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A Stanford School of Business study on power and influence found that women who are perceived as competent are also often perceived as unlikeable, while men do not face this likeability/competency issue. In fact, as a result of this, women in leadership positions get very little support from other women.

The recent elections in the US demonstrated a prime example of the above syndrome as one of the reasons Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign failed was that her critics accused her of being cold or aloof during her campaign. The election shows that sexism retains a deeper hold than most imagined. But what was highlighted in all of this is that women do not stand together. Women voted for Trump over Clinton by a whopping 28 point margin - 62percent to 34percent. If they had split 50-50, Clinton would have won.

More effective

There is a growing body of evidence showing that women are equally and, in some instances, more effective leaders than men. Research by the Institute for Inclusive Security (IIS), a think-tank focused on women’s contributions to peace building, has shown that women are more open to “collaboration across ideological lines and social sectors”. According to the IIS, when women are involved in negotiating peace deals, these are 35percent more likely to remain in effect for at least 15 years.

So where do women find themselves at this juncture in the corporate world? Women have simply stopped making progress at the top in any industry anywhere in the world. For the last 10 years, in the US, women have occupied 14percent of the top corporate jobs and 17percent of the seats on the board. However, despite the fact that women are obtaining more and more of the graduate degrees - and more and more of the undergraduate degrees - there has been no more progress as this has translated to more and more women occupying entry-level and lower-level management jobs. So, no real progress One of the biggest contributing factors is that women do not support other women.

The benefits brought by women to leadership positions far outweigh the changes business needs to make to accommodate them. More startling perhaps - in view of prevailing attitudes - are the results from new data from the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Ernst & Young (EY), which shows that having more female leaders in business can significantly increase profitability.

Coached

While it is critical for organisations to increase access to leadership roles for women it is equally important to develop equitable strategies and programmes to ensure both men and women rise to the top.

Women leaders need to be coached to develop the leadership and communications strategies they need in the workplace such as strategic and complex decision-making utilising the female whole-brained analytical/intuitive style. They need to develop their strength and resilience by learning how to handle the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of an increasingly unstable and rapidly changing business world.

South Africa ranks among countries with the highest female representation in government. Laudable as this statistic may be, in corporate South Africa only 7 of the 293 companies listed on the JSE have women at the helm (2015 Women in Leadership Census).

Susi Astengo is the managing director of CoachMatching and has worked in senior management, leadership coaching and as an HR consultant for more than 20 years. She recently won entrepreneur of the year in the prestigious 2016 Businesswomen’s Association Regional Business Achiever Awards, sponsored by Sanlam and Glacier by Sanlam.

BUSINESS REPORT