AMHVoices: Do women have the ability to lead?

Ever since Zimbabwean independence, more women have been absorbed into formal employment and some have even assumed public office. However women in leadership positions remain low 37 years on,despite that the government signed and ratified regional and international conventions aimed at the gradual re-balancing of gender disparities and promotion of gender equality.

A Women and Men Report by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency stated that women constitute 52% of the total population while men are 48% but unfortunately this does not translate into more women in leadership positions. A study by Zimbabwe Gender Commission titled Measuring Differences on Board of Directors in 2015 established that out of 406 directors in the private sector, 10% were women and out of 64 companies on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchanges female CEOs constituted only 4, 68%.

The UN statistics reiterate that worldwide only 22.8% women are in leadership positions. According to the UK Guardian in the business world, women currently hold only 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions.
What this entails is that leadership and decision-making across the world has remained male dominated in the 21st century. So does this mean women do not have the abilities to lead?

In the corporate world there is an extremely consistent pattern where by women climb up the corporate ladder and then they vanish in the upper echelons. According to the Business Insider, a leadership consultancy; the number of women shrinks in the higher levels of the organization despite the fact that in the lower levels there might be women in leadership positions.

This happens because of the nature of workplaces which are a microcosm view of a patriarchal society which views women as vulnerable and fragile human beings who make emotional decisions. This strong bias depicts men as the stronger sex which is justified and entitled to assume leadership positions because they are perceived to make better masculine decisions.

Married women are also restricted from rising the organizational ladder by societal norms and cultural values which inhibit them from participating in informal networks through connecting with other men outside the sphere of work. Due to this men use their old boys’ networks to muscle their way to the top shielding women away.

One more circumventing factor is that women double up professional and domestic roles which constrains them from committing to work beyond normal working hours. Male chauvinism is another enigma that women battle in organizations. Male subordinates are hostile to female superiors, they view them as sex objects and they subject them to various forms of sexual harassment.

These are some of the factors which hamper the career advancement of women to top leadership positions. However globally and locally the tide is is changing and more women are being elevated into leadership roles.
The IMF, General Motors, IBM and Nicoz Diamond are run by women. In Silicon Valley, the New York Times reports that recruiters have been wooing women in the sector to boost their diversity figures. This has also been necessitated by findings in research by organizations like McKinsey which articulated that gender diverse organizations make 15% more profit than those that are not.

However, enacting women in leadership positions through positive discrimination has been found to have its fair share of challenges. When Norway introduced quotas for the number of women on company boards in 2006, not every woman benefitted but small groups of well-known women profited through their networks and they became known as the golden skirts. The critical mass of women expected to rise did not but only a token of figureheads made it to the top.
Despite this, do women have what it takes to lead?

Women are by nurture highly collaborative multi-taskers who can balance demands of work. In families they are the glue that keeps the family fabric intact, it is through their family leadership that traditions, values and family legacies are upheld. They secure the foundational roots of families, and according to the 2015 Fortune Magazine extensive research reveals that women are empathetic than men as they can sense growing tensions that can lead to inefficiencies and potential problems.

Generally it is because of women that families are well organized, balanced and full of love. To add on women possess nurturing competencies that involve developing others and building relationships. These are qualities that women can bring into the workplace.

Regardless of such makings, women who make it in the corporate world rely on deploying strategies such as assertiveness, balancing their professional and domestic roles, advancing their credentials and working harder than men in order to break through the glass ceiling and overcome barriers to excel to the top.

Proponents for women in leadership state that elevation of women should commence in the family set up. Educational and financial support should be equal between the girl and boy child, families should cease the culture of discriminating the girl child. That way more women will be qualified enough to take up leadership roles in all sectors.

On the organisational level, it takes the determination of courage of leaders to support the upward trajectory of women and to build gender-balanced organizations where the unique qualities and abilities of women are appreciated.

Freemen Pasurai writes in his personal capacity. He is passionate about people management. He is available on email freemenpasurai01@gmail.com and on Twitter @freeman_pasurai

AMHVoices: Do women have the ability to lead? : NewsDay Zimbabwe.