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 Stepping up the leadership ladder – A conversation for women

2017-02-15 00:00
by MediaVision on behalf of USB-ED

African companies with at least a quarter share of women on their boards deliver on average 20% more earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) than the industry average.

This was the finding of global management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, in its Women Matter Africa Report, compiled over a period of 12 months in 2016, using data gathered across 14 African countries, including insights from 55 leading companies and interviews with 35 African women leaders.

There is also the remarkable example of Helena Morrissey, past CEO of Newton Investment Management, a London-based firm with $88 billion under management. Morrissey, who set up the 30% Club to champion women representation on boards, is the mother of nine children.

Research shows that as of May 2009, 15 FORTUNE 500 companies were run by women, and a total of 28 FORTUNE 1000 companies had women CEOs. In 2008, 12 FORTUNE 500 and 24 FORTUNE 1000 companies were run by women. The definitive ranking of America’s biggest companies boasts some 24 female CEOs. That still represents a small percentage – 4,8% to be exact – of the overall CEOs on the list.

While shining examples of successful women leaders are helping to debunk lingering myths about women in leadership roles and the obstacles hindering their progress to the top, there nevertheless still appears to be something that holds women back from embracing the identity of leaders.

According to Sarah Babb, a leadership development specialist, it is not necessarily leadership skills, per se, which will help women to advance to leadership levels, but rather interactions, experiences and explorations that will build a practical resolve and ways to step into leadership conversations and engagements.

For this to happen, Babb suggests a series of ‘conversation circles’ with a select group of women in leadership so as to provide the opportunity to build leadership confidence and insight.

It is against this background that Sarah Babb and USB Executive Development (USB-ED) have partnered to create a programme of Conversations for Women in Leadership. This will provide a select group of women with the opportunity to engage in important leadership conversations, while building a strong community and network.

The programme, to be presented in Stellenbosch from 8 May 2017, will revolve around four blocks of two-day workshops, each focusing on a theme for leadership in current times. The themes are:
  • Business acumen and contextual insight (8–9 May)
  • Networks, influence and power (5–6 June)
  • Leadership identity (3–4 July) and leadership practices for complex times
  • Strategy and change (7–8 August)

According to Babb, the current complex and uncertain world needs leaders who are able to gain insight into the broader environment. The macro environment with all its local and global challenges needs thoughtful interrogation.

“The aim of the programme,” says Babb, “is for leaders to be able to view multiple perspectives and to contribute meaningfully to making sense of various contexts. This will pave the way to discerning the most appropriate and relevant response to sometimes contradictory and volatile situations.

“Leaders require both insight and confidence to engage in strategic conversations around issues. They need the ability to navigate networks and power structures in order to discern strategic direction and to lead the team into new terrain,” says Babb.

Each workshop will include a series of guest speakers and the design is around empowering conversations. The speakers have been carefully selected to share deep experience and insight into their own leadership journeys.

Guest speakers include Parmalat CEO Louise Cooke, Camelot Group CEO Debbie Merjan, Brunswick Group partner Marina Bidoli, Singita sales and marketing director Lindy Rousseau, Santam head of strategy Vanessa Otto-Mentz, as well as innovation experts Dr Lisa Kinnear and Anne-marie le Roux, macroeconomics expert Prof Andre Roux, and Guy Lundy of the executive search company Korn Ferry International, among others. 

The format of each conversation is designed around building the capacity and confidence of participants to engage in leadership opportunities, rather than being ‘lectured to’ or ‘presented with information’. The panel of guests speakers will give the participants an opportunity to engage, question, debate and converse around particular topics, and to reach decisions and plan actions around each theme.

Participants may then apply their findings and insights to their own personal leadership journeys and in their own companies and teams. Each participant has an allocated and experienced executive coach to work with during the programme. The coach, who provides both one-on-one and team coaching, engages in each workshop with small groups and has four individual coaching sessions with each participant in between each workshop. 

The key outcomes for participants are:
  • to contribute to business conversations confidently and with insight into the business needs;
  • to be equipped to influence and network across a business and hence to effect change and decisions with greater impact;
  • to craft own leadership journeys, as well as leadership identity and brand; and 
  • to build leadership skills for the future to deal with strategy and complex teams in times of change. 

The Conversations for Women in Leadership programme is aimed at women in middle, senior and executive management. The programme complements USB-ED’s Executive Development Programme (EDP) and Senior Management Development Programme (SMDP), which focus mainly on content. The Conversations for Women in Leadership programme​ focuses on building capacity and confidence to engage in issues around strategic leadership.

For more information about the Conversations for Women in Leadership Programme, contact Marié van Wyk on +27 (0)21 918 4488 or
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