Women will benefit from a toolbox that could help them prepare to take their rightful place in leadership roles.
Right now, we don’t have enough talent in our leadership pool as a country, and we are not focusing on building our talent pool. My view is that, in the next 10, maybe 15 or 20 years, we will still be having the same conversation about having only 8% of women in leadership positions and having missed the opportunity to provide focused mentorship opportunities for young women who are coming into the work place. We want them to stay there and not get discouraged by the challenges and realities of corporate life and check out, as a result of frustrations.
Many South African women have opted for the entrepreneurship route, which is a good thing as it stimulates the growth of our economy.However, many of those women have left corporate life out of frustration and the lack of support, opportunities and guidance that they have encountered in their careers. This further shrinks the pool of talented women who could ascend to future directors and heads of organisations.
For example, in many of my coaching conversations, women have said that they are thinking of opening a Sorbet salon or something similar because they cannot handle being in the corporate environment any more. One of these was a black female lawyer who is considered top talent in her field. The issue is that women are overlooked for opportunities – not for promotions but for meaningful projects. Women want to be involved in meaningful projects, but these projects go to the members of the boys’ club because they play golf together, and are not opening up that space for people who are different from them. As women, we are simply not finding enough platforms to be exposed to these key opportunities, I suppose this is to be expected since the players of this corporate game are still predominantly male.
So your aspirational woman thinks, “I’m going to look for and buy a franchise because I need to feed my kids.” And that, in my view, is a woman who could be a CEO in the next five years. And so an opportunity is lost – for the corporate world and for the country in the terms of our ability to stay competitive with the rest of the world.
Toolbox for women
What I strongly believe is that we should really be equipping women with a variety of tools, whether they be business skills, leadership skills or technical skills, to support women in their journeys of becoming well-rounded professionals in whatever space they are in. Women should be creating a toolbox with all the different things that we need to be successful as professionals, businesswomen or home-makers. Something that says: ”These are the rules of the game”. Of course, the rules shift and change, so you can’t really have a fool proof toolbox. That toolbox can provide simple tips and strategies of how to cope with and overcome some of our challenges.
Some women are simply just too afraid to say, “I’m bad with numbers but I’m now in this position and I don’t know what to do. When I engage with someone like that I usually ask them “Okay, so have you identified someone you trust in the finance team that can take you through the boardroom pack before the board meeting so that you understand those numbers and write your own notes? And don’t be afraid to take your pink calculator into the boardroom because there is nothing to be afraid about.”
The toolbox needs to include a range of diverse topics, like how to be presentable in the corporate environment, how to cook the best meal, how to manage the family, and what’s the correct or commonly accepted business etiquette in different situations. It should include how to lead a team, and how to deal with the challenges in the team you’re leading. The old guard in most organisations has a very military approach to leadership. That’s not how women lead because not having been in the military, we don’t know those things, so we lead in a very different fashion. I have had recent conversations with someone who said they don’t even know how to cook a balanced meal as they simply don’t have the time. If you have a spouse who expects these things from a woman, this might be important to you and you need help.
The toolbox should contain tools to help women make transitions, to assist them when transitioning from one organisation or role to the next. It should offer practical advice on how to approach people in the organisation for mentorship. This may sound very basic and simple but people are struggling with these things on a daily basis. They need that support in order to make that approach and when the answer is, “No,” some people are shattered, and they need guidance to help them change course to try something else.
The toolbox should help you manage your finances as a woman. We are emotional beings and that is perfectly fine, but maybe some women are emotional when it comes to handling their money and they need help. In essence, the toolbox should have different facets to it.
I think there’s more to a Women’s Day than the nice breakfasts, the cocktails and the motivational speakers that we invite. They’re all well and good because we need a “pick me up”, but we need to move towards looking at developing women more holistically through the whole year and not just during Women’s Month. We have to ask ourselves how we are equipping women for the realities of corporate life, and how we empower them to become change agents, because things need to change in all spheres of our society.
Women are indeed skilled, they can do this. They manage households and they turn things around. It is a matter of confidence, though. How do we equip women to have the right level of confidence to sit at the table and command respect and speak out because many of us have brilliant ideas? But we get to the boardroom with our ideas then feel like they might be stupid ideas. I have never in my working career heard a man say, “I should have never asked that because it may be a stupid question.” They ask questions with confidence.
We therefore need to start looking at how we empower women and equip them to take their rightful place at the table, for the roles they need to play in the economy, in business and in politics, because we have a huge role to play there and the mess we are in is because women are scared of taking their rightful places. The day that women gain the confidence to stand up and take their rightful place may be the day our country becomes a better place! After all, power is never given, but taken.
Cebile Xulu is the HR Director, Southern and Central East Africa at Mondeléz International.
This article appeared in the November 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.