Organisational culture key to women empowerment


It’s every employee’s responsibility to embrace transformation, says Vanessa Olver, Deputy CEO of Business Connexion

Despite continuous discussion around women empowerment, women are still a minority in the top positions of South African organisations. This harsh reality was revealed in the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s annual Women in Leadership Census. According to the census, only 34 of the 293 companies measured met the criteria to be classified as a top company. With many various reasons cited for the lack of women leadership, the authors believe that women’s empowerment should be part of an organisation’s DNA and that there should be a supportive culture for women in order for empowerment initiatives to succeed. Vanessa Olver, Deputy CEO of Business Connexion (BCX) agrees.

“Women face different challenges in the workplace compared to men. In particular, women tend to shoulder greater responsibility than men to harmonise work, personal and family life.  I experience this challenge personally, being a senior executive, wife and also mother of 2 young children.  My life is about constantly juggling competing priorities as I endeavour to live my purpose in these different domains of my life. Without doubt, the resulting learnings also assist me to become a better, more empathetic leader,” says Olver.

Olver agrees that women empowerment should be an inherent part of the organisational DNA. “Engaging the hearts and minds of all employees to value a diverse workplace is key to unlocking a greater contribution by women in business. At Business Connexion we have created specific platforms to empower women, such as an internship programme, management development programmes and women mentorship programmes. Through these programs we are seeing young women grow, develop and become empowered, which, in turn, creates sustainability,” she says. “Our 8 month internship programme has a very strong gender focus, with between 60-70% of our intern intake being female. In addition we have invested in a specific internship programme, to fast track the development of 50 talented black females. It is wonderful to see how they have responded to the opportunity to grow and develop within Business Connexion.”

She adds that context matters and that transformational initiatives that organisations put in place need to reflect prevailing societal, cultural and corporate concerns. “Business Connexion is an international ICT services provider. When thinking about transformation we like to think globally, yet act locally, catering for the different context of women, say in Nigeria, versus women elsewhere, say in South Africa. My approach has always been to stretch people to maximise their potential and value in the organisation. The benefits of their personal growth then naturally flow to customers and communities that receive their services.”

According to Olver, being confident about our own contribution is essential for stepping into a leadership role. “At the end of the day we are all in this together. Playing to people’s strengths helps to make a positive difference in the person’s life as well as enhance the value people create within the organisation.”

She believes that transformation is a journey that needs to be embraced by the entire organisation. “We have embarked on various interventions to embed a coaching style of leadership, encouraging entrepreneurship, continual improvement, a sense of belonging to our company and initiatives in socioeconomic development in the communities we operate in.”

“From our Aspire programme, which acknowledges outstanding contribution by employees, to our Women Connect Mentorship Programme, which is a managed mentorship journey for the women within our organisation, we aim to not only empower our employees, but also positively impact the various communities touched by the organisation.”

Business Connexion was named the winner of the 2015 Gender Mainstreaming Champion award at a ceremony held last month. The company also won the Woman on Boards category and was runner-up in the Women Empowerment in the Workplace (Large and JSE listed) category.  Olver was also one of the finalists in the Standard Bank Top Gender Empowered Company: Businesswoman of the Year Award 2015.

“For me it is not about the awards, what is more rewarding is the contribution I can make to the lives of individuals by being a sounding board, mentor and supporting people to be the best they can be. When it comes to diversity, I believe it is our collective contribution that will transform our communities and society at large. It is possible for us to leave a legacy for our next generations to thrive, and this is what gives me a strong sense of purpose,” Olver concludes.


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