In celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March, we talk to three inspirational women at ABB South Africa. The technology leader is a proud signatory of the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles and has pledged to further strengthen its commitment to gender equality. The IWD 2023 campaign theme is #EmbraceEquity, which aims to get the world talking about why equal opportunities are not enough. People start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action.
Zoleka Isaacs, Divisional Controller, Electrification Distribution Solutions (ELDS)
Managing a team of financial specialists that oversees the financial management of the five different product groups in her division, Zoleka remains energised about the vital role her team plays to ensure compliance with accounting and internal controls policies and procedures. She oversees the overall financial running of the product groups while acting as the financial business partner to the business managers to ensure accurate and good results.
“I am excited about women in a previously male dominated industry breaking barriers and challenging the status quo when it comes to gender roles. I am particularly passionate about my job because I love working with numbers. My role also gives me an overall business perspective in terms of running an entire business and the various aspects involved in keeping a business financially healthy, profitable and compliant,” says Zoleka.
Zoleka’s major career highlight to date has been her promotion from Senior Projects Controller to Divisional Controller last year after assuming the role in an acting capacity for only a few months. Since commencing her career in finance, she has always worked in the engineering space. Zoleka started at a motor manufacturing company, moved on to work in finance on a construction site and then joined ABB.
Zoleka currently forms part of an inclusiveness and diversity forum started by the business manager in her division. The forum discusses and actions initiatives to make the workplace more inclusive. This forum is female led, with the chairperson a young talented female within the division. ABB also has training, both face-to-face and virtual, to specifically tackle and educate on this matter.
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In addition, the company strives to include more females in leadership, engineering and project management positions that have historically been mostly male. The head of the South African organisation is female and flies the flag high in this regard. The #EmbraceEquity campaign also speaks to the work being done in the company to promote and educate about gender equity.
“To #EmbraceEquity means to create a work environment that does not just accept but values and promotes fairness, inclusion and diversity. This goes hand in hand with a leadership style that is more caring and collaborative, in line with our ABB values,” says Zoleka.
She would like to see more active male interest to balance the proverbial gender scales in the understanding that it will take a deliberate effort to align roles and make the workforce more equal. “I love the trend of women breaking glass ceilings in the workplace and corporate settings. I see this spill over into societal settings. It really needs to be embraced by all to keep up the momentum in all spheres.”
Her advice to young women starting out on their careers is to be aware that for any role you take on, you are there because you are qualified to do so. “As women, we sometimes experience what is commonly known as imposter syndrome whereby you may doubt your abilities or contributions due to sometimes louder, often more confident male voices in a room. We need to believe in ourselves more and find our voices to speak out, whether it be on technical job-related discussions or sociocultural issues in the workplace. Our voices add value!” highlights Zoleka.
Mikateko Mtsetweni, Tax Manager, ABB
Mikateko is responsible for the tax function in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Her team works together to deliver on the region’s tax objectives, manage tax risk and compliance, identify tax efficiencies and contribute to long-term value creation by being a trusted partner and tax advisor to business stakeholders. She says the world of finance, and in her case tax, is truly dynamic and continues to evolve.
Having spent much of her professional career as a tax professional, to this day Mikateko says she still learns, is challenged, and has moments of epiphany. “I remain encouraged, which keeps it exciting for me. As a woman in tax and finance, I can enter predominately male dominated rooms, share and unpack insights that they may not have known or heard of before and also get buy-in for my ideas.”
Mikateko is empowered to do this because brave women have walked ahead of her in the profession, driving transformation at different levels, allowing her to engage in dialogue with male counterparts in the workplace and to walk into these spaces and be confident that her views matter.
When Mikateko qualified as a Chartered Accountant (CA) she ranked in the top ten nationally, which she believes has inspired others. “To have directly or indirectly contributed to the journey of others in the profession has been a privilege. I get excited every time I have a conversation with an aspiring CA (SA) about their career prospects. I have been fortunate to work with people who supported my growth.”
This always opened up opportunities and exposed her to interesting commercial transactions in the organisations I have worked for, even at the outset of her career. “It is rewarding when you see the tangible impacts of your contributions, usually on the balance sheet, income statements or tax policy changes,” explains Mikateko.
She says transformation is about ongoing growth and learning in different areas of life. “For me, this has meant learning to forgive myself and celebrate each milestone on that journey. Your biggest critic is yourself, but it is important to understand and accept that you are not perfect. How you react to each experience is an opportunity to become a better version of yourself. As women, the expectations and the measure of success are often different from that of men in the eyes of society. It is important not to lose yourself in the process,” says Mikateko.
Diversity and inclusion start with open and honest dialogue backed by actions. “I do believe that the ABB leadership has created an environment where we all can have a voice, and each day you see that translate positively.” The IWD 2023 theme of #EmbraceEquity recognises there is strength in collective growth.
Mikateko’s advice to young women is: “You may not feel 100 percent ready but trust me, you are. Just take the leap. Good work ethic always wins, so challenge yourself. And do not put off learning for tomorrow, do it now and continuously. In my career I have seen less, or equally competent male counterparts take up opportunities I would tell myself I was not ready for. As the saying goes, not taking a risk is actually taking a risk.”
Vilashika De La Guerre, Corporate Counsel, Director, Public Officer and Company Secretary
Vilashika’s portfolio extends to Sub-Saharan African countries, and she is a Director of ABB South Africa, ABB Zimbabwe and ABB Zambia. The role is fiduciary in nature whereby the company statutory, compliance, governance procedures and policies are upheld to ensure compliance with local legislation. As a Director of ABB, she oversees company strategy in the region.
What keeps her motivated is adding value and make a difference to ensure business sustainability. For her, the passion and excitement lie in breaking barriers and forging inclusive engagements. Career highlights have been running her own legal consulting business and being appointed as a Director of ABB South Africa after having been in the company for only 18 months.
“ABB is positioned as a leading organisation to drive diversity and inclusion. To me, #EmbraceEquity means to celebrate women, equal opportunities, fair treatment and a changing mindset.” says Vilashika.