to see ‘gender equity move from firsts to norms’. Seeing strong women in positions of power is inspiring for other women. Early on in her career, Phiri was inspired by seeing a black female heading up the equity sales trading desk. For her, it was an ‘aha moment’ of possibility. It shouldn’t be surprising to see women in top leadership roles. It needs to be the norm.

The biggest takeaway? Now’s the moment for less talk and more action. Ultimately, it’s time to #breakthebias and show women the money.

Watch a full recording of the global conference.

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