Friend, mother, coach, colleague, leader…these are just a few titles of Robyn Newel Westcon-Comstor HR Director for the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.
She is a passionate believer in people and strives to make her life’s work all about uplifting them to reach their full potential. We talk to Robyn about what it takes to succeed in this world, the effects of the pandemic on teams, and how change starts by entrenching it into a company’s DNA. Over to Robyn…
Robyn chats to us about how Westcon-Comstor responds to the pandemic:
Something very real and profound happened to us over the last 18 months. The pandemic smashed through our comfort zones and made us look at change as a business imperative to ensure a sustainable and operationally successful organisation. One honestly had to stop looking at people as employees entering a building and doing jobs; but we had to start looking at our teams from a holistic human being perspective. This meant focussing on their home environments, communities, health and safety, work, and even ethics so as to ensure work life balance is maintained and productivity levels are not at risk.
Westcon-Comstor has such an incredible people-centric DNA that embodies values that speak to diversity, inclusion, equality, and empowerment. When you live and breathe the same values, you pull together as a collective consciousness of kindness and respect – I see this every day in how our teams engage with each other, our partners, and our external stakeholders. It has been beautiful to watch.
It is essential to look closely at the pandemic and all the events that unfolded around it. Our IT team were amazing; we shifted from the office to working from home in days. Our people pulled together to get themselves geared up to use the collaboration tools provided by the organisation. Despite the crisis fuelled by the pandemic, Westcon-Comstor continues to see year on year growth, and this is as a result of strategic intelligence applied by senior leadership and a high-performance focus demonstrated by all our team members.
I think it would be remiss of me not to talk about the direct impact on all our people. Our high-performance culture also resulted in teams working unnecessarily long hours and forgetting to consider the importance of work-life balance. To ensure a reduction in the possibility of burnout because of the COVID crisis, Westcon-Comstor partnered heavily with its Wellness Programmes and today continue to run workshops across Sub-Saharan Africa to address issues relating to stress, burnout, loss, and grief; and to educate our teams on ways to deal with some of the events that had a direct impact on their lives.
One of our key people priorities is to drive engagement across all teams within the business. Leadership engagement with team members has been phenomenal, with members participating in more surveys to see how they were doing thereby allowing us to create programmes to help people deal with the impact of the pandemic. We could also see how this impact differed across generations. Our millennial and Generation Z team members struggled as their social structures fell apart.
Today, we continue to ensure frequent communication campaigns to mitigate the risks associated with the pandemic and hold virtual social events across Sub-Saharan Africa monthly to reduce the risk of stress and allow our teams to unwind and have some fun.
The appreciation of diversity is not just about gender equality or the acknowledgement of women in the workplace; its much broader than this. Embracing diversity in the work place allows us to interact within everchanging diverse global markets, thereby placing us in a position of competitive advantage. Encouraging different workforce demographics, generational diversity and a new generation of workers is what fosters innovation and allows us to successfully respond to a changing worldwide economy. From a people perspective, organisations need to diversify themselves to meet diverse market needs. I believe that acknowledging and appreciating diversity continues to play a critical role in the success of Westcon-Comstor.
But while we are celebrating women’s month in SA, we should also talk to the women at Westcon-Comstor and how we appreciate and respond to some of the challenges we faced recently.
A lot has happened to women in the last year. The pandemic put us in a position where we had to be business professionals, mothers, sisters, wives, primary care givers, and even teachers, and it had to happen overnight. Of course, this happened to us all, not just women. But the role of women in our work society became a heavy burden for some. As women of Westcon-Comstor, we rise in the face of challenges. It was interesting to see how the teams within the business rallied together during the unrest in KZN in order to support their fellow team mates, families and communities at large. This once again was a demonstration of the values upheld by leadership and team members during a difficult time, showing such a collective outpouring of love and support.
Development that matters: Empowerment
The development of all people is very strategic to our business. Our skills development programmes, learnerships and internships, centre on creating opportunities across the board with a strategic focus on women. For example, our current cybersecurity learnership is looking to bring young women into the engineering side of the business and industry at large.
When you run a learnership programme, you must move past the notion of just providing skills and home in on creating a pipeline of talent accessible to all organisations within the IT industry. Not many companies can say they employed close to 100% of their learners, which we did in 2020 (both men and women). But what is so inspiring to see is the year-on-year increase in the number of female learners entering the IT industry through our learnership programmes.
To really extend opportunities to women, Westcon-Comstor invests in the Westcon Women’s Empowerment Trust and work closely with the University of Johannesburg to identify young women who are deserving of support and assistance throughout their IT studies. But we don’t just look at paying studies; we look at their well-being, their living conditions, and then try and assist in every aspect of their lives so they can be the best they can be. We then close the loop by providing employment opportunities to give them work place experience as interns at Westcon-Comstor.
Women in IT – Equality
If I look at the whole of the Sub-Saharan African region, there is a sizable shift in the percentage of women looking at IT as a career. But they don’t just want to be in sales or marketing anymore. They want to explore other careers within IT such as channel management, account management and business development management. More impressive is the technical certifications they acquire that broaden the scope of their careers and that lead them on to becoming technical engineers.
Looking at the appointments and promotions over the last year, the women of Westcon-Comstor are right up there. They are carving a space for themselves and taking up roles as business development managers, senior technical engineers, and line managers. It is so inspiring for me to see this hunger and passion that these women bring.
Celebrating women at Westcon-Comstor – Inclusion
The women of Africa face genuine challenges every day. Pressure from a patriarchal society, lack of opportunity because of their gender, and unnecessary abuse. For us, as a business, we arrive every day knowing that this is the reality for many women, but we don’t just talk about it; we work together to change it in everything we do.
Globally our business is focused on diversity, innovation, inclusion, and equality. When I say that these principles are part of our DNA, they really are. Nothing we approach, do, or sign up for can be done without considering these critical criteria first. Our Sub-Saharan Africa leadership team is made up of majority women who are seen as strong, powerful, and intelligent individuals who get things done. But more importantly they carry a critical role of “coach” to women pursuing their IT careers within Westcon-Comstor.
If I were to pass on advice to businesses grappling with the idea of diversity, empowerment, inclusion and equality…it would be to make it a lifestyle, and not just lip service. It can’t just be listed as a strategic priority. It needs to permeate every aspect of work and the values associated with it. Our DNA is who we are, and the same is true for our company DNA.