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At Absa, there is a dedicated focus on attracting and retaining female talent in terms of hiring criteria, writes Saloshni Pillay. Picture: 123RF/BOONSOM
At Absa, there is a dedicated focus on attracting and retaining female talent in terms of hiring criteria, writes Saloshni Pillay. Picture: 123RF/BOONSOM

The UK spy series Killing Eve has taken the world by storm and broken BBC viewership records for a single reason: the protagonists are unapologetically flawed. 

I think there is a very real lesson in life here and one that hopefully guides our thinking as we head into the second half of what has been a challenging 2020. 

For those not familiar with the series, it follows the lives of an eccentric female assassin (played by Jodie Comer) and Sandra Oh’s character, who has been tasked with bringing her to justice. 

While there are a number of subplots in the story, the series has endeared itself to viewers across the globe because it represents two strong women who are trying to find their way in the world, balancing careers, personal goals, romance and ... trying not to die in pretty much each episode. 

Tell me that does not sound like your average day in 2020?

I am often asked what the best piece of advice I’ve been given is, and I will always reference the words of a former colleague: “Don’t be apologetic for juggling multiple roles.”

As women we have a tendency to apologise more than our male counterparts because we never have enough time to balance work, family and general life commitments. We push ourselves in all aspects and feel guilty because we have to make compromises. How many mothers out there attend a school function and find themselves sneaking a look at their e-mail to make sure that they haven’t missed something at work?

How often have you panicked when your child has walked in on your client Zoom or Teams meeting? Why are we embarrassed? Does our family or home life cease to exist when we have our work hat on?   

For me this came to a head after having my first child and still being very career-driven. I realised the importance of determining what work-life balance meant for me, being confident in my abilities and leveraging my support structures. So I’m not apologetic for not taking calls or meetings before 8.30am as this is the time I spend with my children, given that my workday extends well into the evening.

While Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the way we work and how we interact with friends and family, it has also been a real test of finding our work-life balance. Technology is a great enabler to ensure that we are connected, but at what cost to our health is this always-on world? How many of you have sacrificed your health and wellbeing simply because your traditional gym routines have been disrupted? 

Working from home has allowed me time to incorporate a regular fitness routine into my day. I feel a lot healthier and as a result my productivity levels are much higher. Working from home has given me a much better balance in terms of family time and me time, while I continue to manage a large business and deliver on work commitments.

There is a lot of rebuilding to be done

While it does look like the world is making rapid medical advances in respect of the treatment of Covid-19, what worries me is the mental and unseen impact of the virus on my network.

It’s not just your friends or family who are seeing their businesses evaporate or losing their jobs: there is a broader societal issue at play here. 

We have developed this idea that women can’t show vulnerability in case it casts them in a negative light in the workplace. We can’t admit when the workload is overwhelming, or we feel like giving up because the businesses we have built are unable to keep their heads above water as a result of the pandemic. 

We need to stop thinking like this. 

Being in financial services, you get a good sense of which industries are taking the greatest strain, and it’s clear that the likes of the hospitality, leisure, beauty and wellness, consumer and education sectors are being hit hard. 

A recent report from McKinsey delivered a hard-hitting assessment: “Women are disproportionately represented in industries that are expected to decline the most in 2020 due to Covid-19.”

Some progress has been made in terms of discussions about gender equality, the funding of women-owned businesses, and breaking down traditional barriers or perceptions about what types of jobs women can do.

Now, suddenly, we are faced with a situation where home schooling is a priority and this responsibility is often falling to the women in the relationship. These are some of the unconscious biases women face.

About the author: Saloshni Pillay is the Absa global markets sales and structuring head. Picture: SUPPLIED/ABSA
About the author: Saloshni Pillay is the Absa global markets sales and structuring head. Picture: SUPPLIED/ABSA

For me, this is where the leadership at Absa has started to lead the way. 

Gender diversity targets are part of the Absa scorecard and there is a dedicated focus on attracting and retaining female talent in terms of hiring criteria, leadership programmes and succession planning. There is also a commitment from the leadership team to tackle the hard issues, from equal opportunities through to gender-based violence.  

In the past, many organisations have paid lip service to these issues but it is now front and centre — if you want the best talent and you want to attract the best clients, you need to ensure that your workforce is both empathetic and strong — there is a lot of rebuilding to be done. 

Whether it’s politics or business, our warts are being laid bare and accountability is going to be a key theme in the next few years as businesses and society recover from the impact of 2020. 

I am unapologetically flawed, but at the same time I recognise that I occupy a leadership role that empowers me to change the futures of the people around me. I want to be a role model and one of my goals for the rest of 2020 and onwards is to commit to sponsoring at least one junior person in my network, and proactively support that person’s career aspirations. 

Will you join me and help rebuild our economy and society?    

This article was paid for by Absa CIB.

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