Visionary woman leader Emda Fourie explains what women can get right

Momentum Corporate’s Emda Fourie says women are uniquely placed to change the sector.

Emda Fourie’s career started off at one of the oldest insurance houses in Namibia which led her into employee benefits. “I found that I enjoyed solving problems and finding ways to improve the benefits offered to my clients.” In 2000 a client nominated her for the Namibian Business Woman award, in recognition of the huge impact she was making to the employees of her clients.

“I moved to Johannesburg in 2007 to head up the Corporate BacAssurance division for one of the banks,” she recalls. “This was probably the most challenging thing I have ever done, as I had no network and had to build relationships with both clients and service providers to grow my book.”

However, she missed the fast-paced and entrepreneurial world of consulting, and returned to employee benefits where over time, she morphed more into management than direct consulting to clients, which she continues to do in her role as Momentum Corporate advice and administration head of employee benefits consulting.

Women-led shifts
Speaking on the opportunities that are available for women in financial services, she says, “In my opinion we currently sit on massive opportunities for women to play a strategic role in an industry that is still leaned towards the needs and desires of men, and I think if we look at how many women are in the workplace and the pressures on their lives, there is an opportunity to shape how companies respond to their specific needs as providers, mothers and other roles they occupy.”

Emda notes that as women’s financial independence and security increases and as more and more single households are headed by women, now is the time for female financial planners to emerge.

She says, “The financial services industry is still skewed towards the needs of men. Now is the time for female financial planners to change how we show up for our female customers. We have an opportunity to influence the solutions and products offered to female clients.”

She says women uniquely understand the dreams a mother has for her children and the pressures a single mother has. “Who better to support those women by ensuring appropriate financial products and services are provided to alleviate some of their stresses? It’s for us to find the right solutions for women to be at peace knowing that they have been assisted by a financial services expert who understands their circumstances and has tailored solutions to them.”

Doing things differently
Emda has drawn a lot of lessons from the past year and a half. Top of mind is the realisation that pre-Covid-19 we were not using technology optimally.

“For example, a one-hour meeting in Bloemfontein takes up the whole day, between driving to the airport, checking in, boarding, getting to the office, travelling back, and also encroaching on the time of the person hosting you. That saving in time and convenience, and the ability to now spend more time with family, or fit in more in your day, has been an eyeopener,” she explains.

As a result, the organisation has reduced travelling to almost none and the business evolved to being fully functional remotely. “We introduced a hybrid solution where employees have the option when to work from home and when to work at the office. Across levels and teams, we are doing more regular check-ins than ever before, really leading with empathy and compassion.”

One of the favourite initiatives is ‘Wellness Wednesdays’. This is where a Wednesday is not only blocked out from meetings, but the company also provides fitness sessions for the entire family on a Wednesday afternoon. She says, “The idea is that you have a fun half hour of activity. We have found that with being at home in front of screens all day, we sit too much these days, which is not healthy in the long run. Personally, I have sent a little house drop to my team with a skipping rope to encourage staff to start being more active.”

Lightbulb moments
On a personal level, Emda says the pandemic has been a challenging time, but has also been an opportunity to count her blessings. “I appreciate that working from home has allowed me to share three meals with my husband on most days. Also, now that we have realised how great video chats are, I have logged in and had some chats with my mom in Namibia on Teams. We catch up and drink coffee together virtually, and 18 months ago I didn’t think of that.”

Additionally, she has realised how important it is to set boundaries, but adds, “Instilling boundaries at this time is hard to do so regardless of how well-intended they are, or how firm you try to be in your resolution. In the past year, the lines between home and work have blurred, and personal time and working time have merged, so it is important to set those parameters for yourself.”

Approach to gender
Emda appreciates how inclusive Momentum is as a company and says this reflects in their policies, which were created to provide benefits that suit male and female staff equally and are really created to provide extra support to employees. As an example, Momentum has arranged for a company to drop off breakfast at the office for employees so that, if they are rushing in the morning, they don’t starve at work. “This alleviates some of the pressure from those working moms who have to rush to get their children to school in the morning.”

She says the company’s flexible working conditions reduce pressure on parents. “We recognise the added demand on moms (and dads) to teach their little ones at home, and at times they have to give up a laptop for an online class.” The company accommodates these challenges and focuses more on output than hard and fast rules.

As someone who is naturally drawn to the silver lining Emda adds, “However I think this challenge comes with a blessing for families of today, I think younger parents may not realise it, but your kids are small for short period of time and we usually rush through it because we are going to the office or heading into a meeting. But being at home working and schooling together is valuable time that parents previously never got to enjoy. “

Tomorrow’s workplace
“I suspect that in the workplace of tomorrow remote working will remain a large part” says Emda. “It is my hope and desire that I will be a role model. We now have a far closer lens on each other, so it’s not about talking about something, but also living it.” She wishes to be someone who will provide an example of how to show up every morning, someone who practises self-care and someone who has set boundaries and maintains them.

“I hope that I will remain involved enough in the lives of my colleagues and team members to enable me to provide guidance, assistance and an empathetic ear. As a problem solver by nature, I envisage myself being active in pre-empting the needs of our clients and finding fresh solutions to fulfil those needs.”