“Lean Into Self-belief”: Phillipa Geard Offers Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

For the Women’s Day edition of IFSA Prosperity Sessions, we chat to mompreneur Phillipa Geard about how investing in human capital delivers great rewards.

Founder and CEO of RecruitMyMom and RecruitAGraduate, Phillipa Geard has a keen eye for demographic groups unjustly excluded from the economy. She has tenaciously championed the cause of mothers seeking to return to the workforce and young people struggling to start careers.

While she sees her work as profoundly purpose-driven, her efforts aren’t motivated solely by social concerns but above all by the firm belief that businesses are losing out on the skills that can take them forward today and tomorrow.

During the second IFSA Prosperity Session on 9 August 2022, Phillipa sat down with IFSA CEO Frikkie van Loggerenberg to talk about how by leaning into what makes us human, we can learn to capitalise on underlying opportunities that yield attractive, long-term results.

We’ve cherrypicked some of the best lightbulb moments on flexibility in the workplace and investing in people.

You founded RecruitMyMom in 2012 to address the flaws in the labour market that kept mothers out of jobs and deprived companies of their skills. What’s the current state of play for women in the workplace?

Phillipa Geard: In South Africa, more than 40% of women enrol in a tertiary institution – a higher number than men. What’s more, 51% of degree holders in South Africa are female. Most organisations’ graduate recruitment programmes work on a 50-50 split between males and females, but they tend to skew slightly to females, just because of the number of educated women out there.

But the most recent 2021 PWC Executive Directors report states:

Only 13% of all executives, including CEOs and CFOs in South Africa, are female.

That’s a staggering statistic for 2021. And I believe that it’s a direct result of a failure to fully acknowledge what needs to be done in an organisation to bring about equity.

Organisations that refuse to recognise that women are going to go through a child rearing season end up with what we call a gender gap. While the graduate intake may be 50-50, only the males continue to rise all the way to the top and the female quotient dips with only one or two making it to the executive suite.

How can businesses address this and what do they gain?

Phillipa Geard: To be able to integrate motherhood and their careers, skilled women in South Africa want flexible part-time work. Before I started RecruitMyMom, personnel agencies wouldn’t entertain candidates on that basis. The CVs – of some incredible women with degrees and who had worked locally and internationally at big companies – went into the bottom drawer and they never got called.

I knew from my consulting work at the time that businesses were looking for those types of skills but just didn't know how to access them.

Being confronted with this injustice to women and disservice to our country sparked something in me. After all, we faced a skills shortage in South Africa and yet we were squandering this human capital.

I started RecruitMyMom to play matchmaker to women with children and those companies. Today, we have 110,000 women on our database and work with about 4,000 businesses. And what those organisations see is great value, especially when scaling. After all, how can an entrepreneur predict resource requirements for growth phases? As a result, it’s really a win-win for both parties.

What does flexible work mean for mothers and businesses respectively?

Phillipa Geard: Before the pandemic, companies grappled with finding ways to introduce flexible work policies across the whole organisation so that everyone receives equal treatment.

But when it comes to human capital, you need to take human equity into account, too. In other words, what do individuals specifically need in order to prosper and succeed?

COVID-19 hit everyone hard but there is a silver lining. The pandemic has sped up the digital transformation process exponentially. Hybrid and fully remote work has taken off very rapidly. Thanks to technology that facilitates these more flexible ways of working, significantly more women can join the workforce.

Before 2020, RecruitMyMom spent a lot of time educating employers about flexible ways of working. Then, overnight, the pandemic gave us all a crash course in how productive remote work can be. That’s not to say our candidates won’t ever see the inside of an office. Instead, it’s about finding a hybrid model that suits both parties.

women entrepreneurs

Wouldn’t it be simpler for organisations to introduce a single, company-wide, flexible working policy based on their pandemic learnings?

Phillipa Geard: Sure, but if business honestly wants to get behind parenting – and I use that term advisedly because it’s not just moms; dads are some of our key caregivers – valuing and respecting those roles may demand more flexibility. And it’s okay to lean into that.

Basically, there isn’t one recipe for flexibility. One company might need somebody part-time in the office. Another might need somebody at home. Since there are so many different ways of structuring flexibility, what we do at RecruitMyMom is to match up needs.

By the same token, it’s only once you start homing in on employees’ individual needs that you can begin to look at how best to meet them so that everybody flourishes. After all, collective prosperity is the best foundation for a thriving organisation.

And I think that’s the way forward for human capital in a corporate context. As the importance of skills and people – without which it’s impossible to build organisations –becomes increasingly clear, HR managers will need a higher emotional quotient.

Is this kind of flexibility the answer to achieving a better work-life balance?

Phillipa Geard: I'm not a big believer in the idea of work-life balance. In fact, it’s something I dispute and you won't find it on my website. I’m a much stronger proponent of work-life integration.

For me, work-life balance means that you’re always trying to bring the aspects of your life into perfect equilibrium. The reality is one is inevitably up and the other down. In contrast, work-life integration looks at me holistically.

There are days when I'm a better entrepreneur and boss than I am a mother. And there are days when I'm a better mother than I am an entrepreneur or a boss. But I've had to learn to accept that. As a high-achieving individual, you can eat yourself up with guilt that you’re not doing everything perfectly. But the sooner we realise that not everything has to be perfect, the easier we are on ourselves.

With RecruitAGraduate, you hope to combat the high levels of youth unemployment in South Africa. Is this once again something where business can reap benefits by adjusting working conditions?

Phillipa Geard: This is less about flexible working conditions than the flexibility to pursue human equity by questioning what’s holding individuals back and finding ways to help them succeed.

Failing to train and employ the youth is very short-sighted. Not only is it inequitable for the young people but businesses will also suffer down the line if the skilled population ages out and we haven’t developed new human capital.

We’re sitting on a gold mine. While the population in Europe is rapidly aging, Africa has more youth than any other continent. If they were given relevant skills, the rest of the world would be looking to us for human capital.

For all these reasons, I think it’s selfish to employ a youth just to tick a BEEE box. That’s not a solution unless you plan to train that individual to become a productive member of South African society.

We know that young people aren’t fully prepared for the working world at the end of school or their tertiary education. But there are not only wonderful organisations that assist them with work-readiness programs but also a wealth of material online. No company can tell me they can’t get the next generation work ready.

Business needs to step up and get involved by intentionally employing just one young person who they don’t expect to be productive from day one but who with training will become economically active in this country in the future.

What’s your take on personal investing and prosperity?

Phillipa Geard: I’m a big believer in investing and saving. My husband and I have a diversified portfolio of investments.

But another way that we invest is through generosity. We give back to communities because we believe that our wealth is a seed that we want to sow. Our various foundations provide disadvantaged people with access to things like computers so that they can access their SASSA grants and put together a CV to apply for a job.

Philanthropy is a different take on investing, but it's still investing.

I think that when people hear the word prosper, they immediately think of financial or material wealth, even though we intuitively know that accumulating material goods doesn't bring happiness.

That’s not to say a sound financial base isn’t important; it is. Once that’s in place, family love, friendship and respect, safety and health, well-integrated communities and the freedom to contribute to society in ways that are celebrated and not merely tolerated allow your soul to prosper.

And when your soul prospers, you can love more easily, which means that people around you prosper, which means that societies prosper. That's why I'm so passionate about helping women with children, because if they prosper, their children prosper, families prosper and society prospers.

If you’re looking to diversify your investments, read our blog to learn more about why private equity is a good option to consider.

What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs?

Phillipa Geard: The reality is that being a mom with two teenagers as well as an entrepreneur is not always easy. So, I’m really thrilled to see how many women leaders are rising to the fore.

My message to them is that self-doubt and self-belief are opposite ends of the same spectrum. And every day you have the choice to lean into one or the other. My advice to them is to lean into self-belief because you have so much potential to develop and grow.

With that in mind, never be afraid to ask for help because we are surrounded by good people and people who are willing to help, if you are willing to ask.

Read our Q&A with Richard Mulholland who featured in our first IFSA Prosperity Session.

Choose to invest with IFSA, a company that values human capital and its benefits for the economy

At IFSA Private Equity, we believe in human capital and human capital development. We consider people to be the most important component of any business – without people there is no business, because ultimately it’s people that make things happen.

When it comes to business, our take on people is like two hands: One hand is the business; the other is the employee. Business leadership needs to unlock potential and, if successful, the two “hands” come together in a firm and trustworthy handshake.

You could think of the five fingers on each hand like this:

The business needs...

  1. the right person
  2. in the right role
  3. doing the right thing
  4. for the right reason
  5. at the right time

To unlock potential in its employees, the business needs to...

  1. empower
  2. enable
  3. train
  4. coach
  5. support

Book a free consultation with IFSA

We take a hands-on approach to helping our portfolio companies overcome challenges and grow pockets of excellence. Part of that process is developing people to provide specific skills that are necessary to take the business to the next level.

This is not only a great way to invest in the greater good, but when these businesses prosper, our clients do, too. If you would like to learn more about how Frikkie and the IFSA Private Equity team help businesses to reach their full potential and investors to prosper, book a free consultation.

IFSA (Pty) Ltd Registration No. 2000/005153/07 An Authorised Financial Services Provider Licence No. 43337

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