Celebrating successful women for all their hard work and effort creates a pathway and steppingstone for aspiring women who seek guidance, motivation and inspiration.
Gauteng Women in Insurance (GWII) recently chatted to Sandra Hutchison, Head of People at Genasys Technologies about her journey and career in the financial services industry, how she balances personal and work life and what advice she would give to women in the industry.
A career journey
As a woman in the industry what have been the challenges and opportunities that you have faced throughout your career?
I have had an amazing career, with great opportunities and with mentors who have added value to my life in ways I can never quantify. These have ranged from opportunities to change career direction completely (and take on roles such as CIO which I had absolutely no experience in), to an overseas secondment all of which would never have happened if I hadn’t had people supporting me and trusting my abilities. My challenges have always been personal and about my own self-limiting beliefs, which created anxiety and self-doubt for a very long time. I am proud to say that after many years of personal work I now fully understand my self-worth and that I really can achieve anything I want to.
What is rewarding about your career?
I have always loved the ability that my career has given me to coach and mentor staff, especially women. There is no greater sense of achievement and/or satisfaction than watching people grow and knowing that, in some small way, you have contributed to that. I have had an amazing variety of roles over the years which has exposed me to very different people and functions and has also been rewarding and helped me grow.
How do you maintain work and personal life balance? It must be challenging at times specially for a woman who has such a demanding career.
It is, but I don’t think that is gender specific. I think everyone battles with this in a world where technology has sped everything up, and where we are driven to succeed. I used to say in my early career that balance is possible, but as I have gotten older I am not sure that there is such a thing. We do our best to achieve balance, to work hard, to exercise, prep our meals and be everything to everyone. But does such a thing really exist or do we spread ourselves so thin in the process that we don’t look after ourselves. Women with children are definitely stretched and it is important that employers support mothers (and fathers) in this regard. I do think though, that women beat themselves up about this and it is important that we are kind to ourselves. Stop criticising ourselves for all the things we aren’t perfect at, that we didn’t tick off our list or have not replied to a message on social media fast enough and celebrate the things you have done and achieved.
What advice would you give young females starting out a career in insurance/finance/banking?
Be strong, confident and believe in yourself. Work hard but be humble, willing to learn, honest, and listen. Build networks which will benefit you both personally and professionally and find a mentor who can help you grow and give you honest feedback. Never stop learning.
Do you believe mentorship is critical in the industry? If so, why and how do young females starting out a career go about being mentored?
I don’t believe I would have had the opportunities I have had and grown the way I did without the support of my mentors. I am grateful to them for this. Mentorship can take different forms. Some can be very content specific in that someone can help you learn about a specific specialty in insurance and you would need to pick an expert in this area. You would likely choose a different person to help you with growth and other skills, and you may need different mentors at different stages of your career. “Fit” is critical in this process as you need to connect with the mentor, or the learnings will not be optimised. So, it would be important to get to know people, network, and in that process see who you think you could work with, even just for that specific task. Then approach them and ask them to help you. Most people are always willing to help people grow, but time is always an issue, so be smart on how you structure it to maximise the opportunity. Please also don’t leave all the work to the mentor as this is very frustrating and leads to them questioning your commitment to the process. Drive the process, participate and engage.
What advice do you have for working mothers who are career driven?
I am only a mother to furry children so some may say I shouldn’t comment but I will anyway. Build a strong support network to help you with your home life and children e.g. someone who can help with your children during school holidays. It must be incredibly stressful to be focussing on work when you don’t know how your child will be looked after tomorrow. Try to negotiate flexible hours with your company where you can. Work hard and show your company you are committed, but ultimately just do your best and look after yourself. As I mentioned above, don’t beat yourself up every time something isn’t perfect because it never will be. One of the most NB things that scuba diving taught me was to look after yourself before you try to look after anyone else. If you are in a heap on the floor, you can’t help anyone!
Any final words, or words of wisdom you wish to share with our GWII member?
Through most of my career I was unaware of the power of women supporting each other. I only truly embraced this probably 2 years ago and it was a revelation for me. There are so any common stories and situations, you never know when your story may help someone. Never compromise your value system or allow bullies to suppress you. Integrity is everything. Support each other, learn, listen and give back. And never forget that everything you do in your career must ultimately make you more marketable and help you grow.
Head of People