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Setting the scene of employee engagement in South Africa

Women can transform the boardroom - Better than men

White Papers

01 December 2016

While the South African workplace has evolved over the years - with a strong focus on racial and gender equality - plans to empower women to take up leadership positions have made little impact and still, less than 4% of JSE-listed companies have female CEOs.

This is a global trend with a number of countries now undertaking to make female inclusion, in terms of board representation, compulsory.

Women have proven to be effective leaders, especially when it comes to managing large groups of employees with differing personalities and needs.

Research by COO of Zenger Folkman, Bob Sherwin, which looked into women’s leadership effectiveness found that women outperform their male counterparts invariable when it came to a number of vital workplace competencies including taking more initiative, displaying higher levels of integrity and honesty and building relationships – to name a few.

This said, it is clear that promoting more women into leadership positions will aid companies achieving sustainable success.

Living examples of the powerful brand of leadership women possess include Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard; Ellen Sirleaf, the former President of Liberia; Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; and Hillary Clinton, a former first lady and current candidate in the American presidential elections.  

As the CEO of a leading white collar staffing organisation in South Africa, Quest Staffing Solutions, I constantly find myself in male dominated contexts but this has never held me back from working towards my goals.

Reasons why only a few women advance to the C-suite (grouping of chief executives) are often linked to feeling as though they ‘can’t have it all’ and prioritising their family responsibilities over growing their careers.

Many women simply do not believe that they have what it takes to thrive in a senior position. This is a direct result of their socialisation and being told that leadership positions are not necessarily a ‘woman’s job’. Organisational culture therefore plays a pivotal role in shifting the attitudes of female staff.

On the contrary to what they may believe, numerous studies have found that women are the better leaders than their male counterparts. Of particular interest, an article by Wits Business School graduates explained that companies with more women board directors outperformed those with the least by 53%.

While women earned approximately 34% less than men in the same job in 2015, based on research by the World Bank, female leaders have been found to be more effective when it comes to developing their employees. Harvard Business Review also found that female leaders were rated higher by their peers, bosses and direct reports than their male counterparts.  

This may be linked to their leadership traits such as that of compassion which was highlighted as one of the leadership traits that matter most in a recent Pew Research Centre study. 65% of respondents added that they find women to be more compassionate than men.

It comes down to the fact that women are wired differently - this is simple genetics - and this is to our advantage. A number of psychologists have been able to explain it quite well, noting that, when women make decisions, we tend to weigh more variables, consider more options, and see a wider array of possible solutions to a problem. Women tend to generalise and synthesise and have a broader, more holistic and more contextual perspective of an issue at hand. Ultimately, this means that women often take a more strategic approach to solving problems and never leave out the ‘big picture’.

A nineteenth-century poet Matthew Arnold, once said: “If ever the world sees a time when women shall come together purely and simply for the benefit and good of mankind, it will be a power such as the world has never known.” He believed that women can change the world for the better – and so do I.

The female talent pool is growing and is becoming an increasingly important demographic in the country, contributing greatly to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We are definitely capable of taking hold of our boardrooms and being principal decision makers in both business and the country as a whole.

My tips for women who want to strive in business:

Be Confident:

Women are hard workers, they need to develop their capability and explore more within their field of work. Women must convey confidence and when they speak, speak with conviction. It is important that they believe in their leadership skills and not doubt themselves. One also needs to distinguish between confidence and arrogance and not cross that line.

Role Models and Mentors:

Young women should enlist mentors and ask for feedback on leadership techniques from their senior management.  Seeing women in particular, anywhere in the world, succeeding in an ever increasing number of roles helps inspire young women to raise their expectation for their own futures. An obstacle for many South African women is that, sadly, there is a shortage of female role models in the country and a lack of exposure for those who do exist.

Be ambitious and do not be afraid to take risks:

Diversity is great for business and in South Africa, management is now a profession where women are filling a substantial share of positions. Women shouldn’t fear to explore and reach their full potential.

Improve your communication skills:

As a leader you need to be on the same page as the rest of your team, it’s always wise to work on your communication skills. This will make you an even better leader.

Stand your ground and let your strengths shine:

It is imperative that women in leadership maintain their core style, at the same time not being afraid to stand their ground when they know they have to lead the organization in a certain direction.

-       Kay Vittee, Quest Staffing Solutions CEO