Ex­plor­ing the chal­lenges women face in the work­place

face in the work­place

Public Sector Manager - - CONTENTS -

It is common knowl­edge that there are more women than men in the world. So, if women are the ma­jor­ity, and have been for a while, how has the mi­nor­ity of men man­aged to dom­i­nate just about ev­ery­thing for cen­turies?

In­ter­na­tional con­sult­ing firm Bain & Co. tracked gen­der dy­nam­ics for seven years in South African work­places and in May 2017 re­ported its find­ings.

“In 2017, 31 per­cent of South African com­pa­nies had no fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in se­nior lead­er­ship roles.The lat­est Busi­ness­women’s As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa (BWASA) cen­sus on women in lead­er­ship in­di­cates that 22 per­cent of board direc­tors are women, but only seven per­cent are executive direc­tors… The per­cent­age of CEOs who are women in South Africa

(10 per­cent) is lower than the global av­er­age of 12 per­cent.

This pic­ture is wor­ry­ing to say the least.The fact that in South Africa we have more fe­male grad­u­ates than male ones should be en­cour­ag­ing. With time, this should tilt the scales to­wards a more bal­anced sce­nario than this skewed sit­u­a­tion we find our­selves in.

It is not al­ways about the num­bers but rather who con­trols the nar­ra­tive and can back it up with force, ma­nip­u­la­tion, re­li­gion and en­cul­tur­a­tion over time, to make it the ac­cepted norm that so­ci­ety re­pro­duces as stan­dard prac­tice.

Ac­cord­ing to the SA 2011 Cen­sus, men ac­count for 48.2 per­cent of our pop­u­la­tion, while women make up 51.7 per­cent.

So, why then do we have more men run­ning the show in just about every sec­tor, and in most lead­er­ship roles? This has noth­ing to do with the fact that women take ma­ter­nity leave to raise chil­dren and build families, and lose trac­tion in their ca­reers. It also has very lit­tle, if any­thing, to do with women’s tal­ents, qual­i­fi­ca­tions or gen­eral ca­pa­bil­i­ties to de­liver on those roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

It surely must come down to other fac­tors such as the val­ues and be­liefs, cul­ture, con­structed tra­di­tions and es­tab­lished prac­tices of those in charge of place­ment, pro­mo­tion and talent man­age­ment within or­gan­i­sa­tions in both the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors.

In re­cent wide-rang­ing in­ter­views and dis­cus­sions with women in executive man­age­ment po­si­tions, mid­dle man­age­ment and se­nior

pro­fes­sional roles, the fol­low­ing is­sues emerged as crit­i­cal gen­der-linked high­lights im­pact­ing women’s ca­reers in the modern work­place.

Chal­lenge 1: Is it my softer voice?

“Pic­ture this: I am a woman and I am sit­ting in a for­mal meet­ing with my col­leagues. There is a call for fresh ideas on a project we are work­ing on. I sug­gest some­thing that I am pas­sion­ate about. I know it is a great idea and a winner. There is a muted re­ac­tion to it.

“The re­ac­tion has the ef­fect of al­most shut­ting me down. I keep on press­ing the is­sue. One of my male col­leagues latches onto the very same idea or sug­ges­tion I am mak­ing and just about re­peats ex­actly what I said. The re­ac­tion is in­stant ap­plause and cel­e­bra­tion of ‘his’ bril­liant idea. I won­der what makes men (and some­times women) do this. Is it our softer voices? Or do male man­agers and lead­ers in or­gan­i­sa­tions re­spond more pos­i­tively to ideas and sug­ges­tions from their male coun­ter­parts than from women?”

This is a common phe­nom­e­non in board­rooms and modern work­places. A key at­tribute in man­age­ment and es­pe­cially or­gan­i­sa­tional lead­er­ship is em­pa­thy and com­pas­sion. Can you put your­self in the shoes of the woman in the quo­ta­tion above? How would that feel? It is a sig­nif­i­cant work­place chal­lenge to no­tice that far too many women in this cen­tury not only can re­late to this, but ex­pe­ri­ence it fre­quently.

Sug­gested so­lu­tion: One of the quicker ways to ad­dress this chal­lenge is to deepen aware­ness and de­velop sharper lis­ten­ing skills start­ing with those in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity in the or­gan­i­sa­tion or de­part­ment. Meet­ings are like stages where dif­fer­ent peo­ple show­case their skills and tal­ents. Not ev­ery­one can speak up in meet­ings. Some­times the bright­est idea and so­lu­tion sits within the silent mem­ber of the au­di­ence.

An emo­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent man­ager/leader run­ning a meet­ing knows how to nav­i­gate every sit­u­a­tion

well enough to bring every voice in. A quick course on man­ag­ing meet-ings or ac­tive lis­ten­ing skills will help im­prove this.

Chal­lenge 2: Women are bet­ter peo­ple man­agers

“I be­lieve that sci­en­tif­i­cally and ge­net­i­cally women are bet­ter peo­ple man­agers than men. They are nat­u­rally nur­tur­ing. I am not say­ing that fe­male man­agers or lead­ers must be any­one’s of­fice moth­ers. I am say­ing that they are far more at­tuned to bring ev­ery­one in and cre­ate more con­ducive and safer spa­ces for em­ployee en­gage­ment than their male coun­ter­parts. … And yes, some trans­formed male man­agers and lead­ers are im­prov­ing in this area. What I am say­ing is that this al­most comes nat­u­rally to women be­cause they are emo­tion­ally at­tuned to oth­ers. They have an in­born, in­her­ent ca­pac­ity to mas­ter peo­ple man­age­ment than men,” said Nobuntu, a 41-year-old char­tered ac­coun­tant.

“Great man­age­ment is about man­ag­ing the whole per­son and not see­ing them only as a tool or as­set to be ex­ploited. Women are more in tune with the fact that the em­ploy­ees are more than just re­sources and are multi-faceted be­ings. Be­cause women are in tune with their emo­tions, they get the fact that emo­tions are en­ergy in the work­place and must be chan­nelled ap­pro­pri­ately. Women man­age emo­tions or emo­tional sit­u­a­tions bet­ter than men do.The chal­lenge is that some women try to be mas­cu­line in some roles. It is im­por­tant to re­main fem­i­nine and tap into your au­then­tic fem­i­nine en­ergy and power. Some men are ter­ri­fied of this. Men need to be more aware of them­selves be­com­ing ob­sta­cles to women’s ad­vance­ment,” ar­gued Karen, a 44-year-old in­vest­ment of­fi­cer.

The chal­lenge is for each of us in the modern work­place to be­come aware that we im­pact on each other with our pres­ence and how we are, and in how we show up in our shared spa­ces. Stud­ies have shown that or­gan­i­sa­tional lead­ers in­fect their teams with their moods.

It is there­fore crit­i­cal that a leader be­comes more aware of, and care­fully man­ages, their mood at all times. Women have an ad­van­tage in this be­cause they are al­ready more at­tuned to them­selves and their emo­tions. Most men and some women have the mas­sive block­age of re­gard­ing the ex­pres­sion of emo­tions as weak­ness.

Sug­gested so­lu­tion: To be­come aware of how you im­pact on your team and how at­tuned you are in work­ing with oth­ers, it is crit­i­cal that all man­agers and lead­ers, men and women, do as­sess­ments that show them where they ori­ent from and to­wards. Of­ten the En­nea­gram, a per­son­al­ity type as­sess­ment tool, comes in very handy in this re­gard.

Chal­lenge 3: Do you see the pro­fes­sional col­league or the woman first?

“As a rel­a­tively young sin­gle woman, I strug­gle with the fact that my male col­leagues do not see me. They see the woman that I am first be­fore they see me as a col­league and fel­low pro­fes­sional. There are com­ments on my clothes, make-up and other things that are un­re­lated to my work. I know there are so­cial norms and prac­tices about com­ple­ment­ing each other and so forth. There are bound­aries and lines that should not be crossed. Most men are not even aware that there is a line not to cross and they eas­ily cre­ate very un­com­fort­able sit­u­a­tions for us. Some make un­com­fort­able jokes and passes at you and we are ex­pected to still work with them pro­duc­tively.The modern work­place is still hos­tile to­wards women. Many women do not speak up be­cause it can be ca­reer lim­it­ing. We need ev­ery­one in work­places to wake up to the many ways through which work­place be­hav­iour neg­a­tively con­strains women’s ad­vance­ment and de­vel­op­ment,” said Palesa, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions and mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ist.

“The work­place is a bat­tle.You have to come pre­pared to fight

every sin­gle day. If you come to work think­ing that my brother and my sis­ter will fight for you, then you can for­get it.You have al­ready lost. Find your area of ex­per­tise or niche, and learn ev­ery­thing in it. Be­come the best in it. Cre­ate that space for you to thrive. With­out that, you are at the mercy of other peo­ple’s de­ci­sions and whims,” said a man­ager at a com­mer­cial bank.

Sug­gested so­lu­tion: Fe­male pro­fes­sion­als who are pas­sion­ate, ded­i­cated and fo­cused on their ca­reers will give them­selves a mas­sive ad­van­tage by find­ing a pro­fes­sional coach and/or an ex­pe­ri­enced men­tor to work with for part of their pro­fes­sional jour­ney. It al­ways helps to have a solid sound­ing board in the form of some­one who will help you know your­self and take ad­van­tage of your strengths while man­ag­ing your ar­eas of de­vel­op­ment (weak­nesses). The same sup­port­ive part­ner can also help you build a solid net­work to rely on.

The way for­ward

There are com­mend­able ef­forts be­ing made to un­der­stand the chal­lenges and find real, gen­uine so­lu­tions to gen­der main­stream­ing in our modern work­places but more needs to be done.

Men must learn to call each other out when they see be­hav­iour that turns a women into an ob­ject or make jokes that di­min­ish the pro­fes­sional in­tegrity of their fe­male coun­ter­parts. They must man­age their small talk and ‘delete’ their gen­der in­sen­si­tive jokes.

Gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion at work is mainly about so­cial and cul­tural fac­tors that come into the work­place and man­i­fest through be­hav­iours of fel­low em­ploy­ees. Last­ing so­lu­tions are found in work­ing to­gether to raise aware­ness and build trans­formed or­gan­i­sa­tional cul­tures that see ev­ery­one as equal and equally ca­pa­ble.

Dr Du­misani Ma­gadlela is a cer­ti­fied in­ter­na­tional Executive Coach, Coach Trainer and Lead­er­ship De­vel­op­ment Fa­cil­i­ta­tor. He works as a Skills De­vel­op­ment and Ca­pac­ity Build­ing Prac­ti­tioner for the Pan African Ca­pac­ity Build­ing Pro­gramme at the De­vel­op­ment

Bank of South­ern Africa. He writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

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