Women In Business: Q&A With Jessica Hawkey

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This Women’s Month, we sat down with Jessica Hawkey, Founder and Managing Director of redAcademy to discuss her journey as a Woman in business, what her advice is for fellow females in business and why she has a passion for empowering South Africa’s youth. 


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As a woman in business, tell us about the start of your career and what actions do you believe have led to your success thus far?

I finished university some years back, and whilst I was doing my classes, carrying on my studies, I was in the field of management accounting, and I wanted to get my chartered status in management accounting. But I then experienced, I think, what most graduates do experience in their careers. I couldn't find or obtain a job in my field. 

So I started off in a retail space. I worked as a stock controller moving shoes from one store to the next store. But that was my step into the working world, a step into the office environment, working during the days and studying during the evenings to obtain that chartered status.

I did go on to do management accounting for a period after that, and then moved to an institutional bank where I managed multiple teams, worked overseas and then came back to South Africa to work locally. 

I think what set me up for success in my career from there, was to look for and seize every opportunity in the workplace that I could. To work hard, work at your success, and when those opportunities then present themselves, to go and grab it with both hands.

To make yourself available, to put your hand up and say “this is something I believe I am capable of.” Taking risks, working hard and really putting yourself out there to succeed in business. 

I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by brilliant mentors and this has been a significant opportunity that I’ve had, and one that I’ve grabbed with both hands and really grown and learned a tremendous amount from. The mentorship that I’ve received from others in business, the lessons I’ve learned, to use every opportunity to grow, learn and refine those skills has been incredibly important in my journey. 

Has enough been done for women in tech in South Africa and where do you see your role in this?

In South Africa, we are fortunate to be better represented than a lot of countries in the world, specifically in the tech space for females. But, it’s still not enough. If we look at the bigger context and take the full picture into account, with the dire unemployment rate, there’s a lot that we still need to do.

That’s what inspires me about redAcademy and what our focus is as an innovative skills and experiential learning hub that specialises in teaching coding and technology skills. 

We have talented women who have graduated from the programme, moms who drop their children off at school in the mornings before coming into work, we have matriculants who have graduated and have a clear career path into the technology sector. These are the types of differences that I want redAcademy to make in the world. 

I also need to emphasise the need for women acting as mentors to other women. Through our individual experiences, we can share our journeys with other women, to create a path for their own success. 

I am privileged to receive such mentorship from fellow women in business, by having joined the accelerator programme hosted by the Standard Chartered Women in Tech (WomHub), which aims to provide a platform for aspiring women entrepreneurs in South African STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Manufacturing) industries, developing their innovative tech-based business ideas and accelerating their growth.

What is your advice to women starting their careers?

My advice to other women, whether they’re starting in their careers or growing their careers, is to have courage. The first step you need to take is believing in yourself.

But believing in yourself in such a way that you’ve worked hard, that you know that when you put your hand up for an opportunity and you look to take it, that you are suited for that opportunity and you’ve put in the hard work. Whether it be at a school level, whether it be in your network, in your community, or whether it be in a previous job or role that you’ve had, always put your name forward.

But do it through hard work, through accountability and through having perseverance in what it is you’re doing.

When you decide to do something, know yourself well enough. Know this is something that you want to do and something that you want to go for.

Something for our graduates and other women in tech who are launching their careers is always to know that there are others looking to you. You are setting an example for those who are looking to launch their careers.

Put your best foot forward. You never know who you are inspiring. 

You spoke about knowing yourself, can you elaborate on how this assists in goal and direction setting?

It is to take a moment to reflect, to think about where it is that I want to go? What is it that's going to make me happy? And for some people it's work, for some people it's not. But whatever that may be, define that and decide that and know that in yourself as early as possible. 

And then be relentless in the pursuit of that goal, that aim that it is that you're going for. And generally it's a utopia. It might not be something that you're ever necessarily going to achieve.

There might always be more to it. And I think that that's incredible because it shows that the journey is the best part of the process, the aim is to get there, and the growth that comes from that experience.

And you never know where that ceiling is, you never know where that limit is. Keep pushing, taking those opportunities, refining your skillset, and keeping that energy balance through the process. 

Any closing thoughts for Women’s month?

I wish everybody a fantastic Women's Month. I think that there are many that have paved the way for us as females in our careers and in our futures.

I must say I'm incredibly passionate about what it is that we are doing at redAcademy, creating opportunities for youth, including females in the technology space. It is something that we can take forward, something I'm excited about over the coming year and years ahead of me.

Suggested Article:

The Mindspa Institute has been presenting the course “Business Skills for South African Women” since 2008, and throughout the years the following really stood out:


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