Charmel Flemming was appointed to the board of directors of Acorn Agri & Food on 24 July 2019.
She is a certified chartered accountant, who completed her articles with KPMG in Bloemfontein. Until the middle of her matric year, she was indecisive about her career choice, but it all fell into place once the accounting bug bit. She reminisces on her varsity days which felt like a breeze as she thoroughly immersed herself in the world of accounting and finance—two subjects that fit her like a second skin.
Tapping into her inherently curious nature, Charmel recognised the exciting opportunities that technological advancements were opening up within the accounting field, foresaw a gap in the market, and founded F Twelve—a bookkeeping and accounting services company offering small and medium enterprises administrative and accounting support. F Twelve’s use of innovative cloud-based accounting technologies turned the traditional concept of accounting on its head. With the onset of the pandemic, the world has embraced this once-foreign concept as part of the new normal, placing F Twelve and its cloud-based offering ahead of the curve.
In addition to serving on the board of Acorn Agri & Food, Charmel also serves on the board of DRDGold Limited, MixTelematics Limited and Afrikaanse Taal- En Kultuurvereniging NPO (ATKV).
We asked her to share her recommendations for professional women who would like to position themselves for corporate board service.
What was your experience in your first appointment to a corporate board?
“As a young graduate, I was very eager and naively optimistic,” says Charmel. “As a qualified professional, I assumed that I would be inundated with requests from companies to join their boards. However, I soon realised this was not the case and had to reign in my ego. After seeking guidance from a seasoned board member in my network, I started serving on boards that offered no remuneration but plenty of opportunities to gain experience and skills. This proved to be a priceless investment,” continues Charmel.
“For aspiring professionals, I would encourage you not to focus on board membership per se. Instead, focus on building your career and enriching your experience. You will improve your critical thinking and grow in confidence, which is essential when sitting around a boardroom table. The only way to truly gain experience is by rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty because improving your knowledge and skills advances your career and benefits the boards you serve,” notes Charmel.
What do you enjoy most about serving on a board?
“I am often the youngest member of the boards I serve on, so I enjoy learning from my peers and challenging my own and their viewpoints when fitting—allowing me to evolve my critical thinking and interaction,” says Charmel. “Disagreement does not equal disrespect, and often, the way you convey your opinion is more important than what it is; these are the little nuances you can only learn from experience and the ones I enjoy learning the most. Healthy debate is a sign of a healthy board. Each board member should have the right and opportunity to give their opinion without fear of ostracism,” continues Charmel.
In your opinion, how have women’s roles and positions evolved in the past couple of years and what challenges remain?
“As more women seek to freely pursue a career whilst contributing in large to the expansion of home and family life, the question should not be, ‘how does she balance it all?’ but rather, ‘how can we as a society and industry support her to achieve it all?’” continues Charmel.
“Society has made huge strides in the struggle for gender equality, but we still have a long way to go. The percentage of women in leadership positions is still far lower than that of men, and the gender pay gap disparity is also part of this growing concern. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we witnessed how many women were unconsciously required to pick up the new, extra home and family duties whilst still carrying out their full-time jobs. As the nuclear family dynamic becomes more diverse, with single-parent households, women-headed households and women becoming breadwinners, we must shift our perspective around the traditional roles we have designed for women and men. However, this is going to take time, and it’s going to involve robust and difficult conversations,” says Charmel.
How can organisations prepare high-achieving women for senior roles and board positions?
“My mission is to help design a progressive agenda at the boardroom table. I believe my work as a Non-Executive Director is more than considering strategic matters—but helping effect and drive change towards diversity and inclusivity. I believe in holding the door open for more women in finance and women of diverse backgrounds to have a seat at the table,” says Charmel.
“It is our collective responsibility to guide women into leadership positions. Still, it is equally vital for women to take responsibility and initiative for their own career paths a good start is to communicate your ambitions—in your performance review, for example—and then keep pushing to get there. Experience is key to personal and professional growth, so organisations must expose women to the same experiences and opportunities as their male counterparts,” notes Charmel.
What advice would you give women who want to advance as leaders?
-“You are not an imposter. You have earned a position and deserve to be there!”
-“Network, network, network. Develop a support system to use as a source of insight, guidance and encouragement. Being surrounded by like-minded people is comfortable, but it is vital to your growth to be challenged by people with different views.”
-“Be authentic and work with a spirit of excellence.”
-“When you receive credit, accept it and relish the feeling.”
-“Not all doors will open, and some will close in your face. Don’t take it personally. Learn and grow from it.”
-“Progress is more important than perfection.”
-“Ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of insight into your own ability.”
-“Fear will always be part of the package, especially if you want to do something new and different. Ensure that you move forward, despite it.”