Sharmla Chetty, Regional Managing Director, Duke CE South Africa

April 16, 2016 • Female Leadership In Our Time, Women in Leadership

It has been critical for me to embrace tough assignments. It is easier to take the path of least resistance… It’s far better to challenge yourself by raising your hand for the toughest assignments…
Sharmla Chetty is the Regional Managing Director for Duke Corporate Education, overseeing the Africa region. She serves on the board for Duke Corporate Education Africa, Bigen Africa as a non-executive director and as a trustee on the board of black share scheme for AVI. She is member on the advisory board at the University of Technology of Tswhana Business School and is a fellow on the Aspen Fellowship Programme (ALI- SA 2012). Sharmla studied at the University of Johannesburg (Rau) and holds qualifications in Human Resources Development and has studied with other Business Schools in South Africa. She obtained her MBA from Henley Business School in the United Kingdom. Her dissertation achieved a distinction in the field of corporate social responsibility.


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I have always felt it was important to have the courage to take on jobs or assignments to stretch myself beyond. Instead of shying away from these challenges, I have looked to step up and seek out opportunities that go beyond the boundaries of what I can do.



The key barrier remaining for women is creating their own glass ceiling. We limit ourselves by assuming we can’t do something and not taking the risk to try. We need to consistently assume we can make a difference in what we do. To lead any organization one needs to be visionary, thinking about future opportunities and mobilizing your teams to be inspired, motivated to achieve the vision. I had to imagine being already in a higher position and start acting as if I was already in the role. To reach the next level I had to be relentless in being driven to exceed goals and never give up. My perseverance and ability to believe in myself when others have not, fuels my leadership to be prepared for the higher leadership position.



It has been critical for me to embrace tough assignments. It is easier to take the path of least resistance by signing up for an easy assignment, doing it well and moving on to something bigger. The reality is that nobody notices when you do an easy assignment well. It’s far better to challenge yourself by raising your hand for the toughest assignments, have the tenacity and drive to work hard and to solve problems that no one else has been able to solve and never stop learning. It helps keeping abreast of new ideas, what is happening within your industry and how your industry is shaping with new trends, how we are being disrupted by nontraditional players. In reality your competition comes from where you least expect, disrupting yourself and thinking differently about the work I do and who are our customers today and the future. Doing these things well creates credibility and then I believe it is equally important we as women never shy away from sharing our point of view and doing so with confidence. Creating presence.



I have been focused specifically on this problem over the last two years now and created the Women Leading Africa “Board Leadership–Voices of the Future” programme, out of the recognition that there is a critical need to increase board representation by at least 30 percent for women in decision-making positions in the private and public sector of companies and organizations in North, East, West, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands. In order to excel and reach board level positions, women need exposure to key topics, as well as practical insight for developing the skills and capabilities. Instead of simply expecting women to develop this acumen in a classroom, we instead approach the challenge by giving them practical hands-on experience. For example, we link up with a head-hunting company to give participants some idea of the kind of companies on whose boards they might sit. The programme is unique: it was designed by women for women and strikes a perfect balance of being practical, with the immersion simulating the experience of being a board member and transferring to address the specific strengths and challenges facing women in leadership today.



It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, I prefer not to think of work-life balance as a balancing equation, but just something where you find harmony. If you enjoy what you are doing whether you are a woman or a man, you will spend time working the long hours.

I have always found it important to take time to relax. My favorite stress reliever is spending time with my partner and we love sailing, it’s a wonderful way to de-stress, often forgetting the iPhone and communication and of course learning new skills all the time. My niece and nephews help with the balance. They always find ways to entertain me and stimulate me with new ideas and I try to keep abreast with generation Z.



You own your destiny. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Your effort, your determination and your ability to strategically navigate your career is your own responsibility. Keep in mind always life’s journey is never straight or easy, learning from your failures is equally important as your success. Get started by getting your foot through the door you can make adjustments and learning as you move on. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Go for it, create and seize opportunities, and be ready to challenge the status quo. Above all, love what you do.



In our fast moving world I think the answer of where we will each be in five years is harder and harder to answer. I am focused on being voracious in lifelong learning — always seeking out new information, surrounding myself with great talent and learning from them, and enjoying the ‘learning journey’ of my career while working on personal and professional development toward my career path within the organisation. I am excited to see where it takes me and always open to new opportunities. I definitely want to spend more time in doing things that I enjoy, working to improve the education system on our continent, working on community enablement projects.



I can’t leave without my iPhone, my purse and my handbag.


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