Do women in business suits suit the occasion?

When one thinks of leadership in business what often springs to mind is an individual with a larger than life persona, commanding voice and yes, a man in a dark suit. But, perceptions are rapidly changing as the business landscape shifts to reveal a lot more women leaders in business.

Globally, latest statistics reveal that the percentage of women in senior roles is on the up and up, with:
• In 2019, women in senior management roles rose to 29% overall which is the highest recorded number on record to date.
• In 2019, the percentage of global companies with women in senior management roles rose to 87%.
• It is worth mentioning that the percentage of women in senior leadership positions varies according to role with a low 16% of Chief Information Officers, 17% Sales Directors but much higher on the scale in terms of Human Resources Directors at 43%.

The second Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) reveals that South Africa has made great strides in terms of removing the gender bias towards women involved with early stage entrepreneurial activities.

Women in a man’s world and the challenges they face

They used to say: ‘it’s a man’s world’ – but just how outdated is that statement? Globally, the trend is skewed towards women on the rise in business. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), in 2017, it was revealed that more than 11 million companies in the United States were owned by women, contributing 1.7 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy.

While numbers are always impressive, and high numbers such as this are testament to the fact that women have got what it takes, the story does not end there. Since, even in this day and age, women are still experiencing sexism, unequal pay and gender barriers in the workplace and overcoming these challenges are daunting to say the very least.

Let us now examine some of the major challenges women leaders face and how they can best be tackled.

• Hovering at the peripherals of the ‘Old Boys Club’ phenomenon

According to a 2017 study by NAWBO, more than 48% of women in business find it extremely difficult to build support networks in male-dominated territories. However, in spite of this, there are dedicated groups that cater specifically to the networking needs of women in South Africa. Herein lies the opportunity for collaboration and support. In South Africa, some of these groups include:

Dream Girls Academy

The Dream Girls Academy works with women from a young age and guides and supports young women in reaching their highest potentials. This “sisterhood” is an energetic group of women entrepreneurs, professionals and leaders.

Association of South African Women in Science and Engineering

The Association of South African Women in Science and Engineering, otherwise known as SA WISE, was formed to support the functions of women in science and engineering in South Africa.

Young Women in Business Network

Owned and controlled by women from various professions, the Young Women in Business Network is a broad-based women’s empowerment company.

She Leads Africa

She Leads Africa has a website that provides free content such as online classes in improving productivity and paid Master Classes run by successful business women. It is a community that endeavours to assist young African women in achieving their professional goals.

Xtraordinary Women

Xtraordinary Women is passionate about helping women entrepreneurs and encouraging them to dream big and aims to inspire success and to support ordinary women to do ordinary things.

Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa

Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa is recognised as the leading organisation for South African women and aims to inspire them to dream big on a personal and a professional level. Founded in 1980, the Association provides training, mentorship, networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities.

• The only woman in the boardroom – standing out as the biggest elephant in the room

Women leaders all face one of the most uncomfortable situations and that is to walk into a business meeting only to find that you are the only woman in the room. This can be extremely intimidating and overwhelming. Studies also reveal that ‘onlies’, that is the only woman, or only foreigner etc. are often the victims of discrimination from members of the majority. Yet, ‘standing out among the crowd’ as the biggest elephant in the room also has its advantages in that it can cast one into the spotlight of being able to showcase one’s unique skills.

• Achieving a healthy work-life balance
One of the greatest challenges facing women in business today is achieving a healthy work-life balance. The pressure of work, looking after children and managing a home all at once can often be a recipe for disaster. The sad reality is that men are never expected to be the ones to have to manage domestic affairs, yet, women are typecast into the ‘domestic role’ from an early age. This presents numerous problems for women who have added the role of business owner, senior manager or entrepreneur to their laundry list of occupations since they are expected to literally manage everything. Achieving a healthy work-life balance is paramount. Time management skills and a high degree of Emotional Intelligence go a long way towards helping to keep things in balance.

Women are perceived as ‘emotional’

It is a common view that women are often perceived as ‘emotional’ in their thinking and decision-making. This is where some uncomfortable questions are raised such as: Can she really do Boardroom Ballet? Has she got her tutu in a twist again? In a setting dominated by males, emotions are often seen as a weakness. However, this is outdated since while certain women may appear to think differently than men, it is not necessarily a disadvantage in business since, women often bring unique experiences and ideas to the table that combine to create a more balanced view and often lead to better decision making.

Managing a diverse workforce

Diversity in today’s workplace is a reality that cannot be ignored. Embracing that diversity has many advantages in that individuals from inter alia, diverse backgrounds, cultures, and genders always come with unique skill sets, opinions, ideas and solutions. The trick is to embrace and manage a diverse workforce in all its forms and guises.

Reference source: W24

Author's Bio: 

Helen Fenton, Senior Analyst: Business Optimization Training Institute (BOTi)
Business Optimization Training Institute (BOTI) is a Johannesburg based, Level 1 BBBEE business. As a Services and MICT SETA accredited company, we have trained thousands of individuals from over 700 companies and our extensive course offering consists of Short Courses, Soft Skills Training and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Learnership Programs. In addition, we offer bespoke training programs designed to cater to specific business needs. Our training courses are focused on knowledge and skills transfer and we pride ourselves in being able to provide training anytime, anywhere across South Africa.