Entrepreneur, speaker and author Donna Rachelson shares her top 10 strategies to help you stand out from the crowd at work from her book, “Play to Win – what women can learn from men in business”.
For more insights from Donna Rachelson, or to buy one of her insightful books, visit: http://donnarachelson.com/
This is an edited version of content from her book, “Play to Win – what women can learn from men in business.”
Knowing that what I do at the office every day, no matter how mundane, will have far-reaching effects on the lives of women in South Africa’s rural areas has made all the difference to my career and I know that my colleagues at WDB Investment Holdings and WDB Trust feel the same way.
The WDB story is an incredible one and the organisation celebrated its 25th-anniversary last year. The WDB Trust was founded earlier in 1991 with the objective of making a contribution to nation-building and poverty alleviation in rural South Africa by providing access to microfinance for rural women entrepreneurs. However, WDBIH soon realised that being an investor in large blue-chip companies, whose boards and leadership were largely male and white, created an opportunity for it to advocate for women’s advancement into senior management and leadership positions in the companies in which it invested. This included insisting on companies’ board seats.
To say this was challenging is an understatement. In almost all cases, we were not taken seriously by potential investee companies when we insisted on board seats and when we asked pointed questions about their women advancement strategies. As a newly established organisation founded and led by women who were well-educated but with limited commercial experience and no track record in investment management or business leadership, we had to learn by doing. Despite these challenges, we persisted, as we were driven not by personal positions or gain but by a vision to play a role in the transformation of our country. With the backing by other women and a few forward-thinking men, WDB continues to push for the increased participation of women in its investee companies.
Over the past 20 years, we have invested in more than 20 entities, ranging from blue-chip listed companies to privately-owned small and medium-sized companies. We have board seats in most of these companies. On average, these companies have over 25% female representation on their boards. What are the factors that have contributed to our success?
1. A purpose and values-driven organization—The founding principle of WDB was to serve women and make a difference in their lives. Purpose is one of the key success factors in business. One of our key values is pioneering and innovation, therefore, when we make an investment decision, we don’t just look at the figures, we also look at how we can enhance the partnership and assist our partners to do business differently.
2. Leadership—Good leadership is required in order for a purpose to be achieved. Good leaders guard the organisation’s mission and values, ensuring it doesn’t deviate from its core values. WDB’s leadership exemplifies these qualities, starting with its founder, Mrs Zanele Mbeki, who is motivated by the upliftment and growth of others.
3. Developing and nurturing partnerships and relationships—Without strong and loyal partners, it’s difficult to make one’s business a success. In the case of WDBIH, these relationships include our investment partners, funders, co-investors and other women’s organisations. Thus, it is critical to invest in relationships, never taking them for granted.
4. Hard work and perseverance—Ultimately, the grand purpose and vision must be executed by the people, who are every organisation’s greatest asset. A motivated and engaged workforce is critical to the successful implementation of the strategy.
Why should South African business leaders care about women advancement in their companies? The issue of increasing women’s participation in the economy is not unique to South Africa. Research shows that, over the past 20 years, there has been a steady increase in women’s representation in senior and leadership positions globally. However, women’s representation is still far below where it should be in relation to the world’s population. In its Women Matter Africa report, released in August 2016, McKinsey & Company surveyed 55 leading companies in Africa and interviewed 35 African women leaders. It found that, while Africa has achieved significant progress in women representation in leadership positions over the past 20 years, it is still far from achieving gender equality in the boardrooms. On average, women held 27% of senior leadership positions in African businesses. However, when one digs deeper, one finds that women still do not hold “influential positions”.
According to the research, in the private sector, more than half of senior women occupy staff roles rather than the roles from which promotions to CEO typically occur. In South Africa, at senior levels of JSE-listed companies, the proportion is around 27% female; at board level, it is about 24% female and, according to a PWC survey of JSE-listed companies, fewer than 4% of CEO positions are held by women. Why should we care about the equal participation of women in our economy? According to the recently published UNDP Africa Human Development Report 2016, released in August 2016, it is estimated that the total annual economic losses due to gender inequality in the Sub-Saharan African labour market have averaged US$95 billion a year since 2010. Furthermore, the report makes it clear that countries that invest more in gender equality and women’s empowerment are outperforming their peers in terms of human development. Among the biggest challenges we face are lacklustre growth and a critical skills shortage, yet more than 50% of the population is not given an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the economy.
It is time that the issue of gender inclusivity is elevated to the highest level, rather than being treated merely as a compliance matter. The barriers to success for women who have chosen to advance their careers are common across the globe. They include the lack of flexibility afforded to women as their personal lives change (such as when they start a family), rigid corporate cultures that are not open to change, leading to women feeling isolated at times and cases of persisting sexism, which affect women’s participation. Research shows that companies with a greater share of women on boards and executive committees tend to perform far better in the long term, as diverse leadership teams bring different perspectives and balance on matters such as risk management, marketing and client engagement and innovation.
Possible solutions I believe that more drastic steps must be taken to improve these numbers so that, 20 years from now, we can look back and point to a significant increase in women’s economic participation. This requires consensus and then deliberate implementation by decision-makers in government and the private sector. The senior female representation targets as part of employment equity must be doubled, as the current targets will not make a dent in changing the position of women in our economy. Women’s development should be on executive committees’ and boards’ agendas and should be monitored and measured. As a nation, we should be making the issue of women’s under-representation in our economy one of our top priorities if we are to seriously leverage talent and skills in growing this economy. With the right leadership focus and drive, South Africa can become a leader in women’s empowerment in Africa and will reap the benefits in the long term.
Faith N. Khanyile CEO and Founding member of WDB Investment Holdings (WDBIH)
The deliberations that took place on the first day of the WDB Dialogue, have propmpted me to write this piece.Whilst the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in itself a good idea for the country politically- its main drawback was that it was a political process. Thus it could not address issues that were economic in nature , without such a process to produce those results.That is why at the end of it , the same State which initiated it, and was not responsible for all the atrocities ended up carrying the can of redress to the victims of those atrocities.
What was missing and has been missing for all these twenty two years has been an inquiry into the manner in which wealth accumulation by a few had taken place, at the expense of the majority. The levels of inequality have become so gross and grotesque that the explanation that those at the top of the economic ladder did so through sheer grit and hardwork is just not sufficient.
There is more to it than this. The notion that those at the top did so through their own bootstraps just does not cut it.
In its latest report, July, 2016, the African Business , has an End Note, right at the back, highlighting rising levels of inequality globally, as well as in countries like Africa. It quotes Kofi Anan, as Chair of the Africa Progress Panel , saying:
“ Disparities in basic life chances -for health,education and participation in society – are preventing millions of Africans from realizing their potential, holding back social and economic progress in the process.”
If this is true of the general population, it is even more so when it comes to women in Africa, suffering tripple oppression of race, class and gender.
Anan further warned of the long term risks of rising inequality and the marginalization of entire sectors of societies – pre-eminently women.
The report goes on to say that :
“ it would be naïve to think that the dynamic of inequality will simply work themselves out. It will require determined leadership from political, business and society leaders across the continent to ensure Anan,s bleak observation does not hold for long.”
The report observes :
“ While there is nothing inherently wrong with wealth, such disparity should unnerve ordinary citizens, policymakers and business alike. Inequality is increasing in virtually every country globally today and there is little indication this will change any time soon. History is replete with examples of what happens when the gap between the haves and have nots becomes unsustainable , none of them appealing.”
This lies at the heart of a call for an Economic Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which would look into those situations where trickery, chicanery and fraud were used in the accumulation of wealth, with or without State collusion, and appropriate redress be fashioned for those closest to such victimization.
Those at the top of the economic ladder must be called upon to account as to how they got there and make amends voluntarily so, otherwise our courts must adjudicate disputes, as it is their function, to administer justice, without fear or favour.
The aim of it all is not vindictiveness, but to begin to chart a new way of doing business, unashamedly ethical, and to embed values like , live and let live, lift as you rise , love people first, and steward the land and other economic resources. These value are immanent and form an integral part of Ubuntu. Who can better teach these values than women?
An Afrikaner farmer in the Western Cape ,Kosie Van Zyl , made the point I found profound that they , white people made the mistake of not loving the people of the land first, and then steward the land. Instead they fell in love with the land, and despised the people on the land. He has turned people who ex-farm workers and farm dwellers , who were destitute and without hope in life, into farm owners of three farms , just outside Caledon, in Napier. Women are at the centre of the project, also running a Guest House, Agri-Dwala : www.agri-dwala.co.za.
It will be appreciated that historically from the earliest contact between indigenous people and those coming from foreign lands , the world over, at the heart of land dispossessions and other economic resources and means of livelihood, was an economic motive , over and above the political motive.Until the economic dimension is explored and put right in time, there is a social time bomb that is ticking away.
Those sitting pretty at the top of the economic ladder will say there is no point in breaking up the cake and sharing it among many, it will have the effect of shrinkage, and so will be the effect on the economy. Nothing could be further from the truth, there is a law that says what is shared increases. Those who are excluded presently and have been for decades, with no means to participate, will now gain some means to participate in the economy and thus grow it.
Growth of the economy as it is presently structured only benefits the few at the top. As a matter of fact growth and inclusivity are not mutually exclusive.The Africa Progress Panel observed :
“ Despite more than a decade of sustained growth, there is growing concern over the lack of inclusiveness of this growth.”
When government itself is not being exemplary, when boards like the Government Employees Pensions Fund ( GEPF)consists solely of men, where is inclusiveness in this. How will the women be in a position to influence how trillions of pension funds are invested?
If women were also around the table where decisions are made, the agenda would change. For example , where government only invests R100 million towards a programme aimed empowering women to access and own land, such as One Woman, One hectare of land, it would invest R1billion in a Revolving Loan Fund, like One Acre Fund and have a target of funding 1million women farmers by 2030. One farmer, on average can support five people in a household, this by extrapolation means that five million people would be lifted out of poverty.
It is this dreaming big that will radically change the high levels of inequality, and move the country towards making poverty history.
Anything less is like playing while Rome is burning. The youth is very angry about the lack of radical change in their lives. They say clearly and unequivocally, that they are no longer going to put up with having to buy milk from their own cow, now they want both the cow and the milk, because they both belong to them.
It is not as if we do not have the means, but we lack is a political will to make it happen. We also lack a sense of urgency, about has to happen. Before we are overrun by events, as a country , we need to move swiftly and introduce measures that will convince them that we mean business. The moment is now !
“ There is tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads to fortune. Omitted all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries. On such a full sea we are now afloat” W. Shakespeare.
As a country we need to move and move swiftly and decicively.
WDB and SAWID possibly need to have an Advocacy and Lobbying Portfolio where these issues and others are to be kept on the Nation,s radar screen, all the time, until they are attended to.
This is just one of them.WDB and SAWID have the moral authority, and have earned their stripes as a voice for women to raise this issue and others that will contribute to women, s total emancipation, economically, culturally and otherwise.
By : Dr Wallace Amos Mgoqi.
12 JULY ,2016.
Mathapelo Mthembu, , dreamed of becoming a famous film director. That was until she sat down with her accounting teacher at Mokgome Senior Secondary School in Soweto who gave her insight into the accounting profession and the wonderful world of numbers.
Today this junior accountant is well on her way to fulfilling her ambition of becoming a fully-fledged Professional Accountant , thanks to investment giant WDB Investment Holdings (WDBIH).
Mthembu came straight from the University of Johannesburg to become the first candidate on the company's fledgling learnership programme that aims to produce young, female Professional Accountants.
The WDBIH was formed in 1996 to enhance and promote the upliftment of rural women (through the WDB Trust founded by, among others, former First Lady Zanele Mbeki) and entrepreneurs.
Today it has grown into the country's leading women-owned and led focused investment firms, with interests in key sectors of the economy including financial services (banks and insurance), health, industrial services, property, retail as well as the oil and media sectors, with a net asset value of just under R3-billion as at their year end March 2015
Over the years these long-term investments have raised more than R165-million for the WDB Trust, with over 100 000 rural women entrepreneurs also benefitting.
Two years ago, as part of a holistic growth and transformation strategy, WDBIH also initiated an enterprise fund which offers loans of between R50 000 and R500 000 to female entrepreneurs, particularly those involved in agriculture, agro processing, green industries and specialised services.
As part of this growth strategy, says finance manager Rose Mamabolo, WDBIH also seeks to aggressively "grow its own timber" through initiatives such as the learnership programme.
She says: "This is the first year of the programme, with WDBIH seeing skills development as crucial to its core business. At the moment it encompasses a training contract with the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA). To participate, candidates must have a National Diploma in Accounting or equivalent."
Mamabolo says the programme is structured according to the curriculum requirements of SAIPA, which include financial accounting, taxation, internal controls, management accounting and business management.
"Even though we have just started with Mathapelo as our first candidate, we have already identified a junior bookkeeper within the company whom we are grooming to also participate in the programme."
Mamabolo also serves as Mthembu's mentor, something the latter describes as "invaluable", saying: "She has such a wealth of knowledge to teach me about the profession and shares her knowledge and personal experiences about her career path."
On WDBIH, Mthembu says: "Being here does not feel like working at all. I love the fact that I am constantly learning, because with accounting there is always something new. I say that my preoccupation is now an occupation."
She says she is especially proud to be working for a company with the ethos and principles of WDBIH. "It is an impact investor – that is, an investment company with a conscience which uses its profits towards the economic upliftment of rural communities. It is also women-owned and run and dedicated to the upliftment of those previously excluded from participating in the economy."
And, says WDBIH CEO Faith Khanyile, this is what underpins the company's strategic plan. "WDBIH seeks to add value to its investments strategically, through board participation, assisting investee companies in their business growth plans and helping drive women empowerment and transformation strategies."
Khanyile says the successful portfolio of equity investments WDBIH has in both established and growing businesses is testimony to its success.
The company today has interests in local and multinational companies, including Bidvest, Discovery, FirstRand, Assupol, Ascendis Health, Safari Investments, International Housing Solutions, Anglo Inyosi Coal, Maemo Motors, and even in local radio stations Algoa FM and Smile 90.4FM. In April the company acquired shares in Woolworths in a R500-million deal.
This spirit of "women investing in women" - which is WDBIH's motto - is not lost on Mthembu. "I was raised by my mom who dared me to dream. I am who I am today because of her. When people compliment me, I tell them that the praise actually belongs to her. She defied the odds, shaped and empowered me and transformed me into a strong woman.
Faith Khanyile, WDB Investment Holding CEO
The transformation message from this year’s women’s month can guide us to recovery from the current global financial turmoil, says Faith Khanyile, CEO and co-founder of WDB Investment Holdings.
The growing turmoil in international financial markets is a stark reminder that despite progress in transformation over the past two decades, women remain particularly vulnerable economically.
Within corporates, women tend to take up issues of inclusivity and diversity more passionately than men.
Yet the advances in gender parity that we saw in the first decade of our democracy have not been extended and women are not moving up the ranks fast enough to make a difference to our society.
In the previous global financial crisis, corporates retreated into survival mode. They guarded their narrow concept of the financial bottom line, neglecting to develop their human resources.
Transformation programmes were parked and participation of women at senior corporate levels, for example, either stagnated or moved backwards.
According to the Grant Thornton International Business Report 2014, the percentage of senior management positions in South Africa occupied by women has remained fairly static for the past seven years at between 26% and 28%.
Currently, there is a threat that the country could enter a recession. And that is exactly why we need to harness all the talents and resources we have available.
If women are allowed to become victims of financial uncertainty once again, their own development and the futures of their children could be significantly set back if not derailed. It is vital for the country’s economy and for its social development goals in fields such as education and health that we do not again side-line women because women can be the rock-solid foundation for great achievements.
Many still do not have the capacity to control their environment and are held back from taking their rightful place in the development of a democratic and non-sexist South Africa. South Africa has an overall gender gap of 25 % (as measured by economic participation and opportunity, education, health and political empowerment). Additionally, the private sector pay gap in South Africa is 35.5% according to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report of October 2013.
I was fortunate to be brought up in rural Zululand by parents who treated their girl and boy children equally, offering both great opportunities. My parents progressed from selling vegetables to running a general store in KwaBiyela township outside Empangeni, stocking everything from meat to soft goods.
They gave us whatever opportunities they could manage and my brother became a chemist, my sister an accountant. Because I had enjoyed seeing business in action from an early age, I went on to study economics at university.
My mother was a strong woman and very entrepreneurial. She remains to me a model of how women can develop. She and my father did not shape their daughters’ choices towards gender-specific careers such as nursing. Giving girl children confidence to develop their talents starts in the family.
Without the inspiration and the opportunities my parents gave me, I would not have been able to launch my career in private equity or had the assertiveness nearly two decades ago to be one of the co-founders of WDB Investment Holdings, which has built up its net asset value from a zero base to just under R3 billion over that period. I would not have been equipped to spend more than a decade in corporate investment banking and benefit from the generous support of mentors and sponsors who guided my development within that environment.
As a vital complement to formal transformation programmes, informal networks are important to assist promising and ambitious women, though they have tended to use these networks less than men do. Beyond technical competence, they need to develop self-awareness and resilience, to become proactive and assertive.
At WDBIH we work to achieve this in three ways. We prefer meaningful and strategic participation at board level in our investments. This includes encouraging transformation agendas.
We include shopping malls in townships and rural towns and affordable housing funds among our chosen investments. We also contribute to South Africa’s social and economic transformation imperatives through our enterprise development fund, which provides loan funding and business support to women’s businesses.
The loans range from ZAR50 000 to ZAR300 000. To date more than ZAR165 million in investment dividends has been channelled to the WDB Trust, which focuses on supporting women entrepreneurship and community development particularly in rural areas. The fact that women are so heavily concentrated in the SMME sector shows how difficult it is for them to scale up their businesses and break into the larger corporate value chain as suppliers.
Finally, within WDBIH we recently introduced a learnership programme providing unemployed women graduates with finance and accounting qualifications, relevant skills and training. At all levels we are living our mission to increase the participation of women in the South African economy, leading to a fairer and more equitable society.
Women’s Month has been an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of women to developing our democracy and refocus on ways to transform their opportunities to use their talents to the best advantage of themselves, their families and our society as a whole. Let us take that message forward in the months ahead, undaunted by the financial climate and realising that to limit our country’s pool of talent by undermining transformation efforts is to place barriers to the growth of the nation we love.
Faith Khanyile, WDB Investment Holding Chief Executive Officer
Many corporates and financial institutions talk the empowerment talk. But one investment company, WDB Investment Holdings (WDBIH), really walks the talk.Faith-Khanyile-awards
From CEO Faith Khanyile, through the founder of WDB Trust, Mrs Zanele Mbeki, to the company’s investment executives, all are women who know how empowerment can energise businesses, careers and lives.
“We live out our vision – women investing in women,” says Mrs Khanyile, a founder member of WDBIH who has been associated with the company for more than 20 years. “We ensure that we invest in our colleagues as carefully as we do in well-chosen companies.”
“We nominated Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, our non-executive chairperson – who also serves on the boards of several mining companies, among others – to study development economics in Nagoya, Japan. This was part of WDB’s vision of increasing women’s capacity to control their environment and to take their rightful place in the development of a democratic and non-sexist South Africa.”
WDBIH was founded in 1996. By 31 December 2014, the company had a net asset value (NAV) of just over R2.7 billion, following a compound annual growth rate of 28% cent over the past three years. “We achieved this by leveraging our extensive experience and relationships in raising significant amounts of capital to finance our investments,” says Mrs Khanyile. “The NAV performance has also enabled us to distribute dividends to the WDB Trust to the extent of R165 million so far.”
WDBIH targets investments in a range of sectors, from property and consumer goods and services to education and financial services. Recent new investments include a limited partner interest in an affordable housing fund, International Housing Solutions; a direct equity investment in Ascendis Health, complementing its anchor health investment in Discovery Limited; and a direct equity stake in JSE-listed IT services provider Adapt IT. In January this year WDBIH increased its shareholding in the FirstRand Group, one of its earliest investments.
“We are active investing partners and seek board representation in all our key investments,” says Mrs Khanyile. “We believe this allows us to have meaningful strategic influence while we add value to our investments, as well as to bring the women’s perspective to business.
“In turn, the WDB Trust, which turns 25 in 2016, helps us fulfil our mission – the economic upliftment of women in South Africa, particularly focusing on rural women. The rural household is our key target that allows us to access both women and children, as well as the wider community.”
In 2012, WDBIH founded the WDBIH Enterprise Development (ED) Fund to address the gap in funding and business support for SMMEs – with a specific focus on women entrepreneurs. “We are aiming to increase access to unsecured debt financing and business development services by supporting women entrepreneurs to build financial security,” explains Mrs Khanyile. “This includes training and facilitating access to markets, working with a number of strategic partners in target sectors.
“To help grow this fund, our strategy is to leverage corporate CSI and ED spending. In the medium term, we aim to increase the fund size to R50 million.”
Generating steady cash-flow is vital to allow WDB Trust and WDB ED to carry out their mission, points out Mrs Khanyile. “We also generally arrange to receive trickle dividends or performance management fees to sustain our cash-flow.”
She further notes that “Our all-women management team has a combined experience of more than 40 years in banking and finance, investment management and enterprise development.”