Disclaimer: Please note that all commentary and opinions provided in this interview are those of the individual and not the organisation/company they are employed by.
What does “choose to challenge” mean to you?
Having grown up in South Africa under the apartheid regime, I know that prejudice and bias are strongly rooted in social systems and laws and are determined by cultural factors. Cultural values, norms and behaviours are in turn enforced by traditions, rituals, habits and symbols. Within such a robust grid of inter-connecting elements that influence us on both conscious and unconscious levels, often threatening our own (perceptions of) security, the power to exercise choice can become a moot point. If we are bound by so many elements and cannot see ourselves clearly, to what extent are we really able to choose? And how much courage does it take to challenge the status quo? Speaking up is a topic I deal with extensively in Compliance. Employees and other corporate stakeholders need to be provided with safe opportunities to speak up when they see or suspect misconduct in the organisation and their concerns need to be addressed with dignity and care. So against this background, I find myself asking what does “choosing to challenge” entail? In the past, when I have spoken out about unfair treatment - either to myself or to others – I have felt awkward about raising the sexual discrimination aspect and have almost without exception been met with responses that play it down. However, despite the mostly disappointing outcomes, I have -ultimately- felt a sense of peace and inner strength, knowing I have done the right thing. Choosing to challenge doesn’t only mean finding courage to speak up. It takes a shared vocabulary. Many societies are increasingly becoming aware of a gender spectrum that has long gone unrecognised. How do you refer to someone when you are not sure where they are along that spectrum? The simple act of buying online often requires us to state whether we are male or female. Sometimes there is an “Other” box or a “Do not wish to disclose” box intended in a politically correct way to encompass the ever-growing list of LGBTQ+ terms. Choosing to challenge means getting past awkwardness, risking using the wrong language and forgiving others for not using the “right” words to describe our feelings, ideas and perceptions. If we wish to challenge, we need to find acceptable ways to allow our audience to challenge back. This brings me to the really hard challenge – our own unconscious biases. Corporate Boards are generally expected to have mechanisms in place that engender diversity, that discourage group-think and reduce bias in decision-making. Not only my professional experience but also my personal experience has shown how hard this is. An implicit association test for "gender/career" that I once completed revealed to me a most unexpected result that I have a strong tendency towards stereotyping in certain contexts. And so I want others to challenge me too. Legislators battle equally with responding effectively to challenges to the status quo. Even the most mature corporate governance codes still limit the topic of diversity in boards to gender (m/f). But what is a quota all on its own? Reverse discrimination can be effective as a temporary measure, but it needs to be strengthened by other measures. In order to truly create and maintain Diversity, we also need to challenge two other critical dimensions: Inclusion and Equality. A diverse workforce where certain groups are not included or are not treated equally, can cause a diversity policy to backfire. If employees feel included but are not treated equally, resentment can cause diversity to lose its meaning and impact. Ultimately, this Diversity-Inclusion-Equality trio in a corporate context can be seen to mirror society as a whole. So for me, choosing to challenge is something we all need to do. Every day.
What is your next goal or adventure?
I have always fostered a strongly holistic approach to the work I have done in legal and compliance. Every single business decision we take either adds to or takes away from the bottom line. Strong trends are emerging, accelerated by the pandemic, that are encouraging corporations to define and monitor the corporate culture needed to foster implementation of their corporate strategy, to take far-reaching responsibility for human rights enforcement throughout their supply chains, and to not only report extensively on the impact of the business on environmental, social and governance aspects but to even treat these as strategic drivers. Now, more than ever, we need to understand connections and trade-offs. We operate in a system where we need to create the most value we can. My holistic interests and areas of expertise seem to be converging, analogously to what I see in the abovementioned trends: an alignment that positions me ideally for a seat on a corporate board or in an executive team where my core skills in connecting the dots and in bringing complex moving parts together can contribute to the sustainable growth of the company.
Click below to read the full edition of IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Female Leaders Across The Globe.