HOW WOMEN LEADERS BROKE THE GLASS

The epitome of a South African success story, business legend Dr Judy Dlamini has just released an inspiring book that shares stories of women leaders and their journey to success. These stories are essential reading for South African leaders, and here is an extract from the book.

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The main areas that women have to work on in order to succeed were highlighted during the discussions, and interviewees readily shared their insight. Everyone emphasised the need for quality education, hard work and networking across gender and race.

Knowing yourself, being comfortable in your own skin and knowing your purpose will allow you to make the right career choice (Phuti Mahanyele; Hadary & Henderson 2013; Sangster 2012). I would add that self-awareness allows you to know when it is the right time to leave and what will not work for you, as Anne Stevens, former COO at Ford in the Americas, had related. Women who succeed know their strengths and use them to succeed (Browder 2013).

Ideologically speaking Anne did not fit in with her organisation but it took her long to realise that things were not going to change. Her advice to other women was that they should know the correct channels in the organisation to address their grievances.

If there was no change, they should leave because a hostile environment could destroy a person’s confidence. I would venture to say that people who know themselves and are comfortable with who they are, are more likely to be confident.

Manage your career

Men will act to bring about their promotion, while women expect their work to be recognised without marketing themselves. Sandberg (2013) calls this the Tiara syndrome, which describes the phenomenon when women expect their work to speak for them. Among the interviewees, Cora Fernandez, Head of Sanlam Investment Management, was an ex- ample of this. In spite of receiving great reviews during her four years as an associate, she was not promoted, nor did she do anything to set such a process in motion.

She explained that in the African culture self-promotion was frowned upon. The cultural impact on people’s behaviour was a common thread in my study.

Cora’s understanding of this cultural behaviour informed her way of leading in her organisation. She related how 90% of employees who came to her office were men. To counter this, she had devised a strategy that al- lowed women access in an informal setting. During teatime, she went to the common area to have tea, which almost invariably invited women employees to join her and share their concerns on various issues. Understanding your employees empowers you as a leader to bring out their best.

Work hard

Lucy P Marcus, CEO and a professor at the IE Business School, has asserted that all successful women work hard and are determined (Sangster 2012). All of the participants confirmed this assertion. Women who have succeeded in their careers work hard and with determination (Walter 2013). Siza Mzimela, Founder-owner and CEO of Fly Blue Crane, reaffirmed the importance of having a reputation among your peers of working hard and delivering.

Support for other women is critical for women’s success (Walter 2013). This support will be achieved once there is critical mass in terms of the number of women in leadership positions (Kanter 1977). Cora stressed the importance of having a strong support network of friends and colleagues.

Display competence and be visible

Displaying competence in jobs that are visible is an important career progression move (Growe 2012; Sangster 2012; Walter 2013). Cora ran a small division prior to her current job. The revenues that her division generated and the positive reviews she received from clients, earned her a promotion to her current more senior position for a larger division.

The view of Kanter (1977) on visibility is that it can lead to positive attention in a system where success is tied to being known; however, sometimes being the only woman or the only black can be lonely and can lead to a high failure and/or turnover rate.

Tokens, as Kanter refers to minorities, are not permitted the individuality of their unique non-stereotypical characteristics, forcing them to assimilate into the dominant culture. While being visible might work when things go well, it can cause performance pressure, especially when things are not going well.

Many CEOs of big mining companies have resigned or have been pushed out of their positions; however, if they were part of the dominant group their ‘failure’ was not regarded as the general failure of their group. But, when Cynthia Carroll left Anglo American, her perceived failure was a reflection on all women. Pinky Moholi was the third CEO in seven years to leave Telkom; however, as the first woman CEO in the company, her perceived failure was a reflection on all women. This was confirmed by Maria Ramos’ assertion that when a man fails that man has failed, but when a woman fails it is perceived as failure for all women.

UN Women Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, was quite vocal about society’s stereotyping of one woman’s failure: “Women fail the same way men fail.

Failure is not peculiar to women. My initiative is to get men to champion the levelling of the playing field so that women can excel. It’s not women who should change. Society has to. We need to continue to send that message. Preju- dice and stereotype lead to violence against women.”

Learn to negotiate

Susan Fleming Cabrera, a researcher at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell, has found that women do not negotiate as often or as effectively as men (cited in Sangster 2012).

She has cited research indicating that only 7% of women with MBAs versus 57% of men with MBAs asked for more money during salary negotiations.

Build formal and informal networks

Most executives emphasise the importance of relationships with colleagues with whom you have something in common (Sangster 2012). Most of the interviewees spoke about people they called on and who called on them for advice.

These people featured in their lives over and above their men- tors. Interestingly, the network tended to be women whom they perceived as friends or peers, whereas mentors tended to be men across race. Forming networks is critical for career development. Browder (2013) advocates partnerships and collaboration with like-minded and professionally viable people. Cora added a different dimension to forming networks by asserting that you needed to socialise with people who had different views to yours as it would assist with conflict management skills development.

Yvonne McNair (MBA), CEO of Captivate Marketing Group, advises that we shouldn’t lose human touch to technology.

She offers three tips for finding that personal touch and communicating effectively:

  • Master the coffee date. Perhaps you don’t have time or resources to have a long dinner or lunch with someone – find 30 minutes to look each other in the eye and develop a sense of trust that you simply won’t get over email.
  • Pick up the phone! If you live too far away to meet, ask to have at least a brief phone conversation with clients, sponsors and anyone else with whom you want a meaningful connection.
  • Since most of your professional communication will be via e-mail these days, learn how to write a warm and effective one that still makes it plain that you are more than just a faceless person on the other side of a keyboard or smartphone. Don’t forget the “Good morning!” and “I hope this message finds you well” pleasantries and be sure that there is a personal voice in your written words.

Domestic support/Family support/Prioritising family

South Africa’s upper-class is privileged to be able to afford domestic help, at the expense of the black lower-class (Coco Cachalia). The position is similar in Brazil, where most successful women rely on domestic workers for their success. Sangster (2012) counts this as one of the critical factors in women’s success. All the participants in the study benefited from domestic help. Tomatoe Serobe, CEO of Wipcapital, underscored the importance of extended family support. She was close to her mother-in-law who was part of her support system.

Phumzile said that unpaid care work by women needs to be recognised. “Women invest a lot of their time unpaid and unrecognised. They sacrifice who they are. They sacrifice pension and retire poorer than all consorts. South Africa has set an example by giving pension to people whether they’ve worked for a salary or wage or not. We are also one of 22 countries, out of 194, that have ratified the domestic workers’ convention which regulates domestic working conditions. I’m on the EU’s case to ratify this.”

Most women acknowledged that maintaining a balance was a myth. Tomatoe admitted that a balance cannot be kept; some things fall apart. “I am not as available as a wife as other wives,” she said.

Of balancing work and family Phumzile said: “I didn’t do that well. I wish my work did not take me away as much as it did from my son. I am thankful that my husband supported me, so did my siblings and my parents by just being there, always. There is a price to pay for not being a hands-on parent.

“I always tell young people to never put their family second. No cause is that important. Capture memorable moments with family. Fight to be accepted as a worker and a mother and a wife in your workplace. More men are now trying to be hands-on in raising their children. Only now it is seen as a legitimate thing. When it was regarded as a women-only role the attitude was different.”

Siza did not believe she had sacrificed anything; however, she believed white women sacrificed family for career. While this might be true for half of white women in the current study, I do not believe it applies to all white women.

A study on Sudanese women found that Sudanese female managers gave priority to their families and regarded their work as of secondary importance. South African female managers experience work and home as complementary, which is contrary to the situation in Western cultures where work and family are perceived to be in conflict (Pitt-Catsouphes, Kossek & Sweet 2005).

Barclays Africa CEO Maria Ramos offered to share “a few things” with young women (and men) who aspire to achieve success. “First and foremost, I live by the values of integrity and respect for others. I also believe being humble is a very important aspect of success. From a young age I learnt not to judge until I knew what it felt like to ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’. My motto in life is to do everything with passion and commitment. I just don’t think you can do things you don’t believe in and that you’re not passionate about.

“Being able to influence people, rather than to command and control, is important. I think that the biggest thing leaders need to avoid is the myth that you alone are in control. You have to understand that you have a team around you. Listen to those around you or risk being out of touch.

“I also believe that you lead by example. The key to success is to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are and to create an environment in which they can flourish.

“You have to stay focused on what matters. I believe that life is about discovery and learning. If you don’t push the boundaries, keep an open mind, challenge yourself, allow yourself to be challenged, neither you nor the organisation will progress and grow.

“And yes, when things go wrong, pause, reflect and ask, ‘What did we learn; how do we do it differently next time?’. Remember that it’s not about you. It’s about the contribution everyone can and must make to change things for the better.”

Maria’s advice is supported by Star Jones, President of Professional Diversity Network and National Association of Professional Women: “Learn how to regroup after a major setback. Lost a major account? Got fired? Take some time to understand what happened and how you can move forward”.

She continues to add her pearls of wisdom; “Have a trusted mentor whom you can confide in about personal and professional challenges. Ideally, this person is truly invested in your success and will guide you based on your needs, not the needs of your employer.” 

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