Women need to invest in understanding themselves better

Speaking at a recent webinar, AECI's Candice Watson said women need to play to their strengths.

On Tuesday, 4 August, South Africa’s leading women in finance and HR gathered online to kick off Women’s Month with a CHRO South Africa webinar about how women in business can be true to themselves. 

“There’s only one woman CFO in the top 40 JSE-listed companies and women make up only a fifth of the directors that serve on the boards of JSE-listed companies,” CFO South Africa editor in chief Georgina Guedes said, pointing out the necessity for women to claim that space. “However, we would be forgiven for thinking that one of the ways to do this is to act more like men and be less true to ourselves as women.” 

To prove the contrary, Georgina introduced leadership practitioner Inge Walters, who said that women need to invest in understanding themselves better. “As a management consultant in a mostly male-dominated environment, there were many things that I initially found hard. One of them was finding my voice – quite physically,” she said, explaining that she had struggled to speak up during meetings as she believed she could only speak when she had something important to say, which wasn’t a concern that held any of her male colleagues back. 

However, it wasn’t a question of whether she wanted to or should be authentic, but Inge didn’t know what that could look like. “I needed to invest in understanding myself better, but also to look at those limiting beliefs, understanding and recognising that there are both external and internal barriers that are more difficult for women to control,” she said. “When I was able to work on that, together with my strengths and potential triggers, I could live more into my authentic self. 

AECI group human capital executive Candice Watson agreed that the only way to be competitive and have a value proposition in today’s world is to really get a good understanding of your inherent strengths, to play to those strengths, embrace them and develop them. 

“I’ve often grappled with how to remain authentic in my role and how to merge that with the organisation's interests,” Candice said. “I have found that you can’t speak up for anyone else if you’re not able to speak up for yourself.”

She explained that, if you haven’t taken the time to understand who you are, what your unique skill set is and the contribution you bring into any role, you’re already behind the curve in terms of being able to speak up. 

Candice, who is currently doing her PhD in business administration and management at UCT, then highlighted two of the factors that perpetuate the underrepresentation of women in the workforce. 

One of these factors is that “boys clubs” (like golfing and cycling clubs) are still very relevant. “Socialising and social activity outside of the workplace still influences work-related decisions, and women are still being excluded from these clubs and those decision-making processes,” she said. 

Another factor is the work-life integration of women. “Women still want to be able to make the choice of being a mom, but every time you are not at a PTA meeting because you have to work late or travel, the first question is always: ‘who’s taking care of the kids?’” She said that it makes women doubt whether they should be there or at home taking care of their children. 

McKinsey research has shown that women can change the culture in an organisation. “If women are not doing things in a way that’s authentic to themselves, then the culture of the organisation doesn’t change. Only when women are authentic do you start seeing different kinds of leadership behaviours from the stereotypical form of leadership,” Inge said.

She explained that, through research, it has been proven that women being their true selves can advance decision making and improve performance in any organisation.