Women are the best people to work in digital

The future of learning and growth is digital, say speakers at the Standard Bank Top Women Conference. Its awards were also handed out, with the lifetime achievement going to Yvonne Chaka Chaka.

top women digital
Phuti Mahanyele, Dr Judy Dlamini and Margaret Hirsch are speakers at the Standard Bank Top Women Conference held on 16-17 August 2017. (Images: Melissa Javan)

Melissa Javan
Women were naturally good at working in the digital sphere because they had empathy, delegates heard at the Standard Bank Top Women Conference.
Elizabeth Lee Ming, executive director of strategy, digital and chief disruption officer at TBWA/ Africa, was a panellist on the topic “Disruptive digital, disruptive women”. She said digital was about communication. “We as women are good at it because we have high levels of empathy.”

The conference was held on 16 and 17 August 2017 at Emperors Palace in Ekurhuleni.

Since 2003, Top Women has been South Africa’s leading gender empowerment brand, celebrating visionary organisations – both public and private sector – that prioritise gender empowerment as integral to their strategy for growth and success, it claims. Top Women has a publication, awards, and the conference.

Singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka received the Standard Bank Top Women Lifetime Achievement Award.


Speakers at the conference included businesswomen Phuti Mahanyele, Margaret Hirsch and Dr Judy Dlamini, as well as Stella Tembisa Ndabeni-Abrahams, deputy minister of telecommunications and postal services.

top women digital stella ndabeni abrahams
Telecommunications and Postal Services Deputy Minister Stella Tembisa Ndabeni-Abrahams says that when women thrive, so does the economy, speaking at the Standard Bank Top Women Conference held on 16-17 August 2017. It is important for women to tell their stories: “You are your own person, you are unique and you have your own strengths.”

Disruptive digital, disruptive women

Lee Ming said that although women were intimidated by technology, they were naturally good at all things digital. “Women should embrace digital. See it as something you can pursue,” she said. “Building a great brand is beyond building a brand for the company you work for, but also for yourself as a brand.”

Jamie Whittaker, global chief digital officer at Barloworld Equipment, shared her sentiment. “Digital touches every part of the business. It’s the new way of doing business. One of the key things in digital is empathy.”
He added: “Absolutely, women have a more mature sense of empathy. They are the key people for digital.”

Whittaker said the key lessons he had learned in digital was that you must be willing to learn and be adaptable. Digital was not just the thing on your phone. “Digital is embracing new processes.”

Jayshree Naidoo, the head of Standard Bank Incubator and interim chief executive officer of Feenix.org, said the future of learning and growth was digital. “We help entrepreneurs and some people may say it’s not digital, but we have to look at things like data analytics. We look at people’s behaviour (online). We try to make things relatable to people when they do not understand the space.”

top women digital glenda gray
Professor Glenda Gray (left), the first women to lead the South African Medical Research Council and leader of the first clinical HIV vaccines trials in the country, says women have an obligation to give opportunities to other women, speaking at the Standard Bank Top Women Conference held on 16-17 August 2017. She is pictured with the moderator, Lullu Krugel, KPMG chief economist.

Digital literacy a challenge

Feenix.org, Naidoo explained, was a crowdfunding platform that helped to raise funds for students’ tertiary fees. In the past six months, it had raised R1.3-million and fully funded 27 students.
However, by the end of the year there was still a R35-billion fees deficit, she said.

Through Feenix.org, it had become apparent that literacy levels were extremely low regarding the use of digital platforms, said Naidoo. “A total of 400 students’ applications are live, but we had more than 1,000 students who started with the application. Their documents are not completed.”
Many students relied on other students for computers. Through this, said Naidoo, they could use data to teach students to become more digitally literate, and also to find potential candidates for learning programmes relating to digital literacy.

Jonathan Ayache, general manager of Uber South Africa, said when Uber was brought to Africa, it had to train people in the use of smart phones. “The level of digital literacy has increased. Today we don’t have to do the training.
“There are incredibly passionate people here [in South Africa]. They are problem-solvers at heart and have ‘how are we going to make this happen’ attitudes.”

The awards

Some of the winners announced on Twitter:

Sources: Standard Bank Top Women and Feenix.

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