Challenges facing women in the modern South African workplace

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The workplace has transformed drastically over the last few decades and South Africa has become one of the leading countries in terms of equality for all, but many outdated corporate cultures and structures continue to pose barriers for the modern working women.


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With Women?s Day approaching on the 9th of August, Manpower South Africa provides insight into some of the challenges women still face competing in a "mans world?.

"Though the workforce and perceptions have changed dramatically over the years and many employers preferring female superiors, there are still a few disparities that remain between the sexes,' says Lyndy van den Barselaar- Managing Director for Manpower Group South Africa.
"We still find certain corporate cultures and structures pose barriers to the advancement of women in the form of out-dated policies regarding part time work, flexi-work and job sharing. The idea is still common that a woman?s personal life and family in terms of having children will affect her work performance. The reverse is also true where it is perceived that the demands of work will affect a woman?s family life.'
"It is true that it?s often harder for women and especially single mothers to have these two "jobs? but there?s no reason for it to detract from her performance in either. It may mean harder work and higher demands, but any driven individual regardless of gender will rise to these occasions and aspire to the success of all aspects of their life. In fact, this duality in their lives can be an advantage that makes women more suitable for certain leadership roles. What can make the difference though is having the right support structure to enable you to do this.'
"We also still see many women earning less than their male counterparts holding the same positions. The glass ceiling also still holds true in many sectors, regardless of a women?s level of skill or talent. It seems that only a decentralized organization, characterized by a culture that supports women?s leadership positions, will help in breaking down the glass ceiling, along with women?s own efforts to grow, develop, and empower themselves through academic and career development.'

"Another common perception we come across in the workplace is the assumption that women are not able to handle stress as well as their male counterparts or that women are not educated enough in order to climb the corporate ladder and that the boardroom is a man?s domain with no place for woman. Furthermore, when women temporarily leave the workforce to have children they are often not provided with the same opportunity when they return, as it is now assumed that their family will take top priority.'
"However, the positive side is that in terms of any prejudice based on race and culture etc. these have changed as a result of legislation and particularly when it comes to the earning of points on the BEE scorecard. Today we are seeing a lot more woman reaching top leadership positions but this also, to a large extent, depends on the particular industry.

In the recruitment industry for example, many top positions are held by women, as the industry itself tends to be more female dominated. In addition women are taking it upon themselves to further educate and up-skill themselves in order to be able to fill those leadership roles. Women are able to put in place support systems to allow them to be able to meet their work commitments as well as ensure that the family is taken care of.'

"The new equality environment has also brought on new challenges though. These additional challenges may now be that certain female races are promoted above their different racial counterparts as we now no longer just have women competing to get ahead in a "mans world? but we now also have inter-racial competition. I see this as a good thing though in that it motivates women to want to improve on themselves in terms of education and skills to ensure that they are able to compete fairly against all components. The result is that we end up with a very skilled female workforce.'
"The gender divide is also very industry specific, and those industries that are comprised more of women tend to be managed better by women seniors who are able to manage and lead their team more effectively. In the recruitment industry for instance there are many female leaders or heads, this means that it is not uncommon to find female counterparts in similar positions in similar companies. It also depends on the type of work, many positions focus on performance, which means that as long as you are able to ensure the success of the company, then your gender is irrelevant,' concludes van den Barselaar.


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