Women’s Dinner reveals the roadmap to the top

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Top women executives find out the secrets behind three powerhouses’ rise to prominence.

The CIO/CFO/CHRO Women’s Day celebration featured a panel discussion with the theme ‘At the Top and Beyond’. Christine Ramon, Bobo Mngxali, and Shabhana Thaver shared their valuable insights on the evolving definition of success at various stages of their lives.

Redefining purpose

Christine Ramon, former CFO and non-executive director, has led large corporations such as AngloGold Ashanti, Johnnic, and Sasol. After 35 years, Christine recently went into retirement, a move prompted by a personal tragedy – the sudden loss of her husband, who had been her greatest supporter throughout their 28-year marriage.

Christine lost her husband while at the helm of AngloGold Ashanti as CEO. She said, “However, during this time, I began to question my priorities. Balancing the demands of a high-level corporate job with extensive travel was pulling me in different directions, and I had to be honest with myself about this conflict. I realised the importance of maintaining wellbeing in all aspects of life, including family and friends, and came to the realisation that I couldn’t pour into my children and myself while burning on all cylinders.” Something had to give, and she realised it would have to be the demanding job.

Now, at the age of 55, Christine is in the process of discovering the next phase of her life. She believes that now is the time to invest in herself, her family, and explore new opportunities.

While her profession and status may have defined how people perceived her in the past, she recognises that true self-definition comes from within, not from others. “I am eager to expand my horizons, find new purpose, and make a positive impact in the lives of others. Drawing from my 35 years of professional experience, I want to use my knowledge and skills to empower and support other women.”

Leading intelligently

Bobo Mngxali, the head of people and culture at Roche Diagnostics, spoke about the importance of emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence at work and beyond.
Prior to starting her career, she faced numerous challenges, including being a teenage mother and feeling like she had disappointed her parents. “I was determined to prove myself and thought winning in the corporate world would help me achieve this. I was so driven to excel that even after the tragic loss of my husband and despite being in a fast-paced environment, I still wanted to prove that I was the best.”

However, the leaders at her organisation recognized that she needed time to heal and gave her space to do so. “Their ability to see what I needed when I didn’t, taught me that emotional intelligence in leaders is crucial.”

To illustrate spiritual intelligence she pointed to her journey which took her from being a young widow who battled with suicidal thoughts, to a woman who has healed and now runs an organisation that supports other young widows. She explained that, “This initiative was born out of my own pain, and it exemplifies the power of spiritual intelligence in responding to and positively impacting others.”
By cultivating emotional and spiritual intelligence, Bobo said professionals can unlock their full potential and become catalysts for positive change. “These qualities enable individuals to not only excel in their careers but also contribute to the greater good. They serve as beacons of inspiration, radiating compassion, integrity, and authenticity in all their endeavours.”

Leading with being human first

Despite being at the forefront of the technology agenda, Investec CIO Shabana Thaver’s primary focus lies not on technology itself, but rather on leadership. She firmly believes that, “Just as we have successfully navigated previous industrial revolutions, we will overcome the challenges posed by the current one.” She envisions a future where humans and technology co-exist in perfect harmony, working together to achieve remarkable feats.

Shabana emphasised the importance of understanding that different roles require different skills and time investments as professionals evolve. She said, “Initially, it is crucial to lead oneself by being self-driven and motivated. As one progresses to leading others, the focus shifts to sharing expertise, providing context, and influencing them. Leading leaders, on the other hand, requires a coaching style where one values their expertise while guiding them towards success.”

Now, as Shabana lives the responsibility of leading a function and a business, she recognises the interconnectedness across various areas. She humbly acknowledges that even in the realm of technology, she does not possess all the answers for the future. “Instead, I direct my attention towards empathy and purpose, and firmly believe that as a complex adaptive system, we can collectively make decisions and thrive.” As a leader, she considers it her duty to facilitate this process.

She said that the traditional notion of a glass ceiling has evolved into a floor, serving as a starting point for women to ascend further. “Instead of viewing these barriers as obstacles, women should strive to break through limitations and boldly claim their place in the world.”

Words of wisdom

When asked for advice for their younger selves, Christine emphasised the importance of laying a solid foundation for a successful career. She stressed the significance of acquiring proper educational qualifications and gaining valuable experience, reminding us that success doesn’t happen overnight. Christine encouraged hard work and doing one’s best in their current position.
Furthermore, Christine advised that it is crucial to align oneself with the culture of the company they are in. “If you feel like you don’t fit in or lack support from their manager, it may be time to consider making a change. Trusting one’s instincts and ensuring personal values align with business values is essential.”

Bobo highlighted the importance of having a teachable spirit and not rushing to learn. Building a strong foundation is key to climbing the corporate ladder and additionally, feedback, although sometimes difficult to accept, should be embraced as a gift.
Both mentors stressed the importance of surrounding oneself with coaches, sponsors and mentors who can share their knowledge.
Shabana advised young professionals to embrace intersectionality. She believes that our diverse experiences, cultures, genders, races, and more shape our identities, and that embracing and expressing this intersectionality leads to greater diversity.

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