A message from the GWII president this Women’s Day

In celebration of Women’s Month, FAnews on behalf of Gauteng Women in Insurance (GWII) spoke to Catherine Naidoo, President of GWII, about her message of inspiration for the GWII women this Women’s Day.

A Q&A session

As women we have the power to break down the barriers that were amplified over the past year – what are these barriers and what should we specifically be focusing on now and in the future?

The last two years have brought many new challenges and barriers for the human race. South Africans faced unique challenges. One of the key things that were identified was the need for a second, third or even forth income stream within households, over and above one’s day job. The age-old barriers women face in the workplace also remain a challenge, e.g. gender biases, wage gaps, imposter syndrome, etc. There are, however, two specific challenges that I would like to highlight:

Underfunding of start-ups

The need for an additional income stream in households has become a high priority, where we have seen an increase in start-ups due to the fear of unemployment and lack of salary increases, in spite of the increase in the cost of living. Statistics, although from a more mature market abroad, have shown that female start-ups have outperformed male start-ups by 60%. Yet women entrepreneurs and female start-ups find it increasingly difficult to find adequate funding to grow their businesses. Despite governments efforts to improve women entrepreneurs, there continues to be challenges in receiving adequate funding. It has also become apparent that women (starting their own businesses on the side and running them from home) are also not asking for funding or finding means and ways to self-fund. It would really be sad if many of these start-ups shut down, due to the lack of funding, considering the stats shared above. Our economy needs small businesses to thrive. Women should not give up on their contribution to the economy and continue to ask for support to grow these businesses.

The rise in stress levels leading to burnout

Being in a corporate environment for a significant part of my career, I understand the challenges women face in this space. As a woman, you tend to work twice as hard to advance in your career, whilst being denied the privilege of being a hands-on mom and having to deal with the guilt of it all. The ability to work from home has afforded many women the opportunity to spend more time with their families and to do the things that matter to them, things like watching after school sports games; exercising; cooking (for some); gardening and much more. Naturally, this comes with its own challenges and expectations of being a full-time employee, mum, wife, home executive, etc.

Research carried out by Deloitte indicated that at least 61% of women globally, suffer from burnout. This group is made up of women in middle management roles and women between the ages of 18-25. Women have proven to be extremely valuable during the lockdown period, due to their high levels of empathy, which is why research has shown women in middle management demonstrating higher levels of stress. For the younger generation aged between 18-25 - at the beginning of their careers and, in most instances, starting a new job and going straight into lockdown - placed huge amounts of pressure on these young women to prove their worth to enable career progression. These benefits, that I previously mentioned, should have introduced better work-life balance but it has had the adverse effect, due to the inability of many women to shut off from work. It is imperative that woman prioritise their health to allow them to successfully maneuver through life and their different responsibilities. You are of no value to your job, family and friends if you are mentally and physically burnt out. Seek a coach or a mentor that can assist you work through how you can achieve this.

What will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of female leaders?

More and more women are taking up leadership roles in organisations as they have developed themselves into more skilled roles, which were traditionally viewed as jobs for men. It is an era of transformation of women in the workplace.

I think one of the biggest challenges that the current and future women face, amid this transformation, will be stereotyping… the age-old myth that women leaders are more emotional and indecisive than their male counterparts.

Being emotionally aware and conscious has been highlighted as one of the key leadership qualities that most organisations are looking for, post pandemic. We need to ensure that we remain confident in our abilities as leaders, and not doubt the fact that we each have a place at the table, and we need to use that to continue to add value and not replicate an ideal or a stereotype.

What advice would you give to women who want to be leaders?

I have to start off by stating that being a leader is not a title or a position, it is a privilege to serve others. Being a leader can start at any job level, it depends on the influence you have on others, and how you use your voice and your experiences to help guide and development another person. Women, over the years, have always followed the example of their male leaders, in terms of how to lead people… moving away from who they truly are, to be a textbook version of a leader. Most women have a high level of EQ, which was previously labeled as a weakness. Today, it is one of the key strengths that organisations are looking for in their leaders. Whilst our male counterparts have great leadership qualities and have really supported the growth of women leaders in the past, we do not have to replicate their styles. My advice to future women leaders would be to know who you are and to stay authentic to who you are. Being an effective and impactful leader does not come from a textbook, it comes from your unique identity. In my personal opinion, the two most important qualities any leader would need to have (and this can be developed) is authenticity and emotional intelligence. Never be afraid to use your uniqueness in leading and serving people.

Women who support women are more successful. Your comment on this?

I agree with this statement a hundred percent! We all have our own journey and our own story but, most importantly, we are unique to one another. This means that there is no competition because there is a place for each and every one of us, “there is power in the pack”. Research has shown that most women that support the growth of other women succeed in their careers and build strong structures that continue to support their own growth. The Harvard Business review of 2019 indicates that a woman that surrounds herself with a strong network of women grows to executive positions, with higher pay, where men with great networks do not show the same.

“Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women, who have her back”. Author unknown.

 What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century?

It is an absolute privilege being a woman of the 21st century. Our challenges in life and in the workplace may not have all gone away and, in most instances, we still have a journey to travel to illuminate the biases we, as women, face. Women, today, are more skilled, more self-sufficient, more independent, more bold and more confident. The opportunities for women to grow and develop are more prevalent today than it was in the past. Women bring a different dynamic into the workplace and account for a larger portion of decision making within organisations. The pandemic brought many new challenges and required different leadership skills to deal with the effects of the pandemic, on employees and businesses in general. Women played a significant role in businesses during the pandemic, and many organisations have recognised these skills, such as empathy and authenticity, as key post pandemic. I am honored to be in an era where transformation is visible and, most importantly, to be part of that transformation.

How and why is it important that women’s voices are heard in the 21st century?

The women of today have a deeper seeded voice, our experiences with gender biases will help us pave the transformation path for next generation of women. Women of colour had to deal with both gender biases, as well as racial and cultural biases. Your story can be a motivator for another and, therefore, it must be heard. It can sometimes be difficult to share our stories, but the more we use our voices, the more we build our confidence and the more we create awareness of relevant and real-life challenges, helping others overcome theirs. I once read an article by Veronica Rueckert which said: “The voice is an amazing gift, both a privilege and a responsibility,” we need to ensure we use our voices, as women, to uplift the next generation of women and to stand up for what we believe in and what is right.

Any final thoughts you want to share with us or some inspiring words this women’s day.

We live in a world of change… normal does not exist. Develop an agile and adaptable spirit to survive whatever may come your way in the future. Build a network of women around you, that can support you, a network that is free of judgment but provides an abundance of support and encouragement. Look for opportunities in challenges, because your posture towards life will make the world of difference in your development, growth and outlook.

In life’s challenges, the GWII committee recognise that women are unique and the challenges we face are unique. Our events are carefully thought through, to help you survive some of life’s challenges. We strive to add value to your development as a career woman, and hope that we achieve that through the events we plan.

As you build your network and continue on your journey, we look forward to seeing more of you at the GWII events.

In closing, I wish to leave you with these words… strong women know what they want and aren't afraid to chase it down. Look back and celebrate how far you have come and celebrate the woman you are becoming.

Happy Women’s Month!


Catherine Naidoo