Time for women in risk to stand up and be counted

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BY Liz Booth

International Women’s Day 2017 was celebrated last week, and women in risk management were no exception.

The UK’s Institute of Risk Management (IRM), which includes a chapter in Kenya as well as in South Africa, celebrated the global event by highlighting the role of women in risk.

The institute comments: “While it may not be easy to predict what tomorrow’s business will require from its leadership, there is a growing body of evidence that women are no longer trying to fit into the culture of the organisations they work for but are creating that culture. This is also the trend for women working in risk management.

“Anecdotally, there appear to be a lot more women working in operational risk, which requires a more qualitative skillset than, say, credit risk which is heavily quants biased. While some may say that technical skills can be learnt, we want to understand what the drivers are of women working in risk; how they function and whether emotional intelligence is a factor that may positively influence how risk is managed.”

Nicola Crawford CFIRM, managing director, i-Risk Europe and chair of the IRM, says: “In 2017, the IRM will undertake research into the trends of women working in risk management, culminating in an event later in the year.

“We have established a Women in Risk Group for women working, or aspiring to work, in the practice of managing risk in work and community environments.”

She adds: “Our goal is to promote diversity in risk management, to harvest the unique experiences, skills and perspectives that women can bring to optimise decisions and build positive risk cultures. We will achieve this by uniting and empowering women in risk through networking, discussing and sharing of experiences.”

Meanwhile, Dorothy Maseke GradIRM, group risk and compliance manager at ICEA Liongroup and chair of the IRM’s Kenya group, gives her perspective: “In the past couple of years, there has been a lot of emphasis placed on empowering the girl child in Kenya. As such, there has been a lot of progress.

“A lot of c-level positions, including senior risk positions, are filled by women. Since risk management within the east Africa region is a relatively new field, the gender debate specifically for the risk manager is no longer quite a subject. A number of risk professionals are women and this cuts across many sectors within this region.”

She adds: “Women are naturally caregivers, nurturers and trainers. They find it easy to bring forth new things (almost synonymous to bringing forth children and seeing them grow). Through this process, they educate these young ones as they learn great life lessons like patience, perseverance and multitasking.

“Being a woman, and a mother of young children, has actually helped me through my journey as a risk professional. I am able to work towards providing solutions, plan strategically, birthing new things and ideas, with an energy that seems to never end.”

Strengths that women have include strong communication skills, attention to detail, high emotional intelligence (ability to read facial expressions, moods) as well as trusting their guts (strong intuition), which helps when at a crossroads, according to Ms Maseke.

“We are able to make decisions without all the facts at times, by simply trusting our very strong gut feeling. These unique qualities make women a ‘safe pair of hands’,” she says.

In terms of advice, she says do not be afraid to stand out and take risks. Do not be afraid to take the lead – to help drive strategic directions.

“As risk management develops as a discipline, there will be less focus solely on financial risk and more on understanding behaviour and decision making – risk will play more of a strategic role at board level, [and] there is a need for qualified staff with a mixture of soft skills and technical knowledge,” she concludes.

In South Africa, Zanele Makhubo, chair of IRM’s South African RIG and employed by Guateng, says: “For me, International Women’s Day is about the emancipation of women and transformation in the workplace, thanks to the policies initiated by the government in the public sector space, which promote gender mainstreaming and empowerment of women.

“As a female risk manager holding a strategic position in the organisation, [that] has paved the way for me to be the voice of influence in advocating for the emancipation of women and mentoring young women in the workplace. In my day-to-day activities I have mentored young women, some of them in the internship programme, by transferring risk management skills as well as advising senior female managers on their risks matters within their areas of responsibility,” she adds.

Ms Makhubo was appointed director for enterprise risk management in the department in 2007, when the concept of risk management had just been introduced into the public sector.

“I became a pioneer for its implementation in my organisation,” she says. “In the beginning, implementation was not smooth sailing, in that you had to convince the executive and senior managers, who are mostly male. I was fortunate enough to sell the concept of risk management using my communication skills, which I acquired in my previous careers as an educator and an auditor.”

She continues: “Since 2008, I have been advocating the benefits of risk management in the public sector, as a speaker and panel member via various risk management platforms, including the IRM’s regional group. This has enhanced my communication skills and helped me to build long-lasting relationships with colleagues. These relationships have assisted me to gain buy-in for the successful implementation of risk management processes in the organisation.”

As a female risk manager, she believes: “You need to get involved in matters of women’s emancipation and transformation in the workplace and be vocal about it. This has led me to sit on the women management forum in the organisation. The forum looks at eight principles that promote women’s emancipation and transformation in the workplace.”

According to Ms Makhubo, these are: transformation for non-sexism, establishing a policy environment, meeting equity targets, creating an enabling environment, gender mainstreaming, empowerment, providing adequate resources, accountability and monitoring. The forum reports to the executive on these matters, ensure implementation, learnings learned and improvement.

“My advice to other women risk managers is: be visible in the organisation, sell your worth by getting involved in matters that promote women’s emancipation and transformation in the workplace. It is so fulfilling to make a difference in someone’s life in the workplace,” she concludes.

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