CFO Ronel van Dijk reflects on being the only woman in the boardroom

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CFO Ronel van Dijk reflects on being the only woman in the boardroom

Jan 1, 2024 | Interviews

When Ronel van Dijk was appointed to the Spur Corporation Board, she was the only woman among the ten directors. During her career she’s faced a number of challenges due to her gender.

“Many a time you find that there are men who have their opinion about women and where they belong. They would speak amongst themselves in a manner that doesn’t recognise that there is a lady in the room which made me quite uncomfortable, particularly because I was quite young and less confident in myself.”

Standing ground

While much still remains to be done in terms of gender diversity in corporate South Africa, in early 2021, the Spur Corporation appointed a female CEO, Val Nichas, and a female CFO, Cristina Teixeira. With more and more women taking up leadership positions in the corporate arena, I ask Ronel what advice she has for them.

“I think they should stand their ground and take the punches that come their way. Even though men and women often act in the same way, unfortunately they are judged on a different set of rules. When a man gets angry and bangs the table, he is seen as assertive. When a woman does the same thing, she is considered emotional.”

She admits to losing her temper on occasion. “But I am humble enough to apologise when I was in the wrong.”

 

Ronel advises women to stay true to themselves and not try to be ‘one of the boys’.

“I do not think it is necessary for women to do things they do not enjoy. For instance, in the corporate environment, you find that companies often favour activities that naturally exclude women, like golf days and booking corporate boxes at various sport stadia. Despite being an avid sports fan, I often wasn’t invited to stadium games because it was assumed that I would not enjoy the games. Women should speak up and change the mindsets to have things that are more inclusive rather than spending long hours engaged in activities they do not enjoy just so that they can be part of the clique.”

Female managers should also speak up when things are said that they find inappropriate. “Often you find that people will appreciate being corrected. They may not have meant to be offensive and raising the issue helps to educate them on more fitting behaviour. Whereas the topic is an emotional one; there are unemotional ways of bringing the discussion up, so it is also important to develop your communication skills.”

Learning curve

In October 2019, Ronel was approached to assist in the CFO role at PPC Limited on an interim basis. It was like jumping into a fire.

According to Ronel she was responsible for putting out interim financial statements at a time when both the CFO and her ‘second in command’ had left the company in quick succession. “Soon after I started, we also began a programme to restructure the Group because it was overleveraged, particularly with respect to debt in the Democratic Republic of Congo which had recourse to the South African business.”

Even though her stint as CFO of PPC has been the most demanding time in her career so far in a sense she is grateful for it.

“It is in difficult times that you learn the most because when things are easy, you don’t learn anything new,” she says. “I learnt a lot about people and a lot about myself. I learnt that I have more patience than I thought I had as well as perseverance. It is possible to gather the troops and get things done in a virtual environment and in general the human race is very adaptable. Most people are committed and loyal and they appreciate recognition and gratitude from time to time.”

She recommends young people read well and widely, in particular books that cover subjects such as leadership skills, mindfulness and philosophy.

She also feels she contributed to the lives of the people she worked with by teaching them about leadership and camaraderie in the workplace, introducing weekly training sessions that cover technical matters, software training and soft and leadership skills and by being available to the team when they need her.

This article is an extract from the book Masters of Money – Strategies for Success from the CFOs of South Africa’s Biggest Companies available here – https://www.takealot.com/masters-of-money/PLID90121297?gad_source=1&gclid=CjwKCAiAyp-sBhBSEiwAWWzTnmLGsW3EWthrsEzrN69lcPhFqkxkQjPsxSF6CHoP2oj6-XRBtDB5gBoCfA8QAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

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