By: Noluthando Ngqandu, Head: Assessing, Procurement, and Salvage
Noluthando Ngqandu is equally at home in the executive boardroom and in panel beater’s workshop. That’s fortunate, as her role as Head of Procurement, Assessing and Salvage at Bryte Insurance means regularly interacting with a diverse group of people, from insurance assessors to mechanics to small business owners to actuaries.
It’s no easy task making her voice heard in the traditionally male-dominated financial sector and holding her own in the macho environment of scrapyards, automotive retailers and repair shops. Indeed, she says that when she started the role, burly mechanics would take one look at her manicured nails and assume she couldn’t possibly understand the finer points of metalwork or tell a spark plug from a CV joint.
However, automotive cover is a major component of an insurance company’s operations, and in her role, she knew she had to earn the trust of partners in the industry.
She was helped, she says, by her insatiable curiosity. When she started in her current position, she applied as much effort to getting to grips with the minutiae of maintenance and repair work as she did in mastering complex financial models. That meant getting out of the office and sitting in the back of a bakkie with a plumbing team, visiting on-site repair jobs.
She also had to learn the tricks of the trade to develop trust and build a strong rapport, meeting panel beaters in the workshop (and sparing them the discomfit of the corporate office) or even socialising at the watering holes favoured by industry insiders.
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Blazing a trail for the next generation
Fortunately, times are changing. The financial sector is a more hospitable space for ambitious young women. And the idea of a woman putting on overalls and get her hands dirty under the hood of a car is no longer shocking. Of course, the times are changing, in no small part, because trailblazers like Noluthando fought for their place at the table.
There’s still plenty of work to be done. Noluthando says that women provide an invaluable perspective. However, in insurance – and the financial sector more broadly – many women still hold support roles. The more technical and strategic positions tend to be dominated by men.
She says that older executives, who are approaching retirement, should ensure they pass down their skills and deep knowledge base to the next generations, not least to women who aspire to complex technical roles.
An ecosystem for equal success
Supportive corporate structures and policies are also critical. For instance, women need to know that taking time off for maternity leave isn’t going to be a competitive disadvantage. Employees have to be able to devote time to caring for their families and managing their careers.
Noluthando also takes seriously her duty to empower juniors with the skills and confidence they need to reach their career goals.
Insurance is an exciting and challenging industry with tremendous opportunities to learn new skills, meet interesting people and solve complex problems. This women’s month, Noluthando suggests, is a time to recommit ourselves to creating the policies and mentorship opportunities all young people – especially young women – need to thrive and bring new insights and innovation to help navigate a changing world.