By way of introduction, my name is Pieter Senekal. This is a line I was taught by a manager at the audit firm where I completed my articles. A simple line, but one that softened the blow of an otherwise very sudden transition from being a student to a young professional at a Big Four audit firm.
As with any young professional, I’ve been fortunate to meet many amazing mentors during my professional career. The guidance received and skills learned from these mentors have helped me adjust in both Southern African and international settings.
With the most memorable and prominent of my mentors in mind, specifically due to the nurturing approach often applied by female leaders, Women’s Month holds a very special place in my heart.
To the Women who Made my Career
On arrival at my first ever audit client, I was welcomed by a very busy team. I felt a sense of anxiety kick in when I saw how easy these experts made the audit seem; with the full extent of my auditing knowledge only learned from within the covers of some textbooks. Our lead senior, a third-year who is – to this day – known as the Mistress of Excel, took the time to show me some of the Excel shortcuts that made my jaw drop. “Simply doing my job,” she says. It was a pleasant surprise to have the concerns of my limited Excel skills greeted by a smile and a reassuring “you’ll get better over time, don’t worry.”
A couple of years later, the tables had turned. On my first in-charge engagement, with me now capable of teaching a few juniors some Excel shortcuts of my own, a senior manager in the office had a completely different impact. Her well-planned schedule and cool demeanour had a way of instantly motivating even the most demotivated of teams.
I am blessed with the curse of letting slip a nervous laugh when placed in higher-stress situations (a vice that sneaks through to this day). Her “stop laughing, it’s not the time,” was a bit of a wake-up call. Her candour was a reality check that made me learn to compose myself in a stressful situation and face a challenge head-on and with a structured plan. I could have sworn the statement was followed by a slight smirk of her own. Imagination, perhaps? Fortunately, innovative thinking and a healthy sense of imagination are also skills we learned from our social committee chairperson. I think you could guess her gender.
The corporate learning environment is never-ending and, in my current role of assistant manager, I’m constantly inspired by the female leaders within my workplace. During the ongoing challenges faced while getting the job done in a remote working space (thanks COVID) emotional intelligence and a sense of nurturing may be exactly what the doctor ordered. These traits are fantastic for the mental health of both teams and individuals.
Studies show that by helping others, activity in the amygdala (a brain structure associated with stress and fear responses) is lowered. Science aside, mentoring with a personal touch builds stronger relationships, while giving us time to touch base with our colleagues on an open and honest level. Furthermore, it adds a social element to the day which feels increasingly difficult these days from the other side of a computer screen.
Thank you, ladies
It’s not to say that these skills are not demonstrated by male leaders, but my career has been blessed with a number of impactful female mentors who seem to demonstrate these fantastic qualities more predictably. This warrants a major thank you.
Thank you to all the ladies that have made a difference in my career, and to all the wonderful women that continue to lead brilliantly within our businesses. Your skills and expertise, delivered with a caring and emotionally intelligent approach, inspire us to keep growing without fear of failure. When faced with a crisis, you forgive us for that nervous smirk. You help us realise that we have time to plan the next steps in resolving the issue at hand. Your leadership brings an optimistic, if not a little nervous, smile to my face when I think of all that we can still learn from you. Thank you for your ongoing wisdom on how to run the world.
Happy Women’s Month!
(And if August is not women’s month in your corner of the world, thank you anyway!)
Read this next: Being a woman in the Workplace – by Lianda du Plessis