Reflections from the alumni desk

On Tuesday 15th of August, Duke Corporate Education (Duke CE) in partnership with International Women’s Forum South Africa (IWFSA) and African Women Chartered Accountants (AWCA) hosted a spectacular and highly impactful women’s conference. The event convened global leaders and experts together to discuss the collective agenda on gender equity and transformative change. Entitled “Collective Action: Advancing Gender Equity with Impact”, this hybrid conference brought together representatives from various organisations and causes, including an AI enabled humanoid robot (yes, that’s right!). A total of 700 guests were present on the day, with over 3,000 online participants.

Ms Sharmla Chetty, the CEO of Duke CE opened the event emphasising the correlation between women empowerment and societal advancement. Her message underscored that humanity and standards of development rise as women are empowered. “When women rise, we all rise! We rise by lifting others in grace, compassion, courage, and strength”.

Panel discussions and fireside chats facilitated various conversations on topics that included Unmasking Invisible Workplace Barriers, The Importance of Allyship, Mentorship and Sponsorship, Leading with Purpose and so much more. These prolific engagements encouraged audience participation resulting in valuable insights.

Very early into the agenda, it became very clear that despite certain advances toward gender equality in the past few decades, progress has been at a snail’s pace. According to a World Economic Forum report, it will take another 132 years to close the global gender gap. We have a lot of work to do. Women make up nearly half of the world’s population but in 2022, they represented only one-third of the workforce. Closer to home, PwC reported in June 2022 that only seven of the JSE Top 100 companies were led by female CEOs, with the representation of female CFOs sitting at 19% (compared to 17% last year). Over the entire executive population of all JSE-listed companies, 15% are female (compared to 13% last year). When it comes to the professional environment, the gender disparity continues. Disconcertingly, women in the financial sector seem to dominate the lower-level, middle management echelons and are underrepresented at decision-making, priority-setting levels of leadership. 

Ms Manoka Mathye, IWFSA Leadership Alumni co-lead for membership and recruitment shared her takeaway: power in our networks and working together – the importance of leaning into allies as shared in the CEO dialogue by Ms Taelo Mojapelo. She reflected on the speaker’s call to the audience, the responsibility that each of us bears to do well not only for ourselves but for the collective – “I come as one, but I stand as ten thousand. If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together!”

The conversation of gender equity should be elevated to the societal level and our male counterparts should be part of driving effective change. In fact, when men genuinely enact equal partnership at home and in their communities, it accelerates broad-based gender equality. “Being in Corporate is a Ministry”, echoed Ms Tamara Timothy, IWFSA Leadership Alumni co-lead for membership and recruitment. She added that “We are change agents, displaying values in a high-octane environment is tough, however, being gracious and radiant will attract and pave our footprints. Allyship identifies us through this. Leave Your Mark!!”

IWFSA President, Ms Irene Charnley closed the conference by reaffirming the criticality of building a movement for change that transcend boundaries, which recognise that women deserve to be equal partners in building an equal society. She used the opportunity to introduce the IWFSA Leadership Alumni Programme as part of the #1000 women initiative introduced by IWFSA in partnership with Duke CE and FASSET.

This programme is designed to equip women in the finance and accounting services as well as other related sectors with enhanced cutting-edge leadership skills.  Excitement filled the room as Ms Charnley presented the pioneer Alumni Executive Committee to the 700 plus strong audience. There was a palpable excitement in the room as the Alumni co-chair, Ms Thando Lamula took to the podium to deliver a statement of intent on behalf of the Alumni: “We as the Alumni are looking forward to building onto the foundation that has been laid by IWFSA and FASSET. We have a lot of work to do!”

Picture courtesy of IWFSA:  IWFSA Alumni Executive Committee
Picture courtesy of IWFSA:  IWFSA Alumni Executive Committee

Further reflections on the event by the Alumni, “the event impressed upon me the need to create ecosystems of support in our organisations and across our professional networks. Beyond accumulating relational capital, women need to leverage each other’s intellectual capital to translate value. An event such as the one organised by IWFSA/DukeCE provide platforms for strategic networking while equipping women with intellectual tools to drive effectiveness and achieve impact.”, expressed Ms Gcobisa Magazi, IWFSA Leadership Alumni co-secretariat.

It was a great honour to have our Patron for IWFSA, Mam’ Zanele Mbeki present at the event. Still keeping it in the IWFSA family, our MC duo, Ms Charmaine Houvet and Ms Basetsana Khumalo did a stellar job, ensuring the audience is engaged all the way through.

The Alumni would like to extend gratitude and thanks to Duke and IWFSA for inviting us to the event. A special thank you to Ms Irene Charnley and Ms Charmaine Houvet for the much-needed support and encouragement to date. As we formalise the Alumni structure, we rally our contemporaries behind our tag line: “Our network is our net-worth!”.

The event itself was a day filled with networking, reconnecting, and thought-provoking conversations.

Contributors: Katekani Hlaise and Khanyisa Bassie on behalf of the IWFSA Alumni Executive Committee.

Picture courtesy of IWFSA: IWFSA Alumni Executive Committee