“A woman needs an advocate in her corner in every phase of her life, to champion her dreams and shape her livelihood. I have had strong male allies in my corner throughout my life and the cumulative impact has been significant. I chose two wonderful men who have shaped my past and continue to shape my future.
I grew up in the residues of Apartheid South Africa, where people of color were taught to blend in rather than shine, and that success was not reserved for people like me. I grew up in a community and went to school where everyone looked like me, talked like me or was ethnically similar. I had the added stereotype of small town mentality, where girls’ lives seemed incomplete until they found a husband and became a good wife. It is still hard to believe that this was in the early 1990’s!
My dad, Alan, was my first advocate. He relentlessly stood up for me and pushed me to do whatever interested me as opposed to what society expected me to do. He was in the principal’s office fighting for me to do technical “male” subjects when I was told I was not allowed to. He coached me to achieve more than he ever did, to strive to reach for the stars. I could be whatever I wanted, regardless of my race or gender. With my dad in my corner, I learned to dream big.
Throughout my career, I have had male (and female) sponsors who have challenged my thinking, pushed my professional ambition and fostered an environment that allowed me to succeed.
However… as I became more senior, I became accustomed to the critique from nay-sayers, who assumed the trade-offs that I must have made, in order to be successful. It is a challenge most successful women face, and one that I almost always dreaded every time I walked into a boardroom.
For this type of mental angst, I needed a new champion – my husband, Nilesh.
I always assumed that my success would be a threat to a partner. I thought there would be arguments about our careers and life changing sacrifices to make our relationship work. Thankfully I was wrong.
My husband has nurtured me to embrace the best (and worst) qualities of myself at work and home. He has taught me that a life partner does not compete individually for promotions, duties at home or ambitions. We are a team and the only way that we enjoy our livelihood is by supporting each other. He supports all of me. With my husband in my corner, I now understand my own self-worth. I am comfortable and confident being me.”
– Nerissa Naidu, Global Head of Strategy and Board Member
As a native South African, Nerissa has been a proponent of equality and strived to break the mould of stereotypes in gender, race and professional norms. She started her career as an engineer and transitioned to management consulting in financial services. Nerissa is currently the Global Head of Strategy at AIG, a large multinational insurance company and has executive board responsibility in the US and Asia. Her career has afforded her to work and live in the US, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Southern Africa. Nerissa serves as an independent board member to two technology companies in the UK and is a global mentor, coach to underprivileged scholars and an executive lead in diversity groups for women, minorities and young professionals.