Enhancing the participation of women in leadership roles and fostering overall equality
Max Weber a German Sociologist defined power as the ability to exercise one’s will over others, especially when they oppose or resist. From a global perspective, there is a certain power that women possess, and it has been the power to nurture and to help others grow. The lack of women’s representation and participation has been attributed to several factors and constraints. Some of the constraints observed include organizational structures that inhibit women’s participation, negative attitudes towards women’s participation and the existing expectations of traditional and cultural roles for women. Furthermore, women’s capacity to participate at leadership levels is restricted due to the overburden of family responsibilities, cultural expectations and stereotyping that, a woman’s place is in the home. As a result, it can be concluded that, if men alone are seen to be making decisions of public importance, then girls and boys, women and men can be led into believing that women have no legitimate place in such decision-making. This then has a self-fulfilling effect, meaning that girls and women do not see themselves as important decision-makers and neither do men and boys; and men and boys are legitimated in keeping women and girls out of decision-making positions.
As my friend and colleagues Melvin Jones often reminds me “we cannot have rights without obligations”.
 In Africa (and indeed much of the developing world), patriarchal traditions remain strong. These traditions place expectations on women to assume age old gender roles, especially in small community and domestic settings. Historically these traditions gave men certain privileges, for which those men owed obligation. Obligations to provide and protect. If a man failed to deliver these obligations, his “free ride” would quickly be addressed by the elders in his community.
Today many of those historical rights and privileges get rolled out when it is convenient. There is a demand and expectation for woman to serve and men to rule. It is the way it is.
But the circumstances and obligations that brought balance to this understanding between gender roles have long since been surpassed in everyday life. What we are left with is an unbalanced transaction. Men demand the privileges but shirk on their obligations. Our communities don’t function as they did, so there is no way to ensure that what is owed for the privilege received, is paid. And so, woman are left to provide and protect themselves. They must meet the many traditional male obligations. In return woman are offered none of the privileges.
Africa needs a new deal. Women exclusion from political and public leadership and decision-making structures and processes is observed as the result of multiple socio-cultural, individual, and institutional
factors. As a result, women are denied their right over resources (economical resources, such as income generating skills, tools and opportunities; political resources such as representative organizations, education, public spheres experiences, self-confidences and credibility, and time resources). It is concluded that women are not only kept away from higher leadership positions, but also from access to higher education which makes them develop skills, and capacitate them with managerial decision-making techniques, help them develop confidence in holding leadership positions.
A culture of equality, and a workplace environment that helps everyone advance to higher positions, is more likely to contribute to growth, and innovation. Women bring new skills to the workplace and help to boost productivity, as well as the size of the workforce. If organisation’s want to thrive and strengthen team development, they must “get to equal”. According to UNESCO, only 23% of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) talent globally is female. This lack of women in the industry is mirrored in South Africa. The same is true in corporate; Board, executive positions and other leadership positions are in desperate need of increased female representation. Although more women than ever before are receiving graduate business degrees, women are still struggling to be on equal footing with their male counterparts in the corporate realm. Old-fashioned stereotypes, gender bias, and under-representation continue to be a worldwide challenge. There are, however, female and male business leaders in South Africa who are challenging the status quo. Armed with courage, creativity and discernment, these women (and there are many) and men are contributing to workplace transformation. An overview from Forbes, Womankind.org and weforum.org has identified a couple of factors that can foster overall equality and enhance the participation of women in leadership roles. Amongst others these include letting go of limiting beliefs, creating spaces for women to speak out and claim their rights. Furthermore, supporting women leaders to gain the confidence, skills, and knowledge to represent other women, improving the representation of women in local leadership, capitalisation on women’s natural leadership potential and having women in C-Suite. Harvard Business School Research has indicated that that improving diversity results in better financial performance. Research has further shown that having women in the C-Suite increases net margins. In supporting this latter point, research conducted by Deloitte has indicated that companies with an inclusive culture are six times more likely to be innovative. It further indicated that staying ahead of changes has the likelihood of improving the financial targets and this change entails providing female mentors and role models, demonstrating trust and not just talking about it. The human resources department of a company then plays a vital role in ensuring that there is equal representation of female employees in comparison to their male counterparts and this can be achieved