More women must be encouraged to take up leadership positions in the private and public sectors.

Many women are still their own worst enemies, writes Grace Khoza.

 

Warring sisters, mothers jealous of their daughters, back-biters and gossipers in both the public and private sphere, trying to out-dress each other, preferring male bosses to their female counterparts, habitual jealousy, feeling threatened by beauty and others, is it time to ask whether women are still their own worst enemies?

As we commemorate Women’s Month in tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings 60 years ago to protest against the pass laws, asking whether women are sometimes their own worst enemies looks at a bitter, hard to accept truth.

Practical examples convey it in the most gruesome manner.

Research, studies and psychologists have often concluded that women are their own worst enemies and fear or hatred of each other is not uncommon.

A study by the women’s campaign group, Opportunity Now, revealed the biggest enemies of women in the office or other workplace are often other women, not their male counterparts.

The study found many women had been bullied by a member of their own sex and they felt they might have been targeted because their senior colleague felt threatened by their abilities, undermined by criticism and a boss who overloads them with work.

This is worse in our country where there are few women in the upper echelons in most workplaces.

Those of us in the minority in leadership positions tend to behave like our positions are God-ordained or that we’re in a special place for the few.

It is painful but true to ask: As a lady, when entering a meeting room, do you immediately consider how you are dressed, whether you are prettier, older or younger than the other women in the room? Do you feel guilty if you are prettier or younger than the women around you?

Do you feel depressed because you believe you are not as attractive as the woman next to you? Yes it takes 30 seconds for one to make a physical impression, but should this 30 seconds define us - build or break our confidence, is this worth our time?

Though as women we hate to admit it, we still judge each other on looks, age and sex appeal. This is terrible, but true. We are relieved when another woman is not much more attractive than we are or younger than we are.

Worse still, a worldwide research by Gallup has found that in six countries, including Britain, the US, Germany and France, most women say they would prefer a male boss.

Researchers said that despite their positive experiences with female supervisors, women with a gender preference are more likely to say they prefer working for a male boss.

I find it interesting that women become defensive when all of the above facts are brought up. What to do? There is no right answer.

However, we all know that we need role models.

In a world where power dynamics call for strong, capable leadership, the classroom is where the first nuances of building character and leadership traits are nurtured.

Tomorrow’s generation of women needs to know and relate to people who could inspire them to outstanding success. Inspirational and aspirational role models are a real need of our times.

It’s important to safeguard our womanhood, but we should not breed stereotypes. Raising our children in a gender-sensitive manner will lay the foundation of a gender-conscious society.

As a mother of a boy child, I know how daunting and yet rewarding this process is. My son is surrounded by conscious messages on gender and yet still I hear and see how his gender allows him to naturally find his voice, being comfortable with himself.

His challenges are more internal; dealing with issues of self-worth while externally society affirms him, irrespective of how he views himself.

The public and private sector institutions must invest in women leadership development programmes to provide equal opportunities for the fairer sex and create more diversification in the workplace.

Women have great potential in the public and private environment as they possess both natural hard and soft skills such as intellectual and emotional intelligence, multi-tasking, organisational proficiency and communication skills that are invaluable in the both the private and public world.

Unfortunately, there is not enough effort being exerted to fully develop the leadership potential of women, which is one of the reasons why there are very few women holding high-level positions in the leadership sphere.

Our goal should be to raise awareness on unequal distribution of opportunities and subsequently encourage the business community and governments to offer appropriate training for the skills development and career advancement of women.

Diversification in people is a key element in forming effective and successful organisations. In addition to leadership development programmes, there is a need to implement various public and private sector initiatives such as change management, culture transformation, strategy execution through cross-functional teams, organisational design, and organisational vision, mission and values, to cultivate the effectiveness and efficiency of business organisations.

Those who came before us, took a bold stand 60 years ago, refusing to be consumed nor confined to their insecurities, thus becoming their worst enemies.

They resolved to take a collective stand. They believed in a future where we would be defined by our added value to any organisation, that as they demonstrated collectively they could make a difference, bring change to both their private and public lives.

We do not need to be our worst enemies. We have the capabilities and capacities to bring out the best in each other.

We tend to be the best networkers, connecters, nurturers and extremely emotionally and intellectually driven leaders, a balancing act few of our opposite gender counterparts are able to embrace and utilise.

Let’s reclaim our worth and our role, looking beyond what could easily destroy ourselves and those who come after us. A conscious reflection of our actions towards each would be of great value to us all.

A good friend recently vowed she would never speak ill of another sister.

Her starting point would be to speak words of affirmation rather than breaking her fellow sister - ours is NOT to break each other, rather to build each other.

Let’s choose the latter as we are daily exposed to that which is geared towards breaking us.

May we remember Mikki Taylor’s comment that: “Many women live like it’s a dress rehearsal. Ladies, the curtain is up and you are on.” Live your best life, embrace and affirm those in your sisterhood - your best is their best.

 

* Khoza is the executive eirector for group marketing and corporate affairs at AfroCentric Group, owners of Medscheme and other health companies.

** The views expressed here are solely of the writer’s and not IOL’s opinion

Sunday Independent