Today, a woman doesn’t have to be sitting at the head of the boardroom table in a three-piece suit and high heels in order to be a leader. While this may have been the case 30 years ago, nowadays women leaders in leadership roles don’t conform to an outward stereotype. It’s what they exude from the inside, and the effect that they have on the people that they lead, which determine whether or not they are leaders.

A manager does not necessarily make a leader

Peter Drucker, management consultant and well-known in the HR space, made the following distinction between management and leadership: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

A leader doesn’t necessarily have to be in a position of power. A true leader can be anyone from the CEO to a junior employee and even a cleaner. “One of the greatest and often-cited examples of leadership,” says Thembi Chagonda who was recently appointed as the joint CEO of Global Business Solutions, “happened in the 1960s when the head of NASA – before the first expedition to the moon, walked around the room in which the spaceship was being assembled. He asked the cleaner what his role in the organisation was and the cleaner replied: ‘I am putting a man on the moon.’” Even though this person was the lowliest in the organisation, he displayed leadership in his role.

Women in leadership positions

What often happens is that when a manager succeeds in her role, she is often promoted to a position of leadership but, unfortunately, she does not have the requisite skills in order to succeed in this position. “She may have all the required technical skills,” says Chagonda, “but her leadership skills may be lacking which causes her not to succeed. Because she’s a woman, her failure at leadership is seen as a let-down for her gender.”

South Africa has a long history of discrimination both in terms of gender and race. Unfortunately, the tides haven’t equalised just yet. For example, according to the 19th Annual Report issued by the Employment Equity Commission (CEE) men occupied 65.5% of the senior management positions while women only occupied 34.5%. “While many strides have been made in order to increase the representativity of women in the workplace,” concludes Chagonda who is also an employment equity commissioner, “a lot of work still needs to be done in this space.”

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