Say HELLO to GWII’s new President… Rianet Whitehead

Gauteng Women in Insurance (GWII) is pleased to announce that Rianet Whitehead, a GWII committee member since inception, has assumed the position of GWII President for 2019.

On behalf of Rianet Whitehead and the GWII committee we would like to thank Nicky Eveleigh (2017 – 2018 GWII Chairperson) for all her efforts in leading GWII during the past two years. Nicky’s effort and contributions as Chairperson will always be appreciated.

Stepping in as the new President, Rianet tells us about herself, how she came to join the GWII and why she believes she is suited to the position of President.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your career in insurance.

A. I believe things work out the way they should, and I have to say that I love every

minute of the path I have landed on ... I did not really choose the career, things just fell brilliantly into place for me.

I studied BA Communication and did my Honours in communication at RAU. My first job was a lecturer at Technikon SA, in communication. My dad was a broker for many years and was a committee member and on the Board of the IBC (Insurance Broker’s Council) – now the FIA (Financial Intermediary Association). For many years he ran The Independent, a publication he started for the IBC. He eventually decided to rather start his own publication, and this is where FAnews started. While my dad still did the publication for the IBC, I joined him to assist with the publication – this happened in 2000. This was the beginning of my much-loved career in the insurance industry.

I have been in the industry for 18 years. I am the editor and co-owner of FAnews, The Insurance Apprentice (an initiative of FAnews) and now, I can proudly say I am also the President of GWII.

Just briefly… FAnews, is a magazine and online publication focussing on the South African insurance and financial services industry. The Insurance Apprentice, a concept I came up with a few years ago, and now in its 5th season running, is about challenging young professionals in the insurance industry to complete various tasks on which they are judged to win the title of The Insurance Apprentice while being filmed. The concept of The Insurance Apprentice, as a seed, has grown to fruition. What started off as small concept I came up with 6 years ago, has grown into something which has been positively accepted into the industry. I am beyond excited and overwhelmed by the way it all turned out.

Q. How did you come to join the GWII?

A. The GWII group was set up in 2012, by eight ladies, including myself, when we realised that there were very few events that allowed networking and growth opportunities for women. Mentoring, personal and professional developments, charities and the art of networking were really some of the bigger plans we shared when getting together for the first time – and we intended to make this happen! Today, I can proudly say GWII is going from strength to strength.

The GWII movement itself has brought ladies together and their great success is celebrated. There are indeed many examples of women-empowerment in our industry to date.

Q. Why do you believe you are suited to the position of President?

A. I do believe as one of the last remaining founding members on the committee it was a natural choice. We have some amazing people who joined the committee and I am excited about what the future holds.

Q. In the President’s shoes… what qualities do you believe are important to have?

A. As a leader, the best way to build credibility and gain the respect of others is to set the right examples. It is about demonstrating integrity, communicating effectively, recognizing success and most importantly empowering, motivating and inspiring others. Successful leaders have goals and are agents of change. It is also important to be inclusive and to trust your fellow committee members to make the right decisions for GWII as a whole.

Q. No doubt you’re very proud of your institute. But is there anything you’d particularly like to improve or introduce during your tenure, and make it even better? In other words, what will you be bringing to the table?

A. I am in a very fortunate position to be part of a dynamic team - a team that always aims to move forward and a team that is not scared of change. We have recently changed our Mission and Vision to be more aligned with our bigger goals. We have also done a slight tweak on our logo… all this means a slight tweak in the way we do things at GWII. We will offer a few CPD relevant events and I think the most exciting part of the way forward is that we will collaborate with various organisations and institutions to make it a win-win for all. All I can say is watch this space!

Q. Being involved with the GWII suggests furthering yourself, your peers and your industry. Which of the three is most important to you?

A. I believe all three of the above are important because it means we, as an industry, are growing and developing.

When I first started working in the industry it was a largely male driven industry with a business culture vastly different to the business cultures adopted today which are far more inclusive. Organisations nowadays have adopted a more equal and democratic management style. There were many challenges that women were faced with in trying to climb the corporate ladder and in general, women were overlooked when it came to Senior Managerial positions.

There has been an increased drive to economically empower women over the last years that I have been in the industry, but I feel that there are still vast improvements that can be made.

Things have changed but I think it is up to us to make it happen. I believe it is important to support any one with talent. It is refreshing to see young ladies developing into new future leaders. Women today are presented in various industries and have empowered themselves. There are numerous strong successful female leaders in South Africa and the World. May this continue, and may we not stand back.

I’ve seen many instances of constructive genuine support, mentorship and coaching among women in corporate South Africa and the insurance industry specifically and I genuinely believe we’ve made some significant inroads. Of course, a lot remains to be done.

Q. Any inspiring last words to our readers?

A. Communication is at the centre part of everything we do and how we decide to play that role in our lives is a choice we make. I want to encourage women to engage in conversations that are respectful, open minded and make a difference. Women in particular have a special gift of collaboration and support, let’s be that to one another.

When I first entered the industry the scariest factor for me was going out to network with business colleagues. No one had ever taught me how to go up to a stranger and introduce myself and then start a conversation. I think that this is still important in today’s environment and networking is essential to your growth as a person as well as establishing business connections.

Always work outside of your job description because it will give you a well-rounded perspective. Always be hungry to learn. Always be willing to go the extra mile. Do not get easily discouraged by challenges, instead let them build your character. Plan your career, set goals for yourself but also remain flexible because opportunities may come from unexpected directions. Find yourself a willing mentor for both soft and hard skills. But most importantly take charge of your career and have fun. Life is too short to be unhappy in the career you have chosen.

Use the wealth of social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn to build a strong, professional personal brand and stay connected with the rest of the world. This could prove to be the key differentiator between you and your dream job.

Make time and effort to network. Here you will find likeminded women to network with, who will also understand your unique challenges as a woman in business and they will provide support through testing times.

Q. Your message to members?

A. I look forward to an engaging year and I hope that the changes we have made are liked by most of you. I am well aware of the fact that we cannot make all the members 100% happy, but I will most certainly try my best. Please feel free to engage with me at any point.