What do you do at Coronation and what qualifications/experience led you to this role?
I am the Company General Counsel at Coronation, and work together with a talented and highly competent legal team to provide in-house legal support to the business. I have an LLB and a Masters degree specialising in Commercial Law. I started my career in the financial services industry as a newly qualified attorney about 23 years ago. My roles progressed from being a junior legal advisor at the beginning of my career to senior positions that included managing legal teams and providing specialist and general legal advice.
Grit and inspiration
What drove you to succeed?
I wasn’t born with the proverbial ‘silver spoon in my mouth’ and I knew from an early age that if I wanted to change my circumstances, I needed to be successful. My sister is almost four years older than I am, so I watched her go to school for a few years and loved the fuss and attention she received when she came home with a glowing report card, while I impatiently waited for my turn. I remember walking into the classroom on my first day of school, looking around and feeling like I had arrived. I decided then and there that I was going to be the cleverest in the class, and I was!
To this day, I have no idea why that very clear goal popped into my mind or where the conviction came from, but I realise that this was a pivotal moment that determined the path that the rest of my life would take. True to my goal, I received the highest marks in my grade throughout my schooling career. Admittedly, it was a very small local school, so the odds were on my side.
I was fortunate to be granted a bursary for my university studies, where the playing fields quickly levelled, and I was toppled from my throne. It was a great life lesson to understand that no matter how talented or bright you are, someone is always going to be smarter. When faced with this realisation, you can either give up or you can continue harnessing your strengths to set yourself apart and carve out your own niche in achieving success. When I started my career, I applied the same principles that had stood me in good stead during my school and university years – hard work, self-belief, determination, perseverance, a hunger to succeed and a genuine desire to add value in my role.
Where does your resilience come from?
I believe our life experiences shape how we respond to challenges. At some point, we’ve been conditioned to either ‘fight or take flight’, depending on what worked for us in a particularly stressful situation. I’ve learnt that I’m strong enough to face any challenge or adversity head on. More importantly, I’ve learnt that I don’t always need to do so on my own – at a professional level, I can draw on the collective support, knowledge and experience of my exceptional colleagues, and on a personal level, my family and close friends are always there when I need them most, offering wisdom, support, encouragement and guidance.
Shoulders of giants
Who was a major influence for you growing up?
My parents. I grew up in a home where my parents made my siblings and I feel like we were the centre of their universe and that there was something special about each one of us, which may explain my conviction on that first day of school. Our homelife was far from perfect, but my parents instilled strong values and taught us important life lessons. They created a home that was more than a house; it was a feeling of being unconditionally loved and knowing that they believed in us. This is the most incredible gift that a parent can give their children and I work hard at ensuring that my children feel the same.
At Coronation, employee ownership is a big part of our culture – what does this mean to you and how does it shape your behaviour/approach?
Employee ownership is the cornerstone of a strong, cohesive team culture. As soon as we see ourselves as co-owners, we become personally invested and understand the importance of working together to achieve a shared goal. The flip side is that, like any owner of a business, we hold ourselves accountable when things don’t go according to plan, and we focus on finding solutions.
We are a team-based meritocracy – what does this mean to you? And how does it impact your work experience?
At Coronation, titles are unimportant … you are recognised for your ability, competencies and your efforts, and are encouraged to add value beyond your role. This culture creates great opportunities for personal growth and development, unconstrained by titles and job descriptions, with the added benefit of working with and learning from incredibly bright individuals.
We place high value on integrity in all that we do. What does integrity mean to you, personally and for the business?
To have integrity, you first need to understand and connect with your own values, and you need to stay true to those values, even when it means that you may not be particularly popular or it may come at great cost to you (personally, professionally or financially). I don’t respect persons or organisations that act without integrity. I therefore think it’s critical to make sure that your values are aligned with those of an organisation before you take up employment with them. A mismatch will lead to a continuous, soul-destroying internal conflict with your authentic self that is not sustainable or healthy for you.
What do you think needs to change in the mindset of working women?
As a student, fresh out of university, applying for articles about 27 years ago, I was asked a question in an interview that I’ve never forgotten: “Surely you want to have children one day – don’t you think it will be unfair for you to be working full-time in a demanding job and unable to give them the time and attention that they need?” I was astounded, but I didn’t have the self-confidence to challenge the question. I stammered something about not everybody having the financial luxury of being a stay-at-home mom and that I believed that it was the quality of time that I would spend with my children, not the quantity, that would be important.
More than 20 years later, significant progress has been made, but many women are still dealing with sexism in the workplace (although now it’s more subtle, given the threat of civil liability for unfair labour practices). For some, this attitude extends to their home lives too. What’s worse is that at a subconscious level, we have allowed some of these archaic stereotypes to inform the way we think about ourselves and the way we view other women in the workplace.
As women, we need to challenge any narrative that is informed by sexist stereotypes and we need to constantly ‘check ourselves’ for any biases we may have internalised and that could be holding us back from achieving our true potential. As Gloria Steinberg once said: “I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.”
What advice would you give women entering the workplace now?
Starting your first job can be overwhelming. It’s a bit like moving to a new town where everyone speaks a different language and you need to learn a completely new way of life, as a member of a new community. Don’t be impatient, allow yourself time to adjust to your working environment and your colleagues. Apart from a few exceptional cases, success does not happen overnight. You need to be prepared to work hard, be engaged, listen and learn. At the same time, allow your voice to be heard – the fact that you got the job means your employer believes in your ability and you belong. Avoid the urge to give your inner critic too much airtime and believe in yourself.