Why are there still so few female leaders?
Women make up 51.3 percent of the South African population – there are just over 27 million of us.
As of May 2013, there were 12 731 920 registered female voters – just over 2 million more women than men registered. There are more women than men in tertiary education worldwide.
Women, it is clear, are in the majority and want to make their voices heard.
Yet, when you get into the boardrooms of the big companies in South Africa (and across the world) there are so few women that these voices translate to a whisper.
A quick scan of the top ten biggest South African companies reveals that at most, 19 percent of board members are women, and 30 percent of their senior management team are female.
Employment equity shows that women make up less than 20 percent of top management positions in almost all industries as of 2012.
Even at the middle and low levels, women are not earning the same as men.
The 2011 census compared the annual average income by sex in 2001 and 2011. Female headed households in 2011 earn an average annual income of R67 330 – only R3 704 more per year than men did in 2001!
More women than men are unemployed across the country and across the world. It is clear that when left to their own devices, businesses do not proactively seek out women leaders.
This situation recalls a famous Charlotte Whitton quote ‘Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.’ Whitton added, ‘Luckily, this is not difficult’.
Of course, doing things twice as well may be easy, but it’s clear that the old (mostly white) men who run the private sector in South Africa still do not think that women are even half as good as men.
So how can we be in the majority and not be claiming the space that is rightfully ours at the top of businesses?
How can we transform the world to be more gender sensitive and to support and grows women leaders?
I recently watched a Sheryl Sandberg Ted Talk on why there are so few women leaders in business. She argues that so many women enter business, but drop out, and that there are three ways women can become more successful in business. These are:
Sit at the table:
Don’t go to meetings and avoid participating in the key discussions happening around you. Don’t assume that you’re not good, or underestimate your own abilities. In short – nobody gets the corner office by sitting on the side.
Make your partner a real partner:
Women work harder in the home and at work. We need to try and make our homes more gender equitable – according to Sheryl Sandberg, gender equitable households are less likely to end in divorce, and are more likely to have good sexual relations.
Don’t leave before you leave:
Don’t plan fitting children into your work life, before you actually have to leave the workplace. Keep working and developing yourself until the time that you actually have to be off work.
There are also obviously structural reasons for why more women are not involved in business.
In 2011, 7 077 000 children were living with their mothers only, whereas only 666 000 children were living with their fathers only.
It also includes the fact that in some cases women still have to take unpaid leave during their maternity periods and that few businesses have crèche or child care facilities for these women.
These are things we need to push for in our own businesses and workplaces if we are to ensure that we are not staring up at a glass ceiling, looking at the soles of men’s shoes in positions we are equally capable and qualified to fill.
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