WOMEN'S MONTH PROFILE

Sugendhree Reddy is the the chief executive of retail financial services at Alexander Forbes. Personal Finance asked her about her career and what advice she would give to women entering the world of finance.

What are the secrets of your success? 

Believing that I can do anything I put my mind to. Delivering results that create a track record that shows I can be trusted to deliver. I would not have got to where I am today without great mentors and leaders.

What challenges have you faced in your career? 

I had to fight to ensure I was treated fairly. Working in the days of apartheid was difficult, and I often experienced prejudice based on my colour and gender.

At my first job, I was in the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast team, and I had to travel up to 400km to reach the clients I was auditing in towns such as St Lucia, Richards Bay and Empangeni. There was no accommodation for people of colour. Travelling daily was not an option, so we had to find private accommodation whose standards were not always the best. 

Many times, I was left out of team-bonding sessions, because I did not participate in “boys’ nights out” and sport, such as rugby. I always had to prove that I was the right person for the job, whereas my male colleagues did not face such challenges.

Have you faced any challenges in the “man’s world” of financial services? 

Definitely. I remember an incident that clearly demonstrates the issues women have to deal with in a “man’s world”. At one of my previous employers, which was dominated by men at the senior level, about six men and two women were discussing a topic at a meeting. The chairman adjourned the meeting for a bathroom break. When the meeting resumed, the chairman endorsed the decision that had been made in the men’s bathroom. When the women protested, he replied that 99% of decisions are made either on the golf course or the men’s bathroom.

We women quickly learned that there are unwritten rules in the workplace, and if we wanted to succeed, we had to master these rules. 

I also remember challenging one of my male bosses who was about to appoint a man into a position that had not been advertised and for which I had not been considered. The candidate was less experienced and had fewer formal qualifications than me. The only thing he had on his side was his ability to play golf and being a man. I got the job eventually, but I had to prove a million times over that I was the right candidate for the job.

What is your advice for women who want to make a career in finance?

  • Believe in yourself. Don’t allow others to take charge of your career.
  • Find a mentor to help you navigate the male-dominated world, preferably a man who is open to supporting women. I was fortunate to meet such a man: Peter Schlebusch at Standard Bank was an excellent mentor to many women.
  • Be confident and less emotional. Men think we cannot hear negative feedback and that we behave emotionally. Work against this myth.
  • Be authentic and use your edge. Women have the edge of being good listeners and connecting emotionally with people. Aim to win people’s hearts and minds.
  • Always deliver. Results speak for themselves.
  • Build a strong network that you can lean into when required. Men are great at networking, and business deals often arise from a strong network.

Is the financial sector recognising women as a marketing opportunity when it comes to purchasing decisions? 

I think that the opportunity to market to women is often missed. Women and children often influence the purchasing decisions in a family, and this factor is often lost in marketing messages. Marketing messages are still targeted at men, while women are often portrayed in a supporting role rather than as decision-makers.

What must the financial sector do to ensure that the needs of women are addressed? 

Women need to emancipate themselves. They need to take control of their finances. Often, women have a smaller value in their retirement fund or savings and investment accounts, because they took time off work to raise a family. 

Women also tend to spend on their children’s needs or household items, not realising that they are neglecting to build her own nest eggs. Women must start thinking about themselves first. The financial services sector should be doing more to educate women about securing their financial well-being. Often, we hear stories of women who are left destitute when the man leaves the relationship. This could be avoided if women learn to be financially free.

Any parting thoughts? 

Don’t rely on someone else to provide for your financial security. If you agree to be the home executive, demand to be paid. Live within your means and stick to a budget.