Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Emotional Intelligence in South African Women Leaders in Higher Education

Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Emotional Intelligence in South African Women Leaders in Higher Education

Article excerpt


South African leaders and organisations are riddled by challenges of the post-apartheid era, such as radical changes in equity legislation, a call for a more gender-balanced and culturally diverse work force, as well as the need to stay globally competitive (Mayer, 2011; Oosthuizen & Naidoo, 2010). The South African Constitution emphasises a non-racial and non-sexist democracy. However, complex societal and educational issues, ranging from social and gender inequalities (Teferra & Altbach, 2004), experiences of discrimination, marginalisation and the exclusion of women in leadership positions challenge South African leaders in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) (Du Plessis & Barkhuizen, 2012; Lewis-Enright, Crafford & Crous, 2009; Martin & Barnard, 2013; Mayer & Barnard, 2015). Research highlights the important role of women in leadership in the African context (Darkwah, 2007; Kinnear, 2014; Mayer, Surtee & Barnard, 2015; Mayer & Van Zyl, 2013) and women leaders in South Africa are acknowledged as holding a resonance-building leadership style, consisting of adaptive communication skills, mentoring abilities, collaboration and qualities of cooperation (Van Wyk, 2012).

Emotional intelligence (EI) and emotional quotient (EQ), which refers to the subscales of EI, play a pivotal role in leadership studies (Cavazotte, Moreno & Hickmann, 2012; Du Toit, Viviers & Mayer, 2016; Pillay, Viviers & Mayer, 2013), particularly in the self-development of women. It occurs on the micro-level in observed and measured increases in the productivity, building positive relations and gaining emotional commitment from human capital. At the macro-level, this strengthens organisational culture, resilience and flexibility (Jonck & Swanepoel, 2015). Furthermore, empathetic communication between women leaders and staff develop a culture of trust that increases synergy among employees, stimulating creativity and innovative responses to complex demands (Lazovic, 2012, p. 797). In this context, EI increases success in women leaders (Jonck & Swanepoel, 2015) and EQ builds a base for increased leadership qualities in women (Anand & Suriyan, 2010; Chaudhry & Saif, 2012; Rahim & Malik, 2010). Singh (2010) argues that organisations can enhance EI in women leaders by improving their competencies, namely, people success, system success and self-success. This can be done through training programmes to improve EI in women leaders (Grant, 2007), and EQ has been suggested as a recruitment tool for the South African organisational context (Jonker, 2009) because EI contributes to effective leadership (Chaudhry & Saif, 2012).

The purpose of this study is to explore and understand EI in South African women leaders working in HEIs, aiming at new insights into EI from an emic women leadership perspective. The study contributes to an in-depth understanding of facets of EI in women leaders in HEIs, which builds the basis of coping with the challenges of leadership, as well as recommendation for future theory and practice. To respond to the aim of the study to explore EI in women leaders in South African HEIs, the main research question was posed: 'Which aspects of EQ are important to women leaders in South African HEIs?'

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The South African context

Exploring and understanding gender in South African HEIs requires an understanding of the complexities generated by its socio-historical legacy (Mabokela & Mawila, 2004). During apartheid, South Africans were classified as Africans, mixed races, Indians and whites (Healey & O'Brien, 2015), whereby black women were defined as second-class citizens (Mabokela & Mawila, 2004) carrying a double burden of sexism and racism (Wing & De Carvalho, 1995, p. 57), with racial markers being contradictory and interrelated to gender and economic status (Mayer, 2011; Puttick, 2012). …

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