Empowering female leadership during a global crisis

Charissa De Jager talks to us about the challenges and changes that women are facing amid the Covid-19 pandemic – and how best to deal with them.

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“We’ve already achieved so much in terms of adapting to change and we should embrace that as a new skill to support us in what may still lie ahead.”

What’s your role within Sasfin?

I’m the Group Company Secretary, so I’m accountable to the Sasfin board and responsible for a range of duties in terms of the Companies Act and codes of good corporate governance, such as King IV.

Give us a brief summary of your career so far.

I completed my legal studies at the Rand Afrikaans University and was admitted as an attorney, before starting my career in an insurance and intellectual property law practice. I then ventured into labour law and after that I left practice to join an agricultural company as a legal advisor. I then joined Sasol Limited, where I held different roles ranging from assistant company secretary to specialist risk and governance. After taking a break from corporate for three years (I was lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom), I joined Sasfin in July 2019.

What is your greatest personal challenge during the COVD-19 lockdown?

To stick to my to-do-list each day, and to avoid all the fake and negative news. On the positive side, I save a lot of time by not having to drive home from work in traffic, which means I get more time to cook and chat to the people I love.

How have things changed internally within the organisation during this time?

On the whole, we’ve all been required to adapt very quickly. Sasfin as a bank is an essential service and as such, each one of us should focus on what we can do to support our leaders and our business to respond to this fast moving and extraordinary situation.

What do you think are the key challenges women are facing in this unprecedented time?

I think that it’s very important that women’s voices are reflected at the decision-making table during this crisis. The majority of women in South Africa are likely to be the sole caretakers and often breadwinners in their families, and almost 70% of health care workers worldwide are women. We have to support each other during this crisis, which will put even more pressure on us to maintain a good balance between our work and family lives.

Name one practical thing that has been helpful to you.

My daily yoga session (which I have always done online) and connecting with friends and loved ones to share ideas on how to cope with everyday challenges.

As a female leader, what 3 pieces of advice would you give to others as they deal with this global crisis?

  • Keep looking for creative, resourceful ways to get things done.
  • We’ve already achieved so much in terms of adapting to change and we should embrace that as a new skill to support us in what may still lie ahead.
  • Everyone is facing a different challenge in dealing with this experience, and fear can either bring out the best or the worst in a person. It will benefit everyone if we choose to be kind and focus on the needs of those around us, rather than on ourselves and our own best interests.

How do you think that the lockdown will affect the South African financial services sector?

I’m concerned about a potential financial crisis and the growing pressure on the banking system. Only time will tell what the extent of the impact on the SA economy will be and how long it will take to recover. But, I’m encouraged that business leaders all over South Africa are working together to manage the impact on all aspects of business and society, with several actions already being implemented. This has led to regulators, business and government actively working together to implement solutions to maintain financial stability. The banking industry today is much stronger than it was in 2008 with the global financial crisis, and there have been ongoing efforts to innovate and move towards digital banking strategies. We are now making further changes to the way in which we conduct business, how our employees work and how we engage with clients. Going forward, we will have to continuously reassess the use of technology, AI and analytics to remain relevant and competitive, which could benefit all aspects of our business.

What do you hope will change within the financial services industry, and the wider world, once we come out of it?

Many industries were already experiencing disruption before the Corona crisis hit, and those who don’t adapt and reinvent their business models, will not survive. Significant cost savings could be unlocked through work-from-home strategies, new engagement and marketing models, and if we travel less often, the environment will also benefit. Innovation will be key, which means we would have to change our human capital models and our recruitment strategies to ensure that we have the necessary skilled people on board. Our governance frameworks will have to be flexible to allow for quick and effective decision making, and we should adapt our policies to allow for fresh thinking. One of the main positives is that we’re already experiencing a revived appreciation for the outdoors and life’s simple pleasures, as well as the importance of time. Hopefully this will be a permanent change that improves all of our lives.

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About the Author
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Charissa De Jager

Group Company Secretary, Sasfin Holdings

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