Women need to play a pioneering role in female empowerment

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As we remember the women who built our democracy and celebrate those who contribute to it every single day, we need to acknowledge the responsibilities women carry as well. Women have a critical role to play in helping other women succeed in the workplace, and in calling for and facilitating reform where inequalities exist. In doing so, we need to make active use of the tools at our disposal. 

After all, who better to drive the empowerment of women than women who are already in positions of authority? Our unique insights into the challenges women face – politically, economically and culturally – make us ideally suited to address these areas and help women thrive professionally.

Recent research published by the Harvard Business Review indicates that men and women require different networks in order to access executive leadership positions. While men benefit primarily from occupying a central role among their peers, women, in order “to achieve the executive positions with the highest levels of authority and pay, also [have] to have an inner circle of close female contacts, despite having similar qualifications to men including education and work experience.”

Women with a strong female network are able to access valuable information, such as insights into a company’s stance on female leadership or starting a family, that can be useful in interviews and promotion negotiations. Women who are both pivotal in their groups and have an inner circle of up to three women, the study reveals, secure “leadership positions that [are] 2.5 times higher in authority in pay than those of their female peers lacking this combination”.

In business, who you know matters, and if the people you know are individuals who can empathise with the systems that prohibit your success, can inspire you to set your sights higher, and can create processes that support this trajectory, you’re well on your way. 

In order to secure high-authority and high-pay positions for female employees, businesses – and the women at their helm – have to establish pathways to success that consider their needs and help them grow.

These pathways need to incorporate processes that benefit all employees, but which are particularly valuable to women. Flexible working hours and the option of working remotely, for example, often reduces the prevalence of physical ailments, mental health disorders and absenteeism, and fosters company loyalty among employees. Women who are balancing their working lives with the demands of motherhood are likely to work more effectively and efficiently if they can structure their time according to their needs. 

A second course of action might involve implementation of key performance indicators (KPIs). Clearly defined and accurately measured indicators level the professional playing field and help to prevent workplace discrimination. Women who have delivered against their KPIs must be considered for promotion along with their male counterparts – having the data on hand that defends these decisions promotes female empowerment.

Women who are already in positions of authority need to ensure that these processes are firmly in place at their organisations. They should also rely on external resources, such as courses and development programmes, that fuel the growth of their female colleagues. One such programme is Effective Leader, a fully accredited National Certificate in General Management qualification that is ranked at NQF Level 5, which means that candidates only need a matric to be eligible.

Developed by Media Works, the course covers key managerial issues, including how to deal with relationships, diversity and conflict, people, finances and change. It serves not only to help aspiring leaders gain the skills they need, but also helps more senior members of an organisation to identify and assist those who have the skills and drive to succeed. Senior women seeking to help junior or other members of their network would benefit immeasurably from resources like Effective Leader.

Of course, the responsibility that women carry to empower women goes hand-in-hand with the responsibility men carry. If we are to create sustainable transformation in South African society – an essential component of our economic growth – we all need to play our individual and collective parts every day, every week and every month. Not simply during a few days in August. 


Jackie Carroll is the CEO and co-founder of Media Works, South Africa’s leading provider of adult education and training for over 22 years. Media Works is part of the FutureLearn Group.