Women in Insurance: Nothing beats hard work

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Thando Kembo (nee Mukonondera) CA(Z), RPA(Z)

Thando Kembo is a personification of accomplishments and persistence. She started etching a living for herself and her family at the age of 18, got married at 23, became a qualified Chartered Accountant at the age of 25, and made to management at the largest private medical aid society in Zimbabwe at the age of 29. Prior to joining Cimas, Thando Kembo was with Deloitte for close to 10years in the external audit department. Where she was exposed to a very wide spectrum of industries, of which insurance (both at a local and international level) was one of them.

However glamorous her accomplishments may appear, it was all due to hard work and giving her best at everything she did. Whether it was her academic life or corporate one, she had to work very hard to keep on climbing up the ladder of success and achievements. And today she is a role model for thousands of aspiring women auditors-in-insurance in Zimbabwe.

Thando Kembo has managed to have a perfect balance between work and life. Thando is an elder at Community Life Church and is happily married to her husband Tinashe Kembo. Being in the insurance has given Thando the opportunity to spend more time with her family and at home.

Thando Kembo spoke to Risk Insure Zimbabwe managed to get hold of Thando Kembo and discussed about issues affecting women in insurance in Zimbabwe, what it takes to be a leader and the attributes that are key for one to a successful leader. Here are the excerpts of our conversation with Thando:

Being an Auditor you could have opted to be in FMCG, IT, culture, Development industry etc. why did you choose insurance?

When I accepted the Cimas post, I was mostly drawn to the vision our CEO, Vuli has for the Society in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole, which I identified with. His vision (or part of it thereof) is about working for a better change and advancement in the motherland.

I did not fully conceptualise it at the time, but medical insurance has allowed me to interface with people from all walks of life from a more human perspective. This idea of giving back to Society for it’s advancement is what keeps drawing me. I feel I can make a difference by taking the opportunity to learn and impart knowledge at the same time.

What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Making a difference, to my team, and to Cimas as a whole, which will in time cascade to the members. Internal audit is about being the business advisor and not just about policing management. I am most fulfilled when I give helpful insights and advice to management that help them make informed decisions/ corrective actions to better the Society.

From the time you have been working in the insurance industry what issues affect women in insurance?

Like other women in other industries, we face our own challenges. Women in our industry lack exposure, there is not much information on insurance, patriarchy and misconceptions within the industry are the main challenges. We also do not get media coverage because of the complexity of our industry that is why there is lack of reportage on our industry.

What could be done to improve media reporting of Women in Insurance?

To improve reporting of women in insurance and women should interact more with our media counterparts so people get to know more about the insurance sector. While the presence of women in insurance is not quite 50/50 as most would like to see, I believe ladies that are already there are making an impact. If we beam the light on them, others will be inspired to follow.

Women are slowly being recognised for being all-rounders. We are caregivers, wives, mothers, counsellors and leaders. Being able to take care of the different facets of life and having the media recognition is remarkable. It is pleasurable that the media now realises our position and they are mentioning it so that our male counterparts and everyone else recognise the importance of our contribution to society.

And what have been the successes of women in insurance?

There has been a lot of success stories for women in the industry for instance at Cimas the Healthcare services division is headed by a lady Zvita Mutambirwa while Tsitsi Moyo is ably running our Medical Services Division. The Cimas board is also comprised of competent women of repute like Emma Fundira, Charity Dhliwayo and Mercy Mkushi, and even lady CEOs in the broader insurance industry such as Grace Muradzikwa. These ladies have worked hard, just like any man, to be in their positions of influence in this industry. It is because of people like them that I believe the bar does not need to be lowered for women to succeed.

What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I am proud of the life milestones I have achieved so far in my life, both personal and professional. I started etching a living for myself and my family at 18, got married at 23, qualified at 25, made to management at the largest private medical aid at 29. I believe these will inspire others behind and beside me to also aim high, if not higher.

The insurance industry in Zimbabwe is male dominated what could be done to improve the number of women leaders in insurance?

There is need to expose more women to the industry through education, media coverage and career guidance. I personally think that we also need more leaders with vision like Vuli out there, where it’s never about your gender; it’s about your potential and worth. At Cimas, of the 5 executive posts, 2 are women, not just because they wear skirts but because they deserve to be there, they were the best of their crop.

The leaders we need to identify the talent, but it’s up to the women to make sure they are also up to the expected bar. I personally wouldn’t want to be a woman leader just because the bar was set low, I would naturally be out of my depth! I want to be a woman leader so I run with the giants in the industry, at their pace, so I improve and better myself, heck, so I also set a new standard for them.

Who is your mentor and why?

I do not have a mentor in the strictest of senses, i.e. I do not have someone I have monthly meetings on my life goals and progress etc., but I do have people I look up to and I take counsel from, not only about work, but life in general. These are my chosen advisors because they are real and will always tell me the truth that I need to hear.

What is the riskiest thing you have ever done in your life?

Probably bungee jumping (I happened to jump just a few days before the famous cord snap in 2010!!), but also the most exhilarating.

 

What do your friends and family think you do?

I think they just think am a boss lols!

What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

I’ve had a few interesting visits to a couple of places, but let me limit this one to Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada, where for a few days in the time I was there it was colder than the North Pole! (like in the -45 to -55 regions). Felt like an ant in a deep freezer. I took an 8 minute walk (against the advice of the weather reporters), just to feel this phenomenon, and when I got back my lashes were frozen and I couldn’t feel my legs or hands, breathing the air was like pure mint all the way to my lungs (dry, crisp). But I guess I can technically say I have taken a walk in the North Pole!

Any words of advice or tips for women who might want to join the insurance sector.

Nothing beats hard work; let your credentials speak for themselves. I am personally not one for women equality, but equity. What I mean by that is don’t lower the bar so that I qualify just because I am a woman, but when I do meet the standard (which we have proved we can), then give me an equitable chance, because I have earned it. So ladies, yes, you can do it all, and you sure can have it all.

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