It is millennia since civilisation, centuries since women and in South Africa’s case it’s 25 years into democracy since women entered the corporate jungle, yet we as corporate South Africa have little to show for it when it comes to women empowerment in the workplace.
The picture is even more bleak for black African women.
It is fair to say that today, in 2019, the playing field for women has yet to be leveled, most especially in the case of black African women whose challenges are both the colour of their skin and their gender.
In spite of statistical evidence showing that each year there are more black African women entering universities, more of us graduating and therefore more of us being absorbed by corporate South Africa’s job market, our representation in top management positions and in the C-Suite remains dismal.
The Commission of Employment Equity report published in 2018 stated that overall female representation in top management positions is 22.9percent and the black African female representation sits at a depressing 4.2percent.
As a keen advocate of women empowerment and as an affected party, I have over the years observed two key reasons for the above, one within our locus of control and the other one beyond.
The first is that leadership in corporate South Africa continues to have the same face it has had since time immemorial and so any change to this status quo would be an anomaly.
A conscious decision must be made to appoint a black African female to a leadership role, but it is rarely an obvious choice. Even when you do ascend as a female leader you need to work twice as hard as your male counterparts, being judged by higher standards and in more extreme ways.
The second factor, which I have observed, is how we frequently fail, when we do attain positions of leadership, to take charge with confidence. As women, we suffer from impostor syndrome, which is the phenomenon of capable people being tormented and kept down by self-doubt.
Ladies, when you are in charge be in charge. You can’t seek affirmation and believe that you need to ask for permission to lead.
As Cheryl Sandberg fittingly states in her book Lean In, leadership is about owning it, it is about being confident even though you are self-critical inside about what it is you may or may not know, it is about acknowledging your weaknesses, but at the same time choosing to focus on your strengths, because you do not become outstanding by focusing on your weaknesses And more important, it is about stepping up to the plate and performing as executives as equal to the task as men.
The rules of the game and company deliverables remain the same whoever is leading, male or female, black or white.
Motivational speaker and writer Dr. Denis Waitley perfectly sums this one up for me – It’s not who you are that holds you back. It’s who you think you are not.