Leadership is influence. Warren Bennis who is perceived to be the dean of leadership gurus said that, ‘becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself’. In this article I will specifically focus on women and leadership in the work-place. No organization can rise above the level of its leadership. As the saying goes, ‘If you would like to see a great student, first show us a great teacher.’
I believe that leadership in the work place is not supposed to be based on gender but rather rests more on creativity and the ability to lead. However, discriminatory practices, stereotypes and social norms results in gender inequalities in the work place. Despite the fact that many Countries have made good strides in women empowerment; my Country South Africa as an example was ranked 4th out of 87 countries in the 2012 index and was the top-ranked country in Africa on the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This high ranking reflects the strong framework on gender equality and women’s rights.
Generally, it had been reported that the proportion of women with tertiary education who were employed was almost 10 percent lower in points than that of men with the same level of education. It had also been reported that women with tertiary education earn around 82% of what their male counterparts earn. Bear in mind that according to census in 2012 women made up 52% of the South African population. But they accounted for just 3.6% of CEO positions, 5.5% of chairperson positions, 17.1% of directorship and 21.4% of executive management positions. This was the central finding from the 2012 Women Leadership Census undertaken by the Business women’s’ Association of South Africa (BWA). These findings then do not reflect or is congruent with a country that was ranked as first in Africa and fourth among the countries that had put women empowerment and gender equality as top priority. There is still a long way to go..
Surprisingly these discriminatory practices, stereotypes and social norms come from both female and male. Allow me to briefly explain some of the reasons for these limiting beliefs.
STEREOTYPES AND SOCIAL NORMS
Sometimes of our African upbringing teaches and emphasises so much on how ‘girly’ we are supposed to be. This perception confuses physical strengths with all other God given strengths. It sometimes teaches us how to supress our creativity and tender man’s egos at the expense of our own abilities.
This is a big struggle for some of us females, we grow up tending and nurturing our emotions more than males. There is nothing wrong to be emotionally inclined but one has to separate when to think with the head and with the emotion. A simple example is when your colleague or your boss tells you that you did a ‘crap’ job. When interpreted by most of us we hear, ‘I am a crap’ and this makes us to withdraw. This is also evident in staff meetings; men are more likely to challenge ideas than women.
Lack of teachers/mentors
Sometimes we venture into new adventures because someone gave us affirmation that it can be done or it’s possible. Professor Chinua Achebe was a pioneer of African literature. Many young African writers started writing African literature because he inspired them. We have very few female teachers or mentors. There is another belief system or myth that a female cannot have it all. This myth is translated to having females aspire only to marriage and forget about any of their God given talents. I say this is a myth because there are some married couples that support each other harmoniously to roles of leadership. Perhaps it is true that it matters who you marry.
Attitude towards female managers
This practice challenge females to work much harder than their male counter parts just to prove their worth. A male wearing a suit in the boardroom commands respect before he even delivers the work. However, this is not always the case for females. The support structure in most cases is not that effective. Sometimes you will hear people saying, ‘Oh, she is a female.’ The attitude that then follows this statement is not always in favour of the female in question.
Pull her down syndrome (PHDS)
This is mostly a female to female practice. This is when other female colleagues are not happy or are intimidated by the progress of another female. They will look for anything negative that the colleague might be doing and capitalise on it. The idea is to stain the image of the other colleague and in their minds they think they have achieved something. This makes them to feel better about themselves.
We have a pool of women that are very effective in their jobs as leaders and as I mentioned before, leadership rests on the creativity and ability of an individual to lead. There are also many organisations that support women in leadership positions. However, to keep quiet or say we do not have these stereotypes will be a lie. These inequalities are sometimes reflected on the decisions that are taken when drafting contracts which are sometimes not in favour of the female staff. This is due to lack of women representatives in decision making.
HOW TO OVERCOME THESE DISCRIMINATORY PRACTICES
I believe that a problem shared is half solved. Please do not misunderstand me; I am not saying women should be given roles of leadership just because they are women. However, I am saying women with creative and leadership attributes should rise to leadership positions because what they can offer qualifies them for such positions.
On how to overcome these practices;
Leadership voice: I would like to suggest that women embrace their leadership voice. No one will understand the pain better than the person with the pain or should I say the person at the receiving end.
Teach: Leadership is not based on military strategy and physical abilities. Things have changed, leadership in this era is negotiation-based, which means it rests more on the creative ability and leadership skills of a person. As Steve Biko the founder of Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa once said in an interview that they will teach the people on how to govern, when asked how Black people will rule South Africa with no experience. I also believe that people should be taught either by words or action that leadership at the work place is not a gender based activity. I also believe that if we embrace creativity and the ability to lead on an individual basis not gender basis, our nations can move further than where they are now.
ADVICE TO WOMEN COMING INTO LEADERSHIP
Create your own support system
Continue to illuminate your creativity
Work more on the EQ (Emotional Quotient) when dealing with the staff
Do not stoop low to the PHDs level; Ignore
Be prepared that it will not be easy but this world will thank you one day for living up to your abilities
Teach as you go.
In closing I would like to say continue doing the right thing as Peter Drucker once said, ‘leadership is doing the right thing, whereas management is doing things right.’
Written by guest Blog writer Tozama Ogunleye-Qwebani