How can Women become Leaders in the Workplace?

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Over the years more and more women have been absorbed into formal employment. However, the workplace has been criticised for being patriarchal, and not hearing the voices of women. In addition, many women carry a dual role as providers of paid labour in the workplace and providers of unpaid labour in the house.

The following questions and answers given below, extracted from a survey carried out by F Makombe et al  (unpublished) reveals the opportunities and challenges that still confront Zimbabwean woman in the workplace.

What societal characteristics contribute to women advancing to senior management positions?

No societal characteristics were reported as having contributed to the career advancement of women interviewed in the survey. Instead, societal attitudes towards women’s positions and abilities were perceived to have restrictions on career advancement. There is a strong bias against women in leadership positions, as Zimbabwean society is very patriarchal. Married working women feel constrained by societal norms and cultural values to participate in informal networks, for instance by associating with other men outside the  workplace.

What organisational characteristics can women use to attain senior leadership positions?

Among the women interviewed many attributed their rise to having fair and open minded superiors. However, some of the women reported facing hostility from their male subordinates who found it difficult to take directives  from women. They also reported being subjected to forms of sexual harassment as their male superiors treated them as mere sex objects.

How do government  policies assist in the advancement of women to senior management positions?

Women interviewed indicated that the mechanisms implemented by the government, such as in the area of sexual harassment, may have helped them some. But on the other hand they said that the implementation at organisational level was not effective. As one women put it, “On paper yes, but not necessarily in practice.” Most of the women who participated in the survey felt that they made it on their own merit and that government mechanisms did not help.

What strategies are women utilising to overcome barriers to career advancement?

Participants in the survey developed strategies such as assertiveness, working hand, competency, balancing their professional and domestic roles, working  harder than men and advancing their credentials to overcome barriers to their career advancement.

Is there scope for reform?

There is general consensus that the current political and legal mechanisms are not effective, due to negative attitudes and lack of accountability by the people who  are expected to enforce them. For instance, a mechanism such as affirmative action policy is expected to be implemented by top executives in organisations – and these positions are largely occupied by men who are not supportive of gender equity! Thus the problem is embedded in the culture of these organisations, which exert influence and render the law and other policies ineffective.

Suggested reforms

As women are carrying both professional and domestic roles there is need to create policies which are compatible with these roles. For instance, scheduling all business meetings within normal working hours, or not demanding long overtime hours from women.

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Find out more about Decent Work and Labour Laws in Zimbabwe.