If you don’t speak,
you won’t be heard


Tshepo Ncube

Head Global Corporates Africa,
Absa Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB)


Research indicates that teams with greater gender diversity across their workforce and leadership will outperform a non-diverse one. South Africans celebrated Women's month during August, a reminder for some that organisations should challenge their stakeholders to see how they are performing on this metric.

Having worked at Absa for just over 5 years. it excites me to be part of a company that is not only actively addressing this issue to include more female voices in key decision-making roles but is also reaping the benefits of this long-term investment.

In the last 2 years alone, CIB has brought in females from across the finance industry who have brought their own networks, skills, and clients and this has transformed into a direct contribution to the bottom line.

This is not by chance, but rather by deliberately identifying these women and investment in a working environment in which women can thrive.

This can be attributed to three deliberate focus points.

Women own the narrative… and it’s not empathetic

The first is how leadership styles are characterised when looking to introduce diversity.

In many cases, organisations elevate women into leadership positions on the basis that they will “Keep the peace” or “Deal with the softer elements of the operations”. This unfortunately creates an environment where internal biases persist or are even accentuated.

There is a material difference between empathetic leadership and being there to rubber-stamp decisions. Building communities that guide perceptions to ensure women’s leadership skills are perceived correctly is part of the solution to success.

There is no question that empathetic leadership has its place but as an organisation, Absa is well on the path of creating an environment where women are recognized and rewarded for their skill sustainably, rather than supporting campaigns that’s simply rolled out as platitudes when Women’s Month arrives, or a Sustainability Report needs to be completed. One of the many internal initiatives to change the narrative is Absa’s participation in the United Nations’ HeForShe programme. HeForShe informs perspectives by creating awareness about the importance of gender equality. The programme gives men a platform to stand in solidarity with women by signing a pledge not to engage in behaviours that are discriminatory or harmful to women.

As Women’s Month has drawn to a close and the social media and marketing teams move on to the next cause, we need to ensure that women in our businesses are not simply placed on temporary pedestals – they also need to be protected and supported internally by the perceptions of colleagues to fill their rightful place in leadership positions, all year round.

Currency of success

The second is networking.

Women still struggle to network, and when they do network, the connections they build are not as strong as those of their male counterparts. Men are often able to transition work relationships into social relationships – such as a round of golf – but women still struggle in this regard.

This is unfortunate as networking is the currency of success.

It’s too often that we encounter women who outperform their colleagues but when it’s time to get promoted they’re overlooked. Often it is because of the capacity in investing in the right relationships. As ex-chair and sponsor of the Banking on Women (BoW) initiative that was born in 2014, I am very passionate about uplifting women and ensuring they have the know-how of building the right networks.

As somebody building a high-performance team, the message needs to be clear:

“If you don’t speak up, you won’t be heard”

Absa has invested significantly in creating an enabling environment in which this can be done. BoW, as an example, was developed to help women speak up by focusing on the following four pillars:

  1. Unleash - Empower women with the “Know How” and remove hurdles to their success
  2. Connect - Create connection sessions for women to grow their insights and expand their networks
  3. Lead - Link women to relevant platforms to build and showcase their Talents
  4. Integrate - Allow women to bring their whole self to work

BoW cements the currency of success by accelerating the advancement and professional growth of women across Absa CIB, leveraging the capabilities of women, allowing opportunities to network and providing resources to support and build, communities.

It’s not just about women

The third consideration is that building a diverse workforce or leadership team is not just about women or building women-focused initiatives.

As the leading Pan-African banking group, Absa will shortly be launching the 100 Women in Finance initiative in Kenya and one of the key messages from this global movement is that men have a very real role to play in the advancement of women inside of organisations.

Female empowerment and leadership initiatives are necessary to guide women through the ranks and create a world where every woman wake up with the confidence to contribute and they need to be able to depend on their male counterparts to support them for the right reasons. When women are placed in organisations that train and develop leaders and have a culture of inclusion by appointing women into positions of influence– they will make an impact no matter the environment they find themselves in – and it will reflect in the bottom-line.

Absa’s journey has been deliberate and has yielded some success in this respect. Our work to create an environment where women can not only speak but be heard has resulted that we are able to attract confident, capable women to invest in an inclusive uplifting Africanacity future.

Tshepo Ncube

Head Global Corporates Africa, Absa Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB)

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