Ingrid Roberts with Michelle Bootes

The John Maxwell Event March 2011

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Exerpts from:
Women in Leadership” by Ingrid Roberts
John Maxwell Conference – Durban March 2011 - ICC

A woman’s first passion should be TO PROMOTE THE FAMILY & PROTECT CHILDHOODS - So here’s a BACK TO BASICS checklist for women in the home – which I read often:
  • Do I know that my kids can cope quite well with me working, and even not spending enough time with them…. but what they just cant handle is a “stressed out mom”
  • Do I know they are begging me for boundaries?
  • Do I realise, as a mother that “No” is a complete sentence?
  • Do I stand by what’s right - or is that up for negotiation?
  • Do I know my children want me as a mother – not as their friend?
  • Do I fully get it that I was intended to be their completer – not their competer?
  • Do I understand their right to a “soft place to fall” called home - where kindness and consistency come from me first?
& do I treasure the importance of the dinner table each day – as Robin Sharma says – “for conversation, breaking bread together and the power of human touch?”

Jackie Onassis once famously said “ If you bungle raising your children – I don’t think whatever else you do well – matters very much”.

Women in the community – as Mentors.

Our communities have indeed come a long way from the early days of emancipation and legislation in the 60’s when women tasted the first fruits of empowerment.

Today - the “Women phenomenon” continues to grow.

Soon it will be the mainstream economy we are told - with some 5 trillion dollars worth of new female-earned income heading to take us right out of the recession!

Corporations, schools, hospitals, political parties and – for some while now – a number of countries boast women leadership – 4 out of America’s 8 Ivy League universities now have female presidents and Time Magazine’s 2009 list of the 100 most influential people in the world – included 25 women.

Chapters and stories from the lives of so many brave women & over so many years, especially the past 40 – have all helped to build this highway to freedom on which we now travel - A true TOLL road – for the price has been enormous.

This is not history – this is HER-STORY as we recall the likes of the young Joan of Arc who back in the 1400’s - & just 17 yrs of age – was brave enough to lead the French in battle against the English - only to be burnt at the stake later by her own people.

We think for a moment of the remarkable dedication of community “She Heroes” like Emily Hobhouse , Emmeline Pankhurst , Rosa Parks, Mother Theresa & more recently the Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi (Ung san su ki) plus so many more amazing women …… over the ages…..

And then there are the unsung heroines – from every corner of the world - “doing what they can – with what they have – from where they are” ….

Through my local talk show called “Insights & Inspirations” - I have been privileged to meet some of these remarkable women ; like Pam Boake, the foster mother who has cared for over 300 children in the past 40 yrs, Praveena Vather, a heart transplant recipient who defied medical science by having a beautiful baby girl, Norma Young, a top young journalist whose gogo’s sacrifices paid for her privileges, and Abigail Ntleko – aged 80 - recent recipient of the Dalai Lama “Unsung hero of Compassion” award - with her “Clouds of Hope” Charity where she lovingly mentors hundreds of young orphans at the foothills of the Drakensberg ….. and even beyond this – come the many nameless women showing leadership in our communities eg by spearheading the campaign for Vit A in staple foods to help the rural learners combat night blindness, or those dedicated to adult literacy, those teaching crafts & skills in the informal settlements – indeed, our country is full of heroic women mentors – contributing to their communities for no reward – giving for no credit.

In a world of narcissm, ego and celebrity nothingness – never was there a greater time for the return of the REAL woman – she who expresses her individuality through her family and her authenticity – “her calling” - through her community .

So where to from here:

I believe that “Success breeds success” and we still therefore need to do much more – so here’s the challenge I lay down for each and every one of us women today - to become “a cheerleader” for a cause – & to give whatever we have to give in the true spirit of Ubuntu!

Platforms for women empowerment & informal business colleges are my cause – what is yours? Where can your cup runneth over? And in return - let me assure you from personal experience - there is nothing – “NO THING” in this world – that will ever fill your SOUL quite like it!

On a lighter note here – and speaking of women’s upliftment – Barbara Walters, the American talk show host delights on the gender issue with a story about visiting Kuwait before the Gulf War, and noticing how the women customarily walked about 10 yards behind their husbands.

On returning after “Desert Storm” she observed the men now walked behind their wives.

Ms Walters approached one of the women and said “This is wonderful to see – can you tell the free world what has enabled women here to achieve this reversal of roles?”

A brief silence and then came the reply….“Landmines” – replied the Kuwaiti woman.

My closing thoughts for today………

Focus on women - as leaders in the work place.

Whilst we women are taking stridesthe workplace remains something of a last bastion.

The good news is that South Africa’s public sector leads the way in women representation & there has also been a marked improvement in the number of women executives in the corporate world over the past decade – but sadly the same cannot be said for in the boardroom - where less than 6% is female.

By looking at some of the possible reasons for this – I believe we go a long way to creating solutions to these stubborn prejudices – For example – the fact that Leadership is persistently perceived to be masculine, is not helping – here’s a tongue-in-cheek example of what I mean:

- They say – in the business world –

a successful man is assertive but a woman is pushy
A man follows thro but a woman doesn’t know when to quit
A man says what he thinks but she is arrogant
while a man gives 100% but she is a work-aholic who neglects her family!

** (Of course we women all know, don’t we, that a man’s 100% actually means 12% on Mon, 23% on Tuesday, 40% on Wed, 20% on Thursday and 5 % on Fri!)

Like comfortable beds – prejudices are easy to get into - but hard to get out of.
We need - I believe - to heighten our awareness of these and once we acknowledge them – we can start to rid them from our work environments.

On the negative side of things – it is true:

  • that the 1st generation of emancipated women did often try to out macho the men
  • that many women still think they cant be nice and strong
  • that they are seen to be disloyal to other women in the workplace – perhaps tho more as the result of our innate disease-to-please than from any sense of malice.
  • & that “Mommy tracking” out of the corporate fast lane remains an “Achilles heel”
    – so
In summary we could say – it is still perceived – that “Men take charge whilst women take care”

But on the positive side – Domination styled leadership is fast becoming outdated& the new trend in the workplace is at the very heart of women: not WHAT you do so much as HOW you do it. Not WHO you lead – but how you lead.

These are the new markings of the EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT BUSINESS leader & they align perfectly with the wonderful women we are.

I give these not just as soft and shmoozy reasons why women should be taken more seriously as leaders: I back them up eg with A 2007 american study which found that boards with more women members - experienced on average a return on equity of 400 basis points higher, return on sales of 400 basis points higher and return on invested capital of 300 basis points higher than boards with only male representation!

So - let me end today with TWO FINAL THOUGHTS:

An appeal to women in the workplace to capitalise on these innate powers like:
  • the power of persuasion
  • the ability to recruit and retain
  • the skill to be inclusive leaders & cross traditional boundaries
  • our natural diligence
  • & as men will concede I’m sure – we women are very good at raising objections – even after everything seems to have been considered!!
& Lastly 2 practical steps to consider:
Business as a whole needs to prioritize unfair pay gaps & Board Members need to avail themselves as mentors as much as possible, for SO much is learned in the footsteps of a leader.
Then – when all is said and done – May we women continue to have Vision……. and the Courage to stand up and walk courageously in the direction of our dreams!


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