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
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.