AT THE tender age of 19 I set off to London on what was to
be a "growing up" in the wonderful world of investment banking.
Terribly excited I started off, putting my all into each
position I held with the sheer determination and enthusiasm that I am glad
still resonates now that I am a little older.
To prepare for my journey I read many books including Liar's
Poker, a non-fiction, semi-autobiographical book by Michael Lewis.
This was an intense story about "Big Swinging
Dicks", swords, drugs and many other interesting and terrifying events
that occurred at one particular investment bank. Surely they weren't all like
Nevertheless, I was not to be deterred and had no false
illusions. I understood that this world was dominated by mostly macho men and
that women were sadly not taken too seriously.
I had no intention to burn my bra, but chose to learn as
much as I could and gain valuable experience. I felt as though the odds were
slightly stacked against me as a young South African woman in this massively
My first real opportunity arose when I was offered a
position to work as an assistant trader on the equity dealing floor of a German
Once I had come to grips with my job and gained confidence
and a desire for self-growth, I pressurised the head of dealing to be promoted
to sales trader. I knew I would prove my worth if I was given a shot.
He eventually succumbed, and I was now given the opportunity
to be a player in the big league.
There were very few of us "gals" on the floor in
that position and we ensured we all covered each other's backs, so to speak.
It was here that I observed two very different types of
One was promoted to head up the equity trading floor, while
the other headed up one of the dealing desks. These two women had much in
common including work ethics, and both were incredibly smart, driven and passionate.
However, they were two completely different characters in
their approach to managing people.
To date, this has been one of the most valuable lessons I
have learnt about the importance of the qualities an effective and successful
My past experience with most women managers was that they
had too much to prove to their male counterparts. They were mostly cold
"ice maidens" who were rather ruthless in their approach.
They did not necessarily identify or connect with their
employees, but were more interested in rising ever higher on the corporate
ladder. It was a very disappointing observation, but I wondered at the time
whether one had to be like that to be successful.
One might expect this of men, although my experience of them
has - barring one swinging macho bull - been very good. Why did these women
behave like this?
Quite frankly, it was offputting and I made a decision at
the time that I would not follow suit.
But there was a glimmer of hope - my exceptional friend, who
headed up the equity desk. She showed me that to be a highly successful woman
leader, you don't have to replace all the oestrogen with testosterone.
Generally speaking, most women have qualities of compassion,
understanding and love. We should not have to put these qualities in the broom
cupboard when we get to work each day.
Why not rather use them to build up our employees' morale
and help them reach their business potential? Surely this approach would lead
to achieving one's goals in the business world?
Regardless of whether you are a man or a woman in a position
of leadership, it is something that is earned and yes, it is a gift. Not all of
us want to lead.
But those that do and are of the fairer sex, remember you
are still a woman, and therefore act with grace and have the compassion that is
Don't get me wrong: being sharp, strong and decisive is very
important in the workplace and particularly in a leadership role. However, one
does not need to bring the bull whip to work to earn respect.
To Joyce Meyer (Christian ministry leader), Gill Marcus (SA
Reserve Bank governor), Maggie Thatcher (former British prime minister) and my
wonderful friend Kathy Smith: I applaud you.
You set the bar for me.
*Nicole Fannin is financial consultant at deVere Group. She
is the fifth guest columnist taking part in Fin24's Women’s Month campaign
celebrating women in business. Fin24 welcomes your participation in the
campaign. Send your views to email@example.com and you could get published.
Previous women's month columns:
Get your hands dirty - Sandra Burmeister, CEO of the Landelahni Recruitment Group
Manage like a woman - Wahida Parker, director of Equillore
Four tips for working moms - Glynnis Jeffries, head: business development at Futuregrowth
Women a force for change - Amelia Jones, CEO of Community Chest
Fin24 on Facebook,
Twitter and Google+.