Seeking Culturally Attentive Career Advancement Strategies for Women: Perspectives from Zimbabwean Women

Article excerpt

Abstract

While Zimbabwean women have penetrated the workforce, few women have gained access to senior management positions in organizations. Moreover, there is scarcity of information on women managers in Zimbabwe. The current study offers a preliminary analysis of Zimbabwean women managers. Interviews with 10 senior women managers working or who have worked in a variety of sectors are conducted to explore factors that contributed to their advancement with a view to examine culturally and contextually appropriate strategies that may be used to facilitate the advancement of women to senior management positions in Zimbabwe. The factors identified by the participants as important for women career advancement are discussed. The women in this study managed to attain senior management positions by effectively negotiating and reconciling the paradoxes of being a professional woman and a traditional woman.

Background

After gaining independence in 1980, the new Zimbabwean government took a proactive approach to addressing women's issues and freedoms. Pressure to address gender disparities was a historical product of women's active involvement in the struggle for national liberation in Zimbabwe and throughout Africa (Mandaza, 1986). Because of the equality between the genders during the protracted war, there was pressure to redress gender disparities in Zimbabwean society after independence. Since then, numerous laws and policies have been implemented to improve the circumstances of women (Ranchod-Nilsson, 2001).

Women in Zimbabwe currently form a significant portion of the nation's workforce and play a critical role in the development of the country. The proportion of women in the labour force increased from 17% in 1980 to 45% in 2000 (World Guide, 2001/2002). While Zimbabwean women have penetrated the workforce, few women have gained access to senior management positions in organizations. Muller (1994) stated that only a small group of elite African women have been able to attain professional or managerial positions in Zimbabwe. Women senior managers in public service constituted 19.7% of total management in 1999 (Zigomo-Nyatsanza, 2001). According to a Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum report (2001), in 2001, of the seven universities in Zimbabwe, only one had a female pro-vice chancellor; of 24 High court judges, 6 were women and the first woman was appointed as a Wing Commander in the Air Force of Zimbabwe in the same year. The report noted that women had similar status in the private sector.

There is very little empirically designed systematic research on women in management in Zimbabwe. Most of the research on women and work in Zimbabwe addresses women's waged work in factories, rural areas and as entrepreneurs (Adam, 1991; Ncube & Greene, 2003; Sylvester, 2000). Moreover, most of the studies of the advancement of women to senior management positions in the past 30 years have been conducted in North American and European organizations (i.e., Davidson & Burke, 1994; Davidson & Cooper, 1992; Tanton, 1994; White, Cox & Cooper, 1992). Consequently, the factors explaining the small proportion of women senior managers as well as the strategies required to increase their numbers, have been based on the contextual and institutional characteristics of these settings (Izraeli & Talmud, 1997).

A study that exclusively studied Zimbabwean women managers was conducted by Muller (1994) on the constraints faced by women in entering and retaining management positions within different sectors. The study documented the barriers that impede women's progress in all sectors of employment, and the kinds of societal restructuring and class action that must be undertaken if true change is to occur. While it is known that those women who manage to reach the top have surmounted substantial barriers and while the actions suggested by Muller are essential, there is little understanding of what fosters women advancement in Zimbabwe. …