Empowering women makes business sense


Promoting gender equality in the workplace should not be seen only in terms of promoting good ethical and moral principle but also as a business fundamental with research showing that a fair gender mix delivers good returns.

Dr Marjolijn Dijksterhuis, director of the Women in Leadership course at the UCT Graduate School of Business, said studies are increasingly showing that investing in female leaders makes good business sense.

She said while South Africa has one of the most liberal constitutions in the world and the government has been congratulated for its high representation of women in parliament, but the overall picture was still disconcerting.”

She said more South African women are unemployed than men. Almost 1,5 times more women than men have no formal education. Internationally, women still fill less than 15% of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies and make up just 3,6% of CEOs.

Dijksterhuis said it was essential for businesses to develop their female leaders. The first step though lies in women improving self-belief. “Even when legislation doesn’t actively hold women back, the damage is often already internalised. Disempowerment experienced at a social level eventually filters through to their self-image – where it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Women-only programmes are a great way to facilitate such personal inquiry, said Dijksterhuis. “A women-only leadership programme can offer more than traditional leadership programmes, because the single-identity format allows the additional discussion of concerns common to the group. Participantshave the opportunity to discuss issues not often tabled in organisations where conversations are shaped by the majority – which would usually be men.

“In women-only leadership training, the learning can be deeper, as the fact that the participants are all women allows trust to emerge relatively quickly. Trust is essential in a leadership transformation programme. It is a catalyst for personal and professional change.”

She said single-sex programmes can also make participants more open to feedback. “Research shows that single-identity groups, such as women-only leadership programmes, are more conducive to constructive criticism. In short, critical feedback from men can be rejected on the grounds that it is prejudiced, whereas the same feedback, offered by a peer female leader, will often be more easily accepted.”


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