Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Emerging Models of Power among South African Women Business Leaders

Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Emerging Models of Power among South African Women Business Leaders

Article excerpt


Women remain under-represented in South African corporate leadership along with the rest of the world, despite legislation promoting gender equity (Mall, 2015).The stunted efforts to address this challenge reflect the need to review the ideologies that drive them (Nkomo & Hoobler, 2014). Studies conducted into gender inequality in business leadership typically focus on representation, but fewer explore women's grapples in exercising power and influencing the agenda of traditional institutions (Stainback, Kleiner & Skaggs, 2016).

Women leaders' discourse of power needs to be better understood to enable a more conscious approach to gender transformation that takes women's perspectives into account. This article will review women leaders' construction of power within a feminist framework which recognises that leadership and power theories are not neutral because they have been developed within a patriarchal context, resulting in the performativity of gender against restricted set of norms (Butler, 1990; Fletcher, 2004; Lazar, 2005).

Research purpose and objectives

There is substantial international research focusing on women's experience of power within organisations (Anderson & Shafer, 2005; Brescoll, 2011; Ely & Rhode, 2010; Fletcher, 2004; Nicholson & Caroll, 2013; Powell, 2011; Stead, 2014). However, there are a limited number of South African studies, none of which focus explicitly on power (Franks, Schurink & Fourie, 2006; Lewis-Enright, Crafford & Crous, 2009; Martin & Barnard, 2013). The purpose of the research was to understand South African women business leaders' constructions of power and to develop an emerging model.

The research objectives relating to this purpose were to understand:

* How women narrate their awareness of power

* How women leaders view and use power in their leadership role

* How women leaders challenge or perpetuate the leadership culture of their organisation

This article reviews the feminist perspectives on power and leadership, which lead to the research objectives and choice of qualitative methodology. It then proceeds to highlight key findings of the research through an emerging model of power.

Literature review

In this study, power was defined as both relational and personal. Views of power being vested in social relationships such as the control of valued resources as well as agency affecting the attitudes of others (Avelino & Rotmans, 2009; Fleming & Spicer, 2014) were considered in the analysis of power models. However, the inner psychological and spiritual attributes of accepting yourself and the evolution of purpose is another important dimension of personal power (Goltz, 2011; Nicholson, 2012). Understanding social, psychological and spiritual power is considered critical to personal and systemic transformation in the field of process psychology (Mindell, 1995). This multi-faceted definition is a postmodern interpretation of power since the Foucauldian notion (1980) of power being constructed in universal 'truths' around the phenomenon is acknowledged.

Feminist theorists illuminate the hegemonic nature of collective thought in relation to power, which has prevented women from defining the concept in their own terms (Ledwith, 2009). The feminist movement, both globally and in South Africa, is characterised by varied perspectives of diverse women. However, a common thread is the need to create consciousness around the female world and to include women's voices in reshaping academic disciplines (Lee, 2010). Feminist redefinitions of power tend to include the transformational power of evolving identity (Dickerson, 2013) and spiritual considerations, which highlight our interconnectedness as human beings with shared responsibility for protecting our environment from acts of oppression (Fletcher, 2004; Ledwith, 2009).

Over a decade ago, Freeman and Borque (2001) argued that power was no longer a male construct and that women were redefining it as personal power, including personal development and self-determination. …

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