For women in the corporate sector, the ‘glass ceiling’ appears to be as stubbornly present as ever. Interestingly enough, however, Africa has more women in executive roles in companies than the average worldwide. This is according to McKinsey’s August 2016 report on gender diversity entitled Women Matter – Africa: Making gender diversity a reality.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that women are still under-represented at every level of the corporate ladder – non-management and middle and senior management – and fall in number the higher they climb. Only five percent of women make it to the top, according to the report.
Wits Business School is taking this issue seriously. The School’s Leadership Development Centre, has developed and fine-tuned its Women in Leadership course, and demand is growing exponentially.
This is according to Alison Foote, Manager of the Leadership Development Centre.
“We started the Women in Leadership course with 35 delegates early in 2016. Our courses are now attracting up to 50 delegates,” says Foote.
“We first ran a pilot course in Venda in 2015, and since then, the course has undergone several changes. Using the feedback we have received from attendees, we have designed a programme which provides the kind of support and insight that women in business appear to need and appreciate.”
The course takes place over three three-day clusters over three months, which means attendees can commit to the course with minimal disruption to their work schedules. It interrogates issues such as diversity power and patriarchy, the South African workplace paradigm, strategising as a leader, negotiation and communication skills, engendered leadership and the role of emotional intelligence (EQ) in leadership success.
One-on-one sessions and lively panel discussions make the course highly involving, and delegates get caught up in debates with titles like ‘The Imposter Syndrome in Women Leaders’ and ‘Think Leader Think Male’.
Through individual coaching, delegates embark on a journey of self-assessment and discovery, culminating in the writing of a personal leadership manifesto.
“We place emphasis on self-actualisation, and the celebration and respect of self. I have seen instances of real personal growth, even transformation, among delegates, many of whom find their voice and tap into inner resources they didn’t know they had,” says Foote.
The course aims at women at various levels of an organisation, including those who are qualified and already in leadership positions who want to hone their skills, and those for whom the course will help bring about a shift in performance and confidence to help them move to the next level.
Doreen Kosi, a senior executive with many years’ experience in public and private sector leadership, relished the opportunity to take a step back and question long-held assumptions, both about herself and others.
“The EQ component of the course was a huge wake up call. For the first time in a long time, I was able to be introspective and honest with myself and my leadership style, without pressure. I was amazed at how stagnant I had become, and how presumptuous, as a leader. The course reminded me to be appreciative of others and recognise the value they bring to the table,” she says.
A holistic approach to leadership development proved to be another path to self-discovery. “I never realised how important the balance of body, mind and soul is in leadership. I am more aware of my body and how each and every emotion it transmits each time I engage, whether with others or just with myself,” says Kosi.
The programme asks probing questions, such as does being a woman in leadership result in a different approach to strategy formulation?, and how do negotiation skills between men and women differ?
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“There is a serious danger of making assumptions and being set in our ways as leaders,” says Kosi.
“Emotional intelligence is important in leadership, and women should never be apologetic or modest as leaders. They are traits we need to lose without being arrogant…. these are just a few fundamentals I learnt, and they will stick with me for a very long time.”