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Supporting aspirational goals for gifted African women

African Gifted Foundation offers academically talented young women in Africa an opportunity to ‘find value in themselves’. Watch the highlight video below.

The African Gifted Foundation (AGF), a charity providing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education opportunities for talented young women across Africa, has the global diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) agenda firmly in its sights to help leaders from diverse backgrounds overcome challenges and advance their careers.

Founded in 2010 by Tom Ilube, CBE, the AGF delivers a one-year STEM program for gifted African girls from low-income backgrounds. It comprises Cambridge International A-Levels in maths, further maths, and physics, as well as robotics, computer programming, and extra-curricular activities – all on a full scholarship.

Our role in the foundation draws on our global network of diverse leaders across 32 countries to provide inspiring speakers for students of the foundation’s school, the African Science Academy.

The c-suite leaders’ inspiration series provides motivational and uplifting advice on the route to leadership, lessons learned, and the skills and experiences built along the way.

Last month we hosted a session with Renee Hunt, the chief technology officer at Compare the Market, and Tery Lockitski, Industry 4.0 expert, former Tate & Lyle CDO, and former PepsiCo CTO. Both leaders discussed life and career advice, offering perspective from education through to senior leadership positions.

Watch the highlights of both sessions below: 

 

Renee Hunt

In discussing some of the most difficult challenges, Renee talked about overcoming stereotypes and preconceived notions of women in work: “Early in my career, there was a belief that all women would leave work to have children. There was a perception that as a woman, I couldn’t go as far, or I shouldn’t be invested in. I had to work hard, arguably harder than my male colleagues, in order to dispel that myth.”

The top skill she’s learned and advised the AGF alumni to adopt is the ability to learn quickly:

“Consume knowledge from many different sources and maintain this practice throughout life. Make it your responsibility to keep the grey matter active.”

After this, it is listening and developing people: “Being someone who wants others to be their best and succeed is highly rewarding.”

When asked about the career lessons she’s learned, Renee pointed to teamwork: “There are so few things done on a stage by yourself. I have two goals when putting a team together. Number one – not everyone should be ‘like me’, which means balancing out the skills and personalities in the team. Number two – bring in the very best to solve a problem, even if that means I’m not the strongest person in the team.”

Among the hardest problems she has solved, earlier in her career Renee navigated a highly political workplace where there was little support or recognition from her leadership:

“I created a personal ambition that had nothing to do with work, but it meant things at work needed to be done in order for me to achieve it."

"I set a goal to spend the whole summer in the south of France. For this to be possible, I had to work hard in spite of the challenging politics and build the best team I could. This goal gave me the extra motivation to work through challenging times to make it happen.”

Tery Lockitski

Tery’s discussion explored similar difficulties. Her life and career lessons focused on being resourceful, adding value, and personal exploration: “The biggest opportunity isn’t always the one directly in front of your face."

"My biggest success factor was curiosity and asking questions; you might not get the answers but the real interest is in the journey to those answers.”

“During my internship, I would show up to partner meetings early, talk to admin assistants to find out what those meetings were about, and do research on the topics outside of work. I added value and was noticed as a result.”

Commenting on how those starting their careers can stand out, Tery added: “In order to differentiate yourself from others, you need to find value in yourself and you need to find value in the things you’re endeavoring in.”

A significant part of her success once in a career comes down to finding sponsors and mentors: “This is the single most important thing in a career."

"You can’t do it alone – you need allies and mentors. Once you’ve gained the trust and respect of a mentor, they can quickly become a sponsor.”

The hardest thing she’s struggled with in her career has been balance, above both discrimination and sexism: “It can be incredibly hard to find balance because of imposter syndrome and constantly trying to overcompensate for what you think you lack – do I know enough, have I spoken up enough, have I worked enough hours? Overcoming this means setting boundaries, understanding your own feelings and priorities, and taking care of yourself.”

Her final message to the AGF alumni was the importance of resilience: “It’s a combination of hard work, sacrifice, and finding ways to explore the world safely and thoughtfully. The biggest problems are often persistent so it’s less about overcoming them and more about becoming resilient to them. This is achieved by acknowledging the world's reality, understanding your value, setting boundaries, and finding allies and colleagues who will advocate for you along the way.”

If you would like to be part of the series, please get in touch with authors Michael Drew or Daniel Glyn-Jones directly, or get in touch with us here. You can also find your local Odgers Berndtson contact here.

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