A lot has been said about the glass ceiling that keep women from reaching positions of executive leadership in the workplace. In South Africa, this seems to be changing. Examples like Yolanda Cuba (MTN) and Phuti Mahanyele (Naspers) in the private sector, in higher education; Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng (UCT), Prof Puleng Lenkabula (Unisa) and Dr Judy Dhlamini (Wits) and in the public sector, which has been exemplary in the promotion of diversity in leadership; the new auditor general, minister of small business,etc. The glass ceiling is finally cracking.
However, the greatest barrier that black women face in advancing to leadership is getting the first management position . The SA Economic Equity report shows that in entry level positions the split between man and women is almost equal, however things look different when it comes to management, women especially black women start lagging behind. The Lean in Women in the workplace report calls this the ‘broken wrung’ of the ‘corporate ladder’.
One of the factors that underly this occurrence is gender bias. The bias of seeing men as competent because of their gender and white women as more competent than black men and women because of their race. Research shows that affirmative action often benefits white women more than any other disadvantaged category.
The other issue that contributes to this unbalanced state is the lack of sponsors for black women. Sponsors are people who are in leadership position and places where decisions are made who can advocate for their mentees when promotion opportunities or exciting projects arise. Black women often lack sponsors who would advocate for their promotions due to the barriers to networking for black women, e.g. most senior positions are held by white man, white women and black men which present a racial, cultural and gender barrier to creating relationships with these people for black women.
Finally the internalisation of these stereotypes by black women themselves. The conditioning that teaches black women that they are inferior, unworthy and do not have personal power. Some of these are brought about the trauma that is as a result of socio-economic conditions that black women are raised in.
The mission of the Black women in the workplace organization is to help companies create an enabling environment for the advancement of black women into leadership positions and to create a pipeline of black women who are ready for leadership; by helping them overcome their internalised unworthiness brought about by conditioning and stereotyping.
Author: Busisiwe Hlatswayo http://www.blackwomenintheworkplace.com