INTERVIEW: Unlocking True Leadership Potential in Tech

The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the true leadership potential of women across the world. A case in point is the strategic appointment of Gudani Mukatuni as the WesBank Motor Chief Information Officer (CIO).

Her appointment in February 2020 acknowledges and is testament to her vast knowledge in the industry in defining and executing IT transformation and digital strategies.

IT News Africa’s Jenna Delport chatted to Mukatuni about her appointment and her role as a leading woman in tech. Here’s what transpired:

Has your recent appointment as the WesBank Motor CIO allowed you to drive digital transformation throughout the organisation? If so, How?

Yes – the organisation is at its early stages of integrating into digital platforms within the broader “group”, as well as increasing the customer-facing digital assets. I joined the organisation during a time when companies were forced to fast track their digital strategies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It has become clearer that organisations are also embracing the opportunities that come with implementing digital solutions. Digital solutions are no longer viewed as “nice to haves” but have become one of the strategic pillars that can contribute towards business growth and optimising costs.

How has your role allowed you to aid WesBank Motor to adapt to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?

We were able to efficiently ensure that all +/- 2,500 WesBank members could work from home with minimum productivity impact to our staff members and, more importantly, our customers.

We traditionally have an online capability called WesBank Online where customers can check the affordability of finance options, apply for finance, sign contracts electronically and also obtain servicing functionality online.

During the COVID-19 lockdown period, the WesBank Online capability was enhanced to enable our customers to apply for debt relief and we were able to service our customers efficiently through this channel. A

s a member of the WesBank COVID-19 Debt Relief steering committee, my role was to ensure that the IT teams delivered the debt relief requirements in an agile manner to support the business in an industry where customers’ requirements evolved during this period.

According to a PWC article on women in technology, women currently hold 19% of tech-related jobs at the top 10 global tech companies – what kind of opportunity does this present to women interested in a career in this line of work?

Having women in technology leadership roles brings diversity and innovation, resulting in improved financial performance. Having people who think differently in the room enables the organisation to arrive at better outcomes. Interacting with a diverse team forces one to prepare better and anticipate alternative viewpoints.

The young women in our society need to see and hear positive messages that reinforce that it is possible to succeed, and they can become anything that they set their mind to. The young men in our society need to have and see positive women role models around them too, so that when they grow up, they respect women as equal partners and are not threatened by women who are successful.

In reference to the same article, women make up 28% of the top leadership positions, with men the remaining representing 72%  – why do you think this is the case?

Historically, the roles between men and women were defined differently, resulting in men being the ones perceived to have better leadership skills and more suited to leadership positions. There’s also a myth that women do not put themselves out there in terms of leadership positions. However, the gap is as a result of individuals who do not embrace diversity – these individuals feel safe being surrounded by people who look like them and think like them. 

There’s an expectation that women have to prove themselves first, without any compensation or recognition, before being considered for an appointment to a particular leadership role.

It appears as if men are more trusted to fulfil a leadership role by default and they do not need to prove their previous experience or skills before being appointed for a leadership role. Women are painted by the same brush if one woman fails to fulfil or deliver in a particular role. When a male colleague fails to deliver in a particular initiative, there’s more understanding, there’s more tolerance and there’s “room for failure”. 

What kind of challenges and barriers to entry do women taking on the tech industry face?

Men have been in senior positions in the corporate space for a lot longer compared to women. Since there are only a handful of leadership positions available across the board, the opportunity to appoint women into these leadership roles is narrow, but positions are being made available as a result of filling the gap due to attrition at a leadership level. 

Another barrier to entry for women to be appointed in leadership roles is the gender stereotype: women are perceived to be too emotional or unable to handle stress.

In my view, women are the more resilient when it comes to dealing with difficult situations and conversations. It seems to be acceptable for a male colleague to be expressive and vocal about a particular topic; however, when a woman becomes assertive or voices an opinion, she is deemed as being emotional. Because of where we come from in terms of gender roles, there’s a view that the more masculine one is, the better the chance of being a leader.

The invisible glass ceiling has also played a role in restricting women from advancing as a result of the nature of the patriarchal society in which we live. This also adds to the barriers of entry that women face. 

Has there been a moment in your career where you’ve felt empowered, proud and capable as a result of your femininity? Can you describe it and how it impacted your passion toward a career in tech.

In most of the meetings I attend, there are very few women present and, at times, I am the only woman in the room. Early on in my career, I noted that many of my male colleagues assumed that when I am sitting at the table, my role is to nod and to always be in agreement with the points they made.

I learned the courage of having a voice at the table and noted that when I put my point across in a particular way, people listened more attentively because they were not expecting a woman to speak intelligently and with authority. 

I have always been feminine and I do not shy away from that; I find that being feminine draws people closer to me. I find it easy to build rapport and trust among the people that I work with because they can see that I am authentic and I am not trying to be someone else. My strength comes from being different and it takes people who embrace diversity to see that being different from each other is a strength.

What advice would you give to women who are looking to take on the world of tech?

Not a single day goes by without an article being written about the top 10 careers of the future where careers in technology are not mentioned. The opportunities exist, and women who venture to take on the world of technology in this era have the advantage that they have been exposed to technology from an early age.

Although we still do not have enough women in middle to senior positions in technology, women now have role models who can inspire them and who are a testament to what is possible if you can break through the barriers. 

When I pursued the “science” stream in high school and university, there were not a lot of women in my classes and we were not exposed to women who worked in the technology field. In fact, I only knew one female who was working and was successful in the technology field. 

Women today have a far better chance to succeed because of the sentiment in the workplace regarding providing equal opportunities for all and addressing the gender disparity that exists. Women should not be afraid of taking on careers in technology – they should be emboldened, knowing that with courage, focus and resilience, it is possible to succeed.

Edited by Jenna Delport
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