Yolisa Skwintshi of Eskom PPF on Women in the C-Suite & Digital Transformation

Yolisa Skwintshi, Head of IT at Eskom Pension & Provident Fund (EPPF).

August is Women’s Month in South Africa – and this month IT News Africa has been connecting with women in technology to provide needed signal-boosting for individuals in an industry that, especially in Africa, is male-dominated.

ITNA’s Luis Monzon had the chance to chat with Yolisa Skwintshi, Head of IT at Eskom Pension & Provident Fund (EPPF). Yolisa has wealth of experience in the IT industry, having served on multiple executive roles from Head of Technology at Absa, to the chairperson of ICASA’s IT Review committee. Passionate about IT, Yolisa is a firm believer that tech must produce tangible benefits to the business.

In the Q&A below, Yolisa covers a few topics, including the digital transformation of EPPF, why more women aren’t being represented in C-Suites across industries, and how the IT industry can increase this representation.

  • Can you share some insights on the digital transformation journey that is currently being undertaken at EPPF?

Although the EPPF is not a state-owned organisation, it is the second-largest pension fund in South Africa with close to 100 000-members and pensioners.

Access, personalised & customised convenience, value for money and speed are the guiding principles for EPPF as we embark on our digital transformation journey to deliver member centrality and to bring self-service capabilities to our members and pensioners.

Embracing digital transformation within the organisation not only allows us to better communicate with our customers, but they can also access a variety of information and new solutions that can help to enhance their experience as fund members.

Some of the key technology shifts that we are focusing on to improve member experience include AI, robotics, big data and data analytics and the creation of a pensioner digital coach for advice.

As we work from home and move more into the digital world, we need to be more proactive in terms of our activities. There has been a huge rise in terms of cyber-attacks even within our organisation’s systems.

Fortunately, EPPF has systems in place that can proactively identify potential cyberattacks and prevent them from harming our systems.

While many studies indicate that a more diverse C-Suite leads to better results, in many firms, especially those in the tech industry, executive positions are usually filled with men.

  • Why do you think this is still the case? Why aren’t more women being put in these positions?

The 2021 PwC report on remuneration trends shows that only 13% of South Africa’s executive directors are women, including CEOs and CFOs. In absolute numbers, that’s just 81 women.

According to the report, the lack of female representation at the executive level is consistent across large, medium and small-cap companies, despite this becoming a greater point of discussion locally and globally for decades now.

PwC said its research shows that even though companies have introduced initiatives to boost female representation and senior management and executive levels, many struggle to identify and take the necessary actions to promote women and expedite gender and racial diversity in senior leadership.

As a country, I think we can do more to advance women in positions of leadership. It requires a mind shift. Unfortunately, many discriminatory factors reduce the demand for female CEOs.

For one thing, women are subject to gender stereotypes. The stereotypical qualities of effective leaders – such as aggression, ambition and dominance – tend to overlap with the stereotypical qualities of men more than women.

As a result, men are often considered natural leaders when they exhibit traits like aggression, whereas women displaying these same qualities might be penalized for appearing “unfeminine.”

In addition, growing up girls experience different socialisation processes than boys. Even as children, males tend to receive more encouragement to lead, compete and take risks than females do.

As a result, men often have more opportunities to develop these skills, which also may help them ascend and succeed in CEO positions.

  • How can the industry increase the representation of women in executive positions?

Organisations should start by creating equal opportunities for females in executive positions, talent pools and succession planning that focuses on women in technology.

Corporate South Africa needs to look at a comprehensive approach to levelling the playing field. A good approach is simply making sure women have the same opportunities to develop as men.

Workplaces that mentor female leaders and provide a better work-life balance – such as by providing paid family leave or similar – are more likely to attract and retain women in managerial roles.

Companies could also focus more on preventing biases, such as stereotypes, from discouraging the selection and retention of women in executive positions. More broadly, society needs to ensure women are given more opportunities to develop leadership skills – in sports and community service, for example – earlier in life as well.

If we needed a reason to push for more gender equality among the leaders of corporate South Africa, there’s growing evidence that companies actually perform better when they have more women in senior leadership positions.

A simple solution like a gender quota probably won’t get us to equality, but a comprehensive approach could.

  • What advice would you give women looking to move up the executive ladder in the tech space?

The most important thing is to understand that above all else, we are all human beings first. 

Therefore, when you enter a room full of people, you need to see humans just like you – not whether they are male or female.

This will help you overcome the stereotype that males are better than females in particular fields and vice versa. How we use our minds to achieve what we want depends on our mindset and God-given talent, not our gender.

At the end of the day, we are all human beings with a mind, spirit, and a soul. As long as you realise this, work hard and walk in your purpose, you have a good chance to succeed in any industry.

By Luis Monzon
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