MORE women are moving into higher-level positions. But the
rate of advancement is slow, and half way up the corporate ladder women tend to
fall behind their male colleagues.
It's time for organisations and women themselves to reverse
Women have made strides in all kinds of careers. They
include Christine Lagarde, first female head of the International Monetary
Fund, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, newly-elected head of the African Union.
South Africa has produced a myriad of influential businesswomen
with Absa CEO Maria Ramos and Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita, CEO of ArcelorMittal,
both making the Forbes list of the world's 100 most powerful women.
Nonetheless, the Grant Thornton International Business
Report 2012 shows that globally only 21% of women are in senior management
positions. SA does better at 28%, but only 8% of local companies have a female
The slow progress of women as leaders tends to be based on
entrenched corporate practices and outdated gender stereotypes. As a result,
men are frequently promoted on potential, while women are promoted on
performance and hence advance more slowly.
This can deprive the organisation of leadership talent, at a
time when it is in short supply all over the world.
Research shows that diversity of leadership generates better
company performance and increased profits. Women can bring a broader set of
ideas to the table, leading to more innovative workplaces and better decision
Women tend to practise an inclusive style of leadership and
value compassion and support. This has a positive impact on staff performance
In an economic crisis, women tend to come to the fore, since
they are less likely than their male counterparts to take high risks. Generally
less competitive, women may be less likely to show knee-jerk reactions in
Globally, organisations ranging from the World Bank to the
World Economic Forum are taking up the cause of gender equality. There is also
a great deal that organisations and women themselves can do to achieve equality
in the workplace.
Companies can embark on accelerated career programmes to
assist women to make transitions into higher-level positions. Moving from an
operational to a strategic position is a particularly difficult transition and
it can't be rushed.
Transition training and a formal coaching programme is
critical, yet organisations tend to provide less rather than more support as
women move up the leadership ladder.
Actively providing opportunities for women, combined with
formalised succession planning at all levels of the organisation, can provide
dividends. The provision of child care is an important element as are flexible
working hours, at this stage provided by only 39% of large corporates in South Africa.
But it's not solely up to the employer. Women themselves are
frequently their own worst enemies. Women can do a great deal to push back
against outdated policies and practices and make the most of opportunities in
Women should be more open about making their career
aspirations known, and being proactive in advancing their careers. They need to
put themselves forward, learn to negotiate for themselves and volunteer their
They should raise their hand for new assignments and
initiatives and not be afraid to get their hands dirty.
It's important for women to get better at building
relationships. Connecting with influential people who can provide strategic
advice is significant in advancing your career.
Build networks at the office as well as in your personal
life. But keep your work and private life separate – at work and on the
internet. Never post anything on your Facebook or LinkedIn pages that you
wouldn't want your colleagues to see.
A crucial element is finding a sponsor several levels above
you who can act as a mentor, introduce you to the leadership network, recommend
you for projects or promotions you may not otherwise have access to, so that
you can advance up the corporate ladder.
The next step is to be confident in projecting your
authority rather than wanting to be seen as "nice". Be prepared to
take reasonable risks and don't miss opportunities through fear of making
It's important to understand the politics of the
organisation and your place in it.
Women who get to the top understand how to pull the top team
together and how to lobby for support.
* Sandra Burmeister is chief executive officer of the
Landelahni Recruitment Group. She is the fourth guest columnist taking part in
Fin24's Women’s Month campaign celebrating women in business. Fin24 welcomes your participation in the
campaign. Send your views to firstname.lastname@example.org and you could get published.
Women a force for change – Amelia Jones, CEO of Community
Four tips for working women - Glynnis Jeffries, head:
business development at Futuregrowth
Manage like a woman - Wahida
Parker, director of Equillore
*Follow Fin24 on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.