The term ‘glass ceiling’ was coined in the late 1970s, which means that it’s been around for a full generation. It still pops up from time to time, because many women still find it more difficult to get to the top of the corporate ladder than men do. In fact the advancement of women into the ranks of senior management is not yet keeping pace with what women are achieving in education.
In 2009, 53% of South Africa’s matriculants were female, and girls earned 63% of the distinctions that were awarded. But 40% of companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) still have no female directors and women in South Africa still earn 30% less, on average, than their male counterparts.
The truth behind the term
Why is this? Lauren Siebrits, former CEO of Simba and now the owner of Pronk Marketing, believes that men play the game differently to women. In the corporate environment, she says, a man who gets to the top usually has a sponsor who promotes him and ‘grooms’ him for that position. Most men (9 out of 10) in big companies have a sponsor to help them advance in their careers.
Women have to seek out that support in an organisation in order to get ahead, and significantly, many of those women who have made it to the top have had a sponsor to help them, she says. Siebrits also points out that chauvinism and conservatism remain entrenched in some companies. One example she gives is that up to 30% of briefs to recruitment agents are for ‘no women’ executive posts.
Societal and practical pressures will continue to be a challenge as long as women remain the principal caregivers of their children. So we see that large institutions with Mom-friendly working hours (such as banks) generally do have a higher ratio of women in senior positions.
Some women who want to fight the system are coming together to form their own networks and build their influence. The patrons of old boys’ clubs and Wednesday golf now have to contend with organisations like Women in Finance where smart women are fast creating their own power bases.
Small business and female growth
But it is in the arena of small business that women are most successfully coming into their own. This is a great growth area for women. Visit any small business incubator, networking function or workshop, and the majority of the entrepreneurs there are women. This development is so marked that it seems that women are saying that if they can’t compete with men in the corporate environment, then they’d rather build their own businesses.
I personally believe that after years in the corporate world, it was liberating to be able to take charge of my own success. Entrepreneurship is empowering for women, one of the most powerful ways of achieving financial freedom – and I’m proud to be an entrepreneur myself.
The old quip that women are better at multi-tasking is quite true. Family pressures make us more socialised and far more efficient. Because we have to fit in family commitments, we find a way. We might work until 7pm every day before we have children, but once there are children we need to leave work at 4:30 to take over from the nanny. But we still find a way to do our jobs as efficiently as before – and that’s a skill we should all be leveraging.
Certainly in my experience women make outstanding entrepreneurs. More than 60% of my entrepreneurial partners at Raizcorp are women and I think that women are the real heroes in entrepreneurship today. They are less ego-driven and more results-driven than men.
They are natural networkers and are more inclined to be supportive and willing to share their expertise, all of which are important for a strong small business sector. They are happy to ask for help, which is crucial for survival in small business. They are also flexible and adaptable, which are essential qualities in the entrepreneur, because in small business nothing is ever predictable.
There is a new breed of women in business today who have no patience with corporate career games. They are simply by-passing the big companies and creating entities of their own where the sky is the limit. I predict that these are the women who are going to shatter the last of the glass ceilings.