Perceptions of Barriers to the Advancement of Women in Management and Leadership Positions in South Africa

Article excerpt

Despite having a South African Constitution that entrenches equal rights, discriminatory practices, structural inequalities, cultural factors, prejudices and traditional patriarchal society are still alive and well in the South African business environment. This article attempts to discuss the reasons why women are not readily promoted in the private and public sectors, as well as other spheres. The study pivots around a number of barriers placed against the advancement of women in leadership positions in the Gauteng, South Africa. The methodology includes a review of literature, interviews, observations, attitudes and perceptions of those sampled. The findings showed that there are many traditional stereotypes that still exist about women in leadership positions. The study concluded that women play a crucial role in leadership positions.

INTRODUCTION AND RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

The new political dispensation in South Africa brought with employment equity, national policy framework for women emancipation and gender equality, and affirmative action policies in business. However, the advancement of blacks and women remains a challenge facing management in South Africa and, managers, whether or not they are committed to address this challenge, have to deal with the issue. The policy document on women advancement is a direct attempt by Government to influence and direct the course of events in the labour market today, by introducing measures designed to redress previous imbalances providing adequate protection and advancement of people or groups disadvantaged by unfair discrimination space (Backer 1998:9).

A study of perceptions of women in management is conducted to provide valuable information on what can be done to promote women. This is done because there is a shortage of women in managerial positions (Elizabeth 1996:274) as a result of the structure of South African society, which was traditionally male dominated. The argument of this article lies in the fact that women who aspire to become leaders should be given equal treatment. This means that their applications for any promotion should receive equal attention and consideration, without any prejudice. Alternatively, women who aspire to become leaders should be assessed in the same way as their counterparts. In other words, equal treatment forms the main objective that this article wishes to enhance, if not achieve.

The findings reported in this article are part of a broader research, which was undertaken to explore and clarify some contentious issues surrounding the perceptions of women in leadership positions. This paper focuses only on highlighting the barriers that inhibit the advancement of women in leadership positions. In South Africa women are still dominated and discriminated against and the perception is that they experience a circle of barriers in their quest to advancement into positions of leadership.

Women make up 52% of the total population in South Africa. They make up only 41% of the working population. They constitute 14.7% of all executive managers and only 7.1% of all directors in the country. Of the 3,125 directorship positions held, women hold only 221 positions. There are 11 female chairs of boards out of a total of 364, and only seven female CEOs/MDs compared to 357 males. In Australia, women constitute 44.6% of the total workforce, 8.4% of all directors and 8.8% of all executive. In the United States of America (USA), women constitute 46.1% of the workforce, 13.6% of all directors and 15.7% of all executive managers. In Canada, they constitute 46.5% of the workforce, 11.2% of all directors and 14% of all executive managers (Census, 2005). Nevertheless, the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa has made great strides within a short space of time to advance women towards the achievement of legislated equality between genders, in that just less than a third of the members of parliament are women. Women comprise 40% of national government ministers and deputy ministers, and also the then, Deputy President was a woman. …

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