August is Women’s Month, and in celebration of Women’s Month, FAnews spoke to a few women about what it takes to be a leading lady in the 21st century, what being a successful woman means and more!

The time for women is now

“I believe it has been the time for women for a while, already, and it is gratifying to see women continuing to make strides in various sectors of society. In 2021, the proportion of women in senior leadership roles was 31% (7% higher than in 2020), a record high at that point. Research published in the Harvard Business Review further supports this: it saw that female leadership effectiveness outweighed that of men before and during the pandemic. It’s incredibly motivating to see that the qualities that scored highly include innovation, relationship building, collaboration, communication and problem solving,” said Precious Nduli, Head of Technical Marketing and Marketing at Discovery Insure.

A leading lady in the 21st century

“We cannot deny that women have made great strides in society and in the workplace over the years. But we are still on a long journey to reaching gender parity in many places of influence,” said Qhawekazi Mdikane, CMO at Momentum Corporate.

“Much has been written about women in leadership and it seems likely that the change in leadership styles is due to the influence and impact of women. Transformational leadership is linked to greater team engagement and productivity with women being more likely to lead through inspiration and aligning people with meaning and purpose. Previously women would have been told that they are too kind and caring to be leaders, yet today, it would be unfathomable to have a leader who is not. There are a number of so-called feminine traits which have transformed the leaders of today, some of which include emotional intelligence, empathy, a greater focus on others, being collaborative and participatory, communicating effectively and being aware of one’s own limitations. It has often been said that for women to achieve a role in leadership they should act more like men, however, with many leaders re-evaluating their style of leadership to ensure their workplace remains attractive, particularly with the ever-increasing demand for skills and a workforce demanding a working environment that suits them, it is possible that the reverse is true,” said Anne GrunowChief Human Resources Officer at Fedgroup.

“While we may have more opportunities available to us, we still need to have the grit to overcome entrenched corporate ways of doing things with grace and savvy. We should also be aware that we do not have to suppress our femininity in the workplace. Even the boardroom needs the ability to make tough business decisions with empathy.  As leaders in this generation, we need to ensure that we create space for the next generation of female leaders – this is critical in ensuring that we leave a legacy of excellence. The next generation of leaders possess a wealth of courage and talent that we need to harness. It would benefit us also to listen to and learn from them. Lastly, we need to look beyond the workplace; as leaders, we must encourage a healthy balance in our people’s lives so that they can perform optimally and produce results,” said Nomvula NxumaloHead of Transformation at MiWay.

“Being a leading lady in this world means having a voice, standing strong in my convictions, the ability to influence a world that is still male dominated, yet still being caring and empathetic. To never lose sight of the fact that we are all human and experience the same emotions and challenges on a daily basis. Being a leading lady does not require you to change who you are. I firmly believe that showing up as Antonia is who I need to be… loving, caring, standing firm, not shy to speak my mind, being vulnerable, accepting defeat when necessary, being bold and strong to challenge and ask the difficult questions. Some words which spring to mind when describing a female leader in the corporate world are resilience, tenacity, working hard, unfairness, keeping your head up and doing what’s best,” said Antonia Oakes, Executive for Customer Experience and Responsible Business at Old Mutual Insure. 

Leading by example

“There are so many ways we can raise our hands and lead in the world today. We can be mentors in gender equality, climate change activists, and thought leaders within entrepreneurial thinking, to name a few. But, most of all, I believe you need to be an example to all the fearless females out there. In other words, lead by example,” said Julie Retief, Senior Manager Broker Distribution at Telesure Investment Holdings. 

“Leadership to me is a function for value creation. Increased value to; planet earth, the lives of each other, the economy and inspiring the human mind to limitless possibilities. Raising my hand signifies, you can count on me,” said Pauline PillayHead of the Personal Lines Contact Centre at Santam.

When asked what advice she has for women climbing the career ladder Tebogo LeshiloUnderwriting Head: Complex – Financial Lines at SHA Risk Specialists said, “From the day you walk into the workplace, be bold and daring enough to always ask questions. Someone more experienced than you has come across most of the scenarios that you may encounter and will always be willing to share their insights. Discussing your interpretation of events, taking note of the shared lessons from someone else will build your learnings and understanding of complex subjects, as well as foster relationships with different stakeholders. When new initiatives and projects arise, being engaged and inquisitive will see you remain top of mind as a candidate for growth opportunities. Life isn’t about standing still in one place and gaining accolades for doing the same thing in the same way, but rather pushing boundaries and daring yourself to attempt to win in areas you previously thought were beyond your reach.”

Can women have it all?

“If you Google the question “can women have it all?” you get 10 530 000 000 results, so clearly there is a lot of content available in terms of this. There are countless articles, studies, webinars, courses, books and of course memes all focusing on the concept of “having it all”. Others list the reasons why women still can’t have it all, and others proclaim to have the secrets for why they can in fact have it all. The interesting thing for me has always been what exactly does it mean to “have it all”, because surely that means different things to different people. The most accepted definition of “having it all” refers to finding a solid balance in both your professional and personal life. In my opinion, I think it is very difficult for anyone to have it all, simply because there are so many different elements pulling at you at any given time. That said, I do believe that with focus and commitment it is possible to find ways to have a balance between the various focus areas in your life. Even if that balance sometimes feels a bit like a rocky truce between two opposing forces,” said Christelle Frost, Chief of People at Genasys.

Kimberley Lewis, Head of Active Ownership at Schroders added that, “If we look back thirty years ago, the idea of ‘having it all’ was about the aspiration to fulfill two parts of women’s lives: career and family. Today, there’s still an ongoing debate around whether women can truly have it all, but this traditional definition of ‘all’ allows little room for diversity of thought. We need to move away from the assumption that all women want the same things and create our own realistic definitions of what having it all means for us, as individuals. It’s my personal belief that women can have a rewarding career, thriving family and a robust social life (which could be defined in many different ways), but there will be sacrifices along the way and those sacrifices don’t equate to failure. The challenge is to be kind to yourself and realise you can miss key things but still be a great mother, friend, colleague and boss.”


Article credit Women’s voices in the 21st century (

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