MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN 2016/17
CASE IN POINT |
by Andrew Ngozo
Closing the Gap in Defence
When compared to 1998, the year in which Kathrine ‘Kathy’ Neonakis, Senior Manager in the Strategic Planning Department at the Armaments Corporation of South Africa (Armscor) joined the Department of Defence and Military Veterans’ arms acquisition agency, today’s defence industry landscape has changed. Both the industry and Armscor have done a lot of work to ensure that not only more women are brought into the fold but they are judged based on merit instead of their gender. Kathy’s main mandate at the organisation is to drive and implement the company’s strategic direction. She says: “We break up the strategic plan into measurable objectives in order that we can deliver on all our expectations. The effective operational management of the chief executive officer’s office is also one of my main duties.”
Reflecting on the journey travelled in the defence industry thus far, Kathy points out that it was quite difficult for a woman to thrive in the sector. “It was a mostly male dominated industry with women in the minority. For instance, it was quite strange for me as a woman in a senior position when I had to interact with clients who were mostly male army generals. They had been used to interacting among themselves and suddenly there was this woman who had to do the same with them.
So, funnily enough, at first you had to seek written permission in order to do this. It was quite interesting because, for me, it wasn’t so much of a challenge but a confusing factor because; for the life of me, I just could not understand why the process had to be so onerous. However, I eventually understood that women had not been a common feature in the industry in general and at Armscor in particular. So I gathered that the notion of having a woman in the upper echelons was going to be a process of getting used to instead of an event.”
A Different Ball Game
Because of the mind-set Kathy adopted from day one, she shares that she did not encounter any problems when dealing with clients. “If anything, my working relationships with external and internal [male] stakeholders grew from strength to strength.” When she joined Armscor, Kathy reminisces that there were only about five women at senior level as compared to some 66 odd male executive and senior members. “What we found more concerning, rather than a challenge, was that a woman had to do more prove to herself. But, I think, once you start showing results, you tend to build up your credibility and their confidence in you. Hence, today it is quite a different ball game,” she highlights. Kathy points out that the playing field changed dramatically when former Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu, took the reins. “The fact that the entire department was led by a woman started to shift people’s perceptions about women in the defence. One has to keep in mind that she was the first ever woman to occupy that post. As a result a woman in the sector is now accepted more easily which leaves them to focus more on the job at hand,” she declares.
Kathy firmly believes that the industry is doing its utmost best to close the gender gap that previously existed. “Women aren’t completely represented in the areas that we feel they should be present. However, the environment has started to acknowledge that and is on track to introduce such things as mentoring women into higher positions both in our company and in the industry. In that regard, together with industry, we developed a Black Economic Empowerment Charter (BEE), which is currently in a draft stage. By implementing this Charter we will ensure that slowly, but surely, both Armscor and industry will get there.” Obviously, she elaborates, in such instances, there are companies which will do extremely well while others fare poorly. Kathy says what is important to note in this regard is that it is only a matter of time before the industry is transformed to desired levels. It is no wonder then, that women are given first preference for employment. She says: “Now, more than ever before, we have more female pilots in the industry. Slowly, the industry is allowing women to move into the sector.”
Kathy holds a Master’s Degree in Technology: Business Administration MBA (Tech). She holds many other qualifications and has received numerous awards. On an ad hoc basis, she is also an external supervisor/examiner for the Master’s Degree Business Administration Students (MBA). This degree is offered at the University of Wales, but is obtainable at the Tshwane University of Technology on behalf of the University of Wales. With nearly two decades at Armscor, Kathy has intensive and extensive business experience. It has brought her into contact with almost all areas of Armscor’s business and all levels of the organisation. It has equipped her well in understanding Armscor’s core business activities, its strengths and weakness, and the challenges it faces.
Dale Carnegie’s Strategic Presentation Workshop has refined her professionalism. Kathy’s previous leadership roles include: President for Toastmasters International, Immediate Past President for Toastmasters International, Toastcor Club and Board Member of the DIDTETA board. Currently, she is an advisory committee member for the Tshwane University of Technology. In 2001 she was elected chairperson of the Armscor Employee Consultative Group, i.e. spokesperson for the Employees of Armscor, and was re-elected in 2003. Recently, the Presidency selected the Department of Defence and Military Veterans and the public entities within this department as the benchmark for strategic planning for all government departments and public entities. On 15 March 2016 the Presidency invited Department of Defence and Military Veterans and Armscor to present to the other national departments and public entities to help them improve on strategy, strategic alignment and implementation of the strategic plan/corporate plan; organisational performance, monitoring and evaluation as well as compliance with deadlines and statutory reporting.