Women on Top
Published in the Clicks ClubCard Magazine, Issue 2 2012
Men and women are different. The clichés, theories and realities all tell us so; men are more analytical, women are better long-term planners. Men think more in terms of status and rank. Women prefer flat hierarchies. We even fall in love differently. So naturally, we have different strengths when it comes to managing people.
Despite our supposedly advanced society, though, the workplace is still awash with stereotypical notions of women bosses. You’d be hard pressed to find even one derogatory male stereotype in the workplace to every three for women: there’s the hormonal emotional wreck, the people-pleasing pushover, the “ball breaking” lady dragon, the passive aggressive “bitch”.
Thankfully, these perceptions are waning, as ever more women blaze a trail in senior positions. Research from the 2011 Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) reveals that South African women currently hold 27 percent of senior management positions, beating the global average of 20 percent. The survey also shows the percentage of private businesses in South Africa that have no women in senior management has declined from 27 percent in 2009 to 23 percent, in contrast to the global average which has risen to 38 percent compared to 35 percent in 2009.
So what makes a good manager? There are thousands of books dedicated to the subject (which tells us there is no one answer to that question) – but that is perhaps, besides the point. Different positions require different roles, and therefore, different skills.
“Both women and men bring unique characteristics to the workplace, and the different roles that they play add to the overall wholeness of the organisation,” says Ann Werner, an industrial psychologist and career facilitator who runs her own practice, Career Creations, in Cape Town. “For example, often the workplace is depicted as a logical, rational, goal-orientated, competitive environment, which focuses on increased productivity and optimum performance. These are often seen as masculine qualities, and of course, they are vital components for organisational success. But within that, and indeed enriching the environment, one will find the more common feminine traits of nurturing, intuition, co-operation, and rather than a strictly goal-oriented approach, a people-centric one, where development of relationships is key to a thriving workplace. This is particularly so of efficient and successful organisations.”
South Africa needs effective women managers – having only men on your team is a bit like like hopping on one foot instead of walking. Women adapt better to new situations. Women are more likely to delegate and reward people. They’re getting better at doing what men traditionally have done well, and it has also been suggested that women are better able to lead businesses towards transformation.
“Women tend to be more approachable,” says Werner, “and care not only about the employee, but the value of the relationship, the effect of the relationship on others, and how it influences overall organisational productivity. Hence, women managers generally know the importance of getting to the bottom of a situation, sooner rather than later, make changes to improve things, and generate workable solutions prior to situations becoming untenable.”
So, our inherent nature works in our favour, which isn’t exactly a newsflash – but are there any disadvantages? According to Werner, we’re generally not as single-minded as men in the workplace. “Because women are generally wired to multitask, as well as to ‘see’ things which their male counterparts do not, it may detract somewhat from a single-minded focus on one task at a time. In addition, owing to their more nurturing and relation-centred approach to management, women might get caught out when sufficiently clear boundaries are either not adhered to or not in place. For example, mentorship sessions scheduled for a certain duration should be kept as such and not overflow into other work time. All too often, going beyond the call of duty can spiral into overwork and eventual burnout.”
But no-one becomes an effective manager overnight – it takes plenty of time, experience in the field and trial and error to learn to trust your instincts, know when to takes risks and how to effectively manage subordinates. But there are a few guidelines to help you along the way, says Werner.
Don’t neglect your feminine self. The workplace needs the feminine qualities which women bring. Don’t abandon your intuition. While there is a need for action, there is an equal need for quieter time, thought, intuition and harmony.
Find the balance. Make sure that you set sufficient boundaries to ensure time for yourself, for significant others and your work. Learn to say no and get into the habit of effective delegation.
Be clear. When you go into partnership with men, be vocal and explicit, without being aggressive. Become an effective communicator. Do what makes you happy.
Use your nurturing instincts, but make sure you deliver the outcomes efficiently. Focus on results, but don’t lose a human touch.
Don’t be too serious – it helps to have a sense of humour!
Ameesha Chagan is portfolio manager at asset management company, Futuregrowth.
“When I saw the dealing room for the first time I knew that this was where I wanted to be, and I was determined to forge my career in that direction. I was the first black female trader in the Money and Capital Markets Dealing Room at the South African Reserve Bank.
I currently work at Futuregrowth Asset Management and manage about R20 billion in assets. It was the drive and willingness to take on risk and my determination to succeed that paved the way for my success. Passion also goes a long way. I love what I do.
It is an extremely dynamic and constantly evolving environment; two consecutive days are never the same. Mistakes are made by all; you have to have the ability to learn from those mistakes and get up and carry on. You must have the willingness to take risks, be assertive and believe in yourself.
Women have empathy and strong interpersonal skills, complemented with a leadership style which is very inclusive and collaborative.
Women managers tend to be very persuasive, with a strong urge to get things done. It’s true that women are often perceived as being soft and “emotional”, but I think that this is a totally inaccurate. Women do not have to mimic the behaviour of men in order to be perceived as strong, but rather need to embrace their femininity and at the same time take control and make things happen. We should hopefully see female representation continue to increase over the coming years until we have company senior management that is representative of society.”
Andrea Mitchell is MD and founder of digital marketing agency, Digivox.
“The only benchmark that can prove you’re a good manager is the results you produce. Where gender can play a role, however, is in what type of manager you are. Various research studies indicate that women tend to transfer data faster between the left half (analytical) of the brain and the right (visual) part of the brain. The result is that women are able to multitask more easily than men, and are more flexible. Women also tend to be better at communication and interpersonal skills, which results in a more team-building and consensus approach, as opposed to men’s more ‘command and conquer’ approach.
The only disadvantages are the ones we create for ourselves.
The biggest challenge I’ve seen for women in management is the perception that a woman with a family can’t possibly fulfill the requirements of the role. It’s up to us to prove that no matter our personal circumstances, we can be good managers. Keep in mind, however, that in environments where the list of top management is male dominated, it may take a little longer for a woman to prove herself. Research studies suggest that, more and more, women are demonstrating higher levels of traditional ‘hard’ or ‘male’ skills, and suggest that many women workers had such skills all along, but that male managers either overlooked or misperceived them. My advice? Believe in yourself. Don’t forget you’re a woman, with unique characteristics that contribute to the success of the role you’re in, and thus, the entire business. Never try to be somebody else.”
Mary Mzumara is the MD of marketing agency, Quirk in Johannesburg.
“I graduated with an MA in communication and started my first role in digital in 1998. I’ve always worked in the digital advertising space and worked my way up from an account executive. I love what I do and this is what’s kept me going over the years. You get to do something new every day at work and explore new areas. Often times, you’ll find you are doing something for the very first time and that’s exciting. I wouldn’t say that women are more effective managers than men. Some managers are just more effective – period – and the qualities that make them more effective are universal. The best managers I’ve had in my life have been people who have been prepared to take a risk and give people the opportunity to succeed. I believe women can struggle when they first transition to management. You’re used to doing the work, and then suddenly it’s not your core focus. This is where managers need the most support – they have to work out what will make them the most effective. Women should be proactive about getting help so that they can be successful. There are definitely opportunities for women in South Africa. Keep studying once you complete your professional qualifications to make sure you have an opportunity to take advantage of all the opportunities that are out there. I’ve always worked in an extremely busy and high-pressured environment; so I would also advise to slow down and reflect while you go through life.”