I am the third of four children and my parents never hid the fact that they were really trying for a boy who would be able to take over the farm. Being born a girl was therefore something not celebrated and I believe, rooted in my far distant memory, this was where my deep sense of gender inequality started. Simply being born the wrong gender – a cruel trick played by nature.
Yet today, 46 years later, I am the person I am because I decided to stand up and fight for what is mine in the world – boy or not. In deciding to take control of my narrative and write my own story, without even knowing it, I began building what I consider today to be one of my most invaluable assets – my personal brand.
The essence of what stays behind long after you’ve left a room, your personal brand is the culmination of your life experiences, unique character, ethical standardsand personality. But it is how well you communicate this brand to the world that will ultimately differentiate you from other professionals – something that is particularly imperative for us, as women, who continue to face gender-based disadvantages throughout our working lives.
This ongoing challenge was confirmed by the latest PwC report on executive pay in South Africa, which reveals that womenremain significantly underrepresented at senior leadership levels, regardless of their industry. Furthermore, women working for listed companies are still earning less than men in all major sectors, with a median pay gap ranging from 5% – 10%, proving that we still have a very long way to go before we see true equality in the workplace.
This is no doubt an issue that needs to be continually addressed until resolved, but until that time comes, investing in a strong personal brand can be utilised by women as a means to potentially bridge the gap created by institutionalised gender bias and, if nothing else, get their foot in the door for that all-important first interview.
This was my personal experience, having started investing in my own personal brand in the media and on social media a number of years ago, as it was this well-communicated brand that led directly to me landing a job as CEO of a local arm of a global company. Allowing my employers, who were based in Paris, to simply go online and see an extensive footprint of the type of person I am, the work I do and the extent of my network, played a major role in securing my first in-person interview in Paris.
Once this personal connection was established, the rest of the interview process was made far easier, and my personal brand has gone from strength to strength ever since. Today, I have the incredible pleasure of working on a start-up for Africa’s oldest insurance group, Old Mutual Insure. This is a career-long dream of mine and I am able to take all I have learned over the years to build something truly special.
I believe my personal brand was instrumental in me being nominated as a female global mentor by the Generali Group in 2016. The nomination afforded me the opportunity to follow a programme in which I had the privilege of mentoring one of the leaders from Generali in Greece. This recognition as a leader, particularly when addressing gender equality, is something that I am extremely proud of and will most likely be one of my biggest career highlights for many years to come.
However, starting the process of presenting yourself as a marketable brand can become overwhelming very quickly. It is important, in this sense, to think of building a personal brand as a marathon and not a sprint. An asset that you have to grow and refine over time, your brand will naturally change over the years as you mature, and it is vital to ensure that what you present to the world remains consistent with who you are.
Keep in mind, as well, that every single thing that you say in the media, write on a blog or share on social media, adds a little building block to your growing personal brand. In this sense, you can build an invaluable asset over time requiring very little financial investment.
Managing this asset with care, however, is essential. This is because, while building a personal brand takes time and reiteration, ruining a personal brand can be accomplished through one public blunder. Once a comment or statement is released into the public or online, it is very difficult to take back, so be sure that nothing you’re communicating can be easily misinterpreted or misrepresented.
In a similar vein, if your goal is to build a sustainable personal brand for professional reasons, it is often advised to keep your private life private, at least to a degree. What I mean by this is to stay clear of any potentially controversial political and religious comments, as well as emotional outbursts about things like bad service or failed relationships.
Having said that, however, the most important aspect of personal brand building is authenticity and, as such, sharing a bit of well-curated personal information with the world from time to time can help in creating a more meaningful brand that people can connect with. A well placed post about a trip or family vacation, for example, tells the world you are interested in broadening your horizons with travel, and that family matters.
Finally, once a strong personal brand has been established, it is important to be mindful that in addition to distinguishing us professionally, it also gives us a voice. As a woman who has reached a measure of professional success, I believe it is my duty to ensure the conversation about gender inequality continues.
This, however, is not always easy. One of the biggest conundrums I have faced in my career has most certainly been around being vocal, without being “too vocal”, about women’s rights. The reality, however, is that we currently live in an unequal society.
A further personal motivation for me is being a mother to a teenage daughter. I will not stop talking about the challenges we face in business and in life as women, until I know my daughter will be exposed to equal opportunity in the job market and that she will be paid the same as her male counterpart for doing the same job.