Refusing to play the blonde card
Deirdre Elphick-Moore is co-founder of The Office Coach, a soft skills and personal development consultancy. Deirdre, has an Honours Degree in Psychology and more than 10 years of international experience in human capital management in Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and now focuses on personal and workplace effectiveness training and development for some of South Africa's largest corporates.
ABR:What influence did your parents have on your career choices?
DE-M:My parents provided a nurturing environment where I was free to pursue my own directions. They helped me realise my desires to attend university and travel abroad by encouraging my self-belief and getting the balance right between supporting me financially and ensuring I had a stake in my success.
ABR: Who in your career has been your biggest influence?
DE-M:I am inspired by different people for different reasons. My mother has always been a key role model; she was able to raise a family, be there for her children during our various extra-mural activities and work throughout our childhood. She has taught me the value of being independent in a marriage; there because she wants to be and not because she has to be. That desire for independence and work-life balance is what continues to influence me today.
ABR: What does success mean to you?
DE-M:Being authentic in the work that I do and achieving things that are truly meaningful to me and not based on societal norms and expectations. That integrity is central to how I measure success in my life
ABR: What motivates you?
DE-M: Being surrounded by and challenged by people who are better than me; if I am learning and growing, I am motivated.
ABR: What do you consider are the main ingredients for business success?
DE-M:Energy, perseverance and the ability to sell one’s product to others – you need to be able to make others see your value proposition
ABR: What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
DE-M: “Don’t play small” – in a country like South Africa, where gender bias is still very much a reality, women need to be brave enough to show what they are capable of. When I returned from the UK, the first recruitment consultant I met (a man) advised me to “play the blonde card before the brains card”! I refuse to do this and, by putting my skills to work to the very best of my ability, I demonstrate on a daily basis the value I bring to the skills development space in South Africa.
ABR: What was the worst?
DE-M:Refer to the quote from the recruitment consultant above
ABR: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
DE-M: Make sure you understand the market that you want to operate in; spend time understanding your target market, your competition and your value proposition. Package what you love to do in a way that enriches the lives of those you want to do business with.
ABR: How important is mentoring to women?
DE-M:Mentoring is vital, regardless of one’s gender. Mentoring is all about communicating in a way that enhances self-belief, productive relationships, awareness, responsibility and clarity. We can all benefit from this.
ABR: What was the biggest mistake you ever made?
DE-M: Not so much a mistake as an omission. I never mastered the art of “office politics” and am often frustrated by the way business and the egos in it work.
ABR: Is there really any difference between becoming successful in your own business whether you are a woman or a man in the continent today?
DE-M:There are many phenomenal female role models, across countries and continents, who have overcome tough circumstances and succeed in their chosen fields. As soon as we start to see ourselves as different, as subject to hardships that are unique to women, we introduce a “victim” mentality that has no space in the psyche of successful women.
ABR:If yes what do you think those differences are?
DE-M: What needs to be done to address this situation? I encourage men and women alike not to engage in the gender discussion and to focus instead on people’s talents and work and the results they bring. If we look at output/deliverables/contributions alone then individual successes can be measured equally. This view is echoed in the words of young, black South Africans who tell me that they want to be hired and promoted on merit alone and not on their BBBEE status. It’s much more empowering!
ABR:I know that in terms of getting to board level, it is still heavily weighted in men’s favour in South Africa, what needs to be done to redress that balance and establish a level playing field?
DE-M:Women need to learn to promote themselves better, to be in the face of decision makers, evidencing that they are the best people for the job, getting sponsorship from forward thinking men and women who can help grow their careers