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Women in Business: Q&A with Jessica Hawkey

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In this exclusive Q&A, we delve into the insights and experiences of Jessica Hawkey, the Managing Director of redAcademy—an organization committed to establishing a sustainable reservoir of adept software developers for corporate IT talent strategies.

With unwavering dedication, Jessica aims to bridge experience gaps through inventive learning approaches and immersive experiences, propelling promising South African youth towards flourishing software careers. Prior to her current role, she held the esteemed position of General Manager of Operations at the Carrick Group, a renowned offshore Wealth Management institution.

Notably, Jessica also played a pivotal role at State Street Poland, leading the inception and training of the Asset Manager Services division within the country. Join us as Jessica shares her unique journey as a woman in business, her advice for fellow female professionals, and her fervent commitment to empowering the youth of South Africa.

  1. As a woman in business, tell us about the start of your career and what actions do you believe have led to your success thus far?

I finished university some years back, and whilst I was doing my classes, and carrying on my studies, I was in the field of management accounting, and I wanted to get my chartered status in management accounting. But I then experienced, I think, what most graduates do experience in their careers. I couldn’t find or obtain a job in my field.

So I started off in a retail space. I worked as a stock controller moving shoes from one store to the next store. But that was my step into the working world, a step into the office environment, working during the days and studying during the evenings to obtain that chartered status. I did go on to do management accounting for a period after that and then moved to an institutional bank where I managed multiple teams, worked overseas, and then came back to South Africa to work locally.

I think what set me up for success in my career from there, was to look for and seize every opportunity in the workplace that I could. To work hard, work at your success, and when those opportunities then present themselves, to go and grab it with both hands. To make yourself available, to put your hand up and say “This is something I believe I am capable of.” Taking risks, working hard, and really putting yourself out there to succeed in business.

I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by brilliant mentors and this has been a significant opportunity that I’ve had and one that I’ve grabbed with both hands and really grown and learned a tremendous amount from. The mentorship that I’ve received from others in business, the lessons I’ve learned, to use every opportunity to grow, learn and refine those skills have been incredibly important in my journey.

2 . Has enough been done for women in tech in South Africa and where do you see your role in this?

In South Africa, we are fortunate to be better represented than a lot of countries in the world, specifically in the tech space for females. But, it’s still not enough. If we look at the bigger context and take the full picture into account, with the dire unemployment rate, there’s a lot that we still need to do. That’s what inspires me about redAcademy and what our focus is as an innovative skills and experiential learning hub that specializes in teaching coding and technology skills.

We have talented women who have graduated from the programme, moms who drop their children off at school in the mornings before coming to work, we have matriculants who have graduated and have a clear career path into the technology sector. These are the types of differences that I want redAcademy to make in the world.

I also need to emphasize the need for women to act as mentors to other women. Through our individual experiences, we can share our journeys with other women, to create a path for their own success.

I am privileged to receive such mentorship from fellow women in business, by having joined the accelerator programme hosted by the Standard Chartered Women in Tech (WomHub), which aims to provide a platform for aspiring women entrepreneurs in South African STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Manufacturing) industries, developing their innovative tech-based business ideas and accelerating their growth.

3. What is your advice to women starting their careers?

My advice to other women, whether they’re starting their careers or growing their careers, is to have courage. The first step you need to take is believing in yourself. But believing in yourself in such a way that you’ve worked hard, that you know that when you put your hand up for an opportunity and you look to take it, that you are suited for that opportunity and you’ve put in the hard work. Whether it be at a school level, whether it be in your network, in your community, or whether it be in a previous job or role that you’ve had, always put your name forward. But do it through hard work, accountability, and through having perseverance in what it is you’re doing.

When you decide to do something, know yourself well enough. Know this is something that you want to do and something that you want to go for. Something for our graduates and other women in tech who are launching their careers is always to know that there are others looking to you. You are setting an example for those who are looking to launch their careers. Put your best foot forward. You never know who you are inspiring.

3. You spoke about knowing yourself, can you elaborate on how this assists in goal and direction setting?

It is to take a moment to reflect, to think about where it is that I want to go. What is it that’s going to make me happy? And for some people, it’s work, for some people, it’s not. But whatever that may be, define that and decide that and know that in yourself as early as possible.

And then be relentless in the pursuit of that goal, that aim that it is that you’re going for. And generally, it’s a utopia. It might not be something that you’re ever necessarily going to achieve. There might always be more to it. The journey’s value lies in its growth and experience, making the process remarkable. Aim for progress, and relish the voyage. And you never know where that ceiling is, you never know where that limit is. Keep pushing, taking those opportunities, refining your skillset, and keeping that energy balance through the process.

4. Any closing thoughts for Women’s Month?

I wish everybody a fantastic Women’s Month. I think that there are many that have paved the way for us as females in our careers and in our futures.

We are incredibly passionate about what we are doing at redAcademy, creating opportunities for youth, including females in the technology space. It is something that we can take forward, something I’m excited about over the coming year and years ahead of me.

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