The Sunday Mail
Dr Eve Gadzikwa has been director-general of the Standards Association of Zimbabwe for the past 11 years and has presided over the African Organisation for Standardisation. She has navigated the private and public sector terrain for 25 years, during which she sat on the prestigious Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) and Institute of Directors Zimbabwe boards. She recently addressed the subject of gender equality on boards and our Gender and Community Editor Fatima Bulla captured some nuggets. We publish excerpts below.
Q: What does it take to serve on a board?
A: Over the last few decades, women have made great strides towards gender equality in many arenas, but not on corporate boards. Introducing more women at leadership level introduces broader perspectives and new ways to manage problems. The key issue here is diversity and creating balance on boards. The 50-50 representation as a whole has, however, not been achieved on boards in Zimbabwe and many other countries as women continue to play second fiddle.
Q: What can women do to be on boards?
A: If you want to become a magnet for boards, LinkedIn is the biggest business to business social network in the world. Social media presence is extremely important. At this stage forget Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — LinkedIn is where the gold is. This is the first place people look when they are trying to learn more about your potential to serve on their board.
Q: What qualifications must one have?
A: Board members are often headhunted by organisations on the basis of the value you bring to the table, problems you are capable of solving, how well you can fit into the culture of the organisation, what ability or competencies apply, tact and special experiences to provide insight and oversight. They also want to know your track record and traits such as good reputation, confidence, integrity and stoicism — that is — a mindset that you can take on anything. Boards also look at your availability and commitment. So contrary to the belief that qualifications are very important, of course, they are, but unless it is required legally and in terms of risk and compliance provisions, qualifications are not as important as the specifications I have mentioned above. It is far more important for you to project a positive character if you want to serve on a board.
Q: What is the secret to your success?
A: Consistency. Consistency becomes the building block of trust. If you want to serve on any board you have to be trusted. People want trustworthy board members more than anything else. You may have the experience, the qualifications, but if you can’t be trusted with information, you cannot serve on that board.
Trust comes with a number of aspects to do with good sense, accountability, transparency (and) being a team player. You need to have passion, bringing something special that no one else has. Your core values should speak for who you are. The secret to success is building that consistency, trust and also co-values.
Q: How do you become someone who inspires confidence to business people?
A: Where there is no struggle, there is no strength — that is what Oprah Winfrey said. For you to be able to serve, you must be prepared to build some business acumen, improve your performance, demonstrate success by leveraging your associations and also spending time with people who are actually better than you. People who are prepared to mentor you because serving on a board does not come easy, it takes time and patience.
Q: What are the factors that contributed to your success?
A: There are certain organisations that were instrumental to my personal development. Success Motivation International (SMI) taught me discipline to document things, track progress, set goals and achieve them. In fact, after my MBA, my profile greatly improved and I was able to sell myself to many boards who were interested in what I had to offer.
Another very important aspect of my career development and my journey were the networks I developed. Institute of Directors Zimbabwe, which I ended up chairing, is one such organisation. I was the first woman to chair the IoDZ, something which I am proud of.
Those networks were really important in my early development as a board member. I’m a member of CZI (Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries), ZNCC (Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce), Proweb and a number of other organisations.
All these have been important in helping shape the person I am today. Of course, I had good mentors as well. This is important, people who held my hand and helped me develop to be the person I wanted to be. Reading books is also critical — “48 Laws of Power” by Robert Green helped shape my thoughts. It helped me become a more credible person, to have courage and of course I ended up writing a book — “I Dare You To Lead”. All I am saying is there are many ways of developing leadership skills, just go for it.
Q: How did you manage to deal with gender discrimination?
A: Let me just say I’m one of those people who have been privileged to be able to journey to the top but it wasn’t without challenges. Yes, gender discrimination is real and in a patriarchal society, women are still struggling to be recognised, identified and appointed to boards because of discrimination. My personal experience is that if you want to serve on a board, you have to be willing to do more than the average person or woman, to go where others are not willing to go. And by this, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean you have to compromise your values. But it is true that women have to work much harder, possibly three times harder than men to be appointed onto these boards.
An important aspect in achieving success on boards, believe it or not, is being prepared to fail. Failing is part and parcel of one of the ingredients to success. So as you are trying to shape that profile, be prepared to fail, you will fail. If I have to be honest I have failed many times but I’m able to pick myself up and keep moving. One such experience that I can share is when I served on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange board.
I did not know I was to be the chairperson for the ZSE for the next three years at a point when I knew absolutely nothing about trading on the ZSE. However, I accepted the challenge knowing full well that I could fail.
After one year I had learnt about the role of the ZSE in the economy. I also had to champion automation of the ZSE. I needed to learn how to balance interests of different stakeholders, listing rules, disclosure, shareholder values etcetera. However, after three years of failing and picking myself up, I succeeded. It wasn’t easy but it did make me stronger.