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KEY IMPEDIMENTS TO FEMALE LEADERSHIP: A SUB SAHARAN AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE

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Rampant social crises entangled in deadly African demonstrations, protests and running battles are a callous condition provoking profound reflection on the calibre of leadership occupying different levels in public institutions. We navigate the feasibility of unlocking the women leadership potential seemingly ubiquitous under cultural stereotypes that confront female leadership. The overwhelming studies conducted elsewhere stimulate deeper enquiry into the underpinning women leadership obstacles within sub Saharan Africa. The primeval ideological prejudices paint a malaise portrait that perceives men as breadwinners. Austerity measures to alter this philosophy have been significantly hampered, despite rigorous determination in the last three decades. Mechanisms continue to be sought to support these endeavours, including all-inclusive leadership training interventions that address women underrepresentation in the upper echelons. A paucity of gender inclusive leadership continues to rein in most public enterprises prompting the need for further investigation. Incompatible women roles in work-home spheres place additional demands on women, thus weakening their self-esteem. A rapture of gender activists tends to provoke resentment from male partisans in the gender campaigns. Conversely, women themselves tend to widen the gap by restraining support for other women while feeling a sense of security in female homogeneous settings. Socialisation is incredibly perceived contributory to women leadership obstacles; women internalise certain socio-cultural roles engrained in their dispositions. Additionally, child marriage particularly in the girl child is believed to perpetuate leadership barriers from a cultural perspective ultimately undermining chances of increased women leadership. Finally, the gap in women leadership policy implementation continues to swell despite numerous conventions and policy stipulations that yield little results, compelling an urgent need for further research.
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KEY IMPEDIMENTS TO FEMALE LEADERSHIP: A SUB SAHARAN AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE
Collin Kamalizeni, PhD student at University of KwaZulu Natal, 8 September 2016
HoDops@mananga.com or collink54@yahoo.com
Abstract
Rampant social crises entangled in deadly African demonstrations, protests and running
battles are a callous condition provoking profound reflection on the calibre of leadership
occupying different levels in public institutions. We navigate the feasibility of unlocking the
women leadership potential seemingly ubiquitous under cultural stereotypes that confront
female leadership. The overwhelming studies conducted elsewhere stimulate deeper enquiry
into the underpinning women leadership obstacles within sub Saharan Africa. The primeval
ideological prejudices paint a malaise portrait that perceives men as breadwinners. Austerity
measures to alter this philosophy have been significantly hampered, despite rigorous
determination in the last three decades. Mechanisms continue to be sought to support these
endeavours, including all-inclusive leadership training interventions that address women
underrepresentation in the upper echelons. A paucity of gender inclusive leadership
continues to rein in most public enterprises prompting the need for further investigation.
Incompatible women roles in work-home spheres place additional demands on women, thus
weakening their self-esteem. A rapture of gender activists tends to provoke resentment from
male partisans in the gender campaigns. Conversely, women themselves tend to widen the
gap by restraining support for other women while feeling a sense of security in female
homogeneous settings. Socialisation is incredibly perceived contributory to women
leadership obstacles; women internalise certain socio-cultural roles engrained in their
dispositions. Additionally, child marriage particularly in the girl child is believed to
perpetuate leadership barriers from a cultural perspective ultimately undermining chances of
increased women leadership. Finally, the gap in women leadership policy implementation
continues to swell despite numerous conventions and policy stipulations that yield little
results, compelling an urgent need for further research.
Introduction
As the debate intensifies for leveraging leadership imbalances across different sectors of the
economy, widespread consciousness is emerging to accelerate women advancement to
strategic positions. However, there is still meagre literature in this domain and in the African
context, compelling the impetus to explore the underlying causes of the leadership disparity
(Nkomo and Ngambi, 2009). Several possibilities have been outlined drawn largely from the
West, but still lack in empirical evidence to support the African setting (Msila, 2013).
Although numerous educational women leadership studies have been attempted in South
Africa, a huge gap still hovers with women majority visibly placed in the lower echelons
(Msila, 2013). Changes, however, begin to gradually to emerge but retarded by women’s own
unpreparedness to confidently assume these positions (Stead and Elliott, 2009). Attempts to
analyse potential avenues that impede female advancement are put forward, soliciting more
study to seemingly fundamental barriers in the context of sub Saharan Africa.
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Gender Stereotypes
Valerio (2009:15) identifies the concrete wall as positing different and divergent roles in
gender characterising male as bread winners while female were home guardians, with the
scenario changing in the mid-1980s where female middle management began to be noticed
but with restrictions to senior levels. The major stereotype was based on the belief that
women were more inclined to maintain the home where families were to be raised and thus
risked abandoning the demands in the workplace (Valerio, 2009). This became the basis for
women barriers experienced widely in sub Saharan Africa evident in the nomadic period,
where men were hunters leaving women to care for the home. The invisible barrier of glass
ceiling centred around gender differences at varying levels where women see this
development as frustratingly slow-paced, despite the argument that women possess self-
confidence (Collings and Mellahi, 2009). Regrettably, the workforce exists in societies that
acknowledge the stereotypes as socially acceptable and inextricably the norm.
Deliberate management training programmes
Enterprises are quick to slash training budgets during recessions as a cost-reduction measure
to garner employee knowledge, skills and abilities witnessed in the UK where funds
decreased in over half (52%) of those organizations studied in the period 2009 to 2010
(CIPD, 2010). Educational qualifications are a stumbling block to women leadership
advancement demonstrated in the Kenyan and Colombian situations where women ability to
mobilise and influence legislative against violence played a crucial role (Domingo et al.,
2015b). Additionally, education can dislodge gender customs perceived to impede women
progression, as witnessed in Afghani women legislators who attended night schools to
improve their academic and professional status (Tadros, 2014b). Augustyniak (2014)
proposes a female capacity-building initiative taking the structure illustrated in table below.
Table 1: Proposed Gender Inclusive leadership Capacity building intervention: Adapted from
Augustyniak, K M P (1) 2014
Gender Inclusive Leadership: Blueprint
for Training & Practice
Domains of Practice
Examples of Leadership Challenges
within Domains of Practice
Provide leadership in public enterprises
where women are effectively deployed in
strategic positions to enhance delivery.
Focus is on:
All aspects of service delivery
permeate in all levels
1. Evidence-based decision
making and accountability
Expand beyond expert and tacit
knowledge to address complex
situational factors
Generate trust and optimism
3
Cognitive, emotional, social and
behavioural factors
2. Consultation and
collaboration
Engender collective expertise,
responsibility and reciprocal
interdependence in goal attainment
Leaders in public enterprises to focus on
improvements and change:
Share leadership and coordinating
responsibilities with other agencies or
enterprises and help for linkages
within the constituencies
Move to make public enterprises less
independent and more collaborative
with service providers, consumers, the
business community, suppliers
government departments and agencies
including enterprises in other regions
Direct and indirect service
provision for consumers and
communities, suppliers, agencies
and government:
3. Interventions and training
support to develop leadership
skills
4. Interventions and Mental
Health Services to develop
social and collaborative skills
in the populace
Balance an internal focus (expert
knowledge structures and situational
perceptions in inclusive leadership)
with external focus (attending to the
needs of others)
Create an interpersonal environment
where others can be successful
Target both growth in motivation and
capacity of stakeholders to attain goals
Be knowledgeable about development in
social, affective, adaptive domains and be
able to identify and apply sound principles
of behaviour change within these domains
Provide leadership in creating service
delivery environments that reduce protests
and vandalism and instilling a sense of
respect and dignity for property and
humankind
Pillars of public enterprise service
delivery:
5. Diversity in development and
collaborative operations
6. Research and development of
programmes, monitoring and
their evaluation
7. Legal ethical and green
environment including
professional practice
Possess accurate, adaptive, positive
schemas of others and self to manifest
most effective leadership behaviours
Actively invest in their organizations
and the people within them and in
oneself
Surmount organizational and human
barriers to goal attainment Model
behaviours that align with expressed
professional values and goals (ethics,
use of supportive data, continuous
learning and strategic allocation of
resources)
Gender inclusive leadership in diversity
The gender inclusive leadership provides a certain dimension of diversity usually neglected
and hidden as leadership disparity shown in table 2 below.
Table 2: Women influence distribution: Fortune 500 - adapted from Catalyst (2001)
Population of
women
Women in
Labour
force
Senior
corporate
level
Fortune 500
directorship
High Ranking
corporate
officer position
Women Top
Earners
Women
51%
46%
12.5%
11.7%
5.1%
4.1%
Men
49%
54%
87.5%
88.3%
94.9%
95.9%
Inverse
variance
2%
>Men
-8%
-75%
-76.6%
-89.8%
-91.8%
A paradoxically increasing gap between men and women leadership influence
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The above table demonstrates complexity of gaps inconsistently distributed where the greater
population of women is inequitable and inversely shared in the employment sector
throughout the six variables selected. This disparity degenerates into meagre figure of 5.1%
for women as opposed to the men’s 94.9% in high ranking corporate officer position
(Catalyst, 2001). These figures experienced from the West are likely to be even worse in sub
Saharan Africa, calling for empirical enquiry.
Radical women activist debates
Female gender activists often draw public attention to fragile topical issues in gender
dialogues triggering resentment in male gender further exasperating patriarchal customary
biases (Overseas Development Institute, 2016). In the process, influential women ultimately
fall prey to the scathing biases that label them ‘exceptional troublemakers’ who are different
from the ‘woman we know’. To counter this, women are made to sit on boards or occupy
other high offices as cosmetic breaking of the glass ceiling (ODI, 2016). However, as
Bhalotra et al (2016) observed, those fewer aspiring women tend to withdraw believing this
to be compromised honorary positions, thus further deepening the disparity. Instead, Leimon
et al. (2011) advocate for the creation of women-friendly institutions that seek to balance
gender recruiters and recruits, offer comprehensive women focused induction and
progression checks combined with inclusive leadership.
Women perpetuated barriers
Reluctance by women with value threatened personalities to lobby other women into
leadership is often a common phenomenon for fear of losing their social status and respect
and thus resist endorsing the advancement of fellow women (Duguid, 2011). Skenjana (2009)
postulates interesting arguments citing that although women may seem oppressed in male-
subjugated settings, they themselves perpetuate repression emanating from the life-view of
their social roles embedded in their life involvement. Women tend to accommodate their low-
esteem further confounding dominance. Mathipa and Tsoka (2001) support this view by
outlining impediments to women leadership in the form of poor self-identity, low
aggressiveness, and a lack of confidence. Kulik et al (2016) however still argue that these
factors emanate from intolerant male-controlled societies, where the majority of women
themselves are compelled to conclude that in light of self-gratifying interests, leadership still
remains a male prerogative.
While these daunting observations reflect deficiencies in women-to-women support, South et
al (1982) observe female junior employees who experience less job satisfaction under female
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than male leaders, conceding that female leaders are less proficient but more regulatory.
Maume (2011) confirms this argument suggesting that female leaders suffer detriments to
female reports while male subordinates appreciate the support and promotion prospects from
female leaders. As a result, female workers evade women leaders to sustain their career
development in male leaders, choosing women merely for psychological backing but relating
to high placed influential male for professional assistance and prospects (Chow and Ng
2007).
The socialization obstacle
Socialisation through family leadership roles shapes women perceptions in different task
settings internalising how different gender characters accept socio-cultural decisions in
various milieus subjecting them to structural exploitation (Cornwall and Goetz, 2005). Htun
and Weldon (2012) assert the impact of these beliefs as they draw criticism in strong feminist
orientations. Valerio (2009) concurs that people recognize their faction as reliable, candid and
supportive opposed to outsiders endorsing the view that socialization inspires both men and
women to embrace gender-oriented actions that epitomise stereotypes. A meta-analysis
appeals to the contributions of changed leadership dispensation perceiving that the
environment in which individuals grow up and work is more significance than the hereditary
aspects to leadership progression (Avolio et al., 2010). These existing assumptions need to be
explicitly questioned through empirical enquiry.
Child marriage as source of long-term barriers
Child marriage tends to emanates from early school exit where the girl child is compelled to
drop out of school, subjecting her vulnerability. The table below illustrates widespread early
marriage in Nigeria than Mali and Nicaragua, attributable perhaps to the size of the countries
where infrastructural factors (UNDP, 2006). These findings are likely to be also evident in
sub Saharan Africa.
Table 4: Girl child marriage by age 15 in selected less developed countries, adapted from
Demographic and health surveys: UNDP (2006).
Country % girl marriage: age 15 Country % girl marriage: age 15
Nicaragua 25 Mali 39
Nigeria 45 Ethiopia 50
India 40
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The deficit in considering women leadership stretches quite far in the development of women
presents challenges in the process with contracted and limited leadership selection choices.
The levels of girl child marriage becomes long term barrier as the choice of possible
leadership candidature is filtered in the workplace as the leadership drive escalates (UNDP,
2006). Other mitigating factors are depicted in the effects of child marriage as illustrated in
the following table:
Table 5: Percentage of young women aged 15 24 married by age 15 and infected with HIV
Per cent married by age 15
Nationwide HIV
prevalence rate in
young women aged 15
24
Country (regional hotspot)
Nationwide
Regional hotspot
Ethiopia (Amhara)
19
50
10.0
Mozambique (Nampula)
22
53
18.8
Nigeria (Northwest)
19
41
7.0
Tanzania (Shinyinga)
6
14
9.7
Uganda (Eastern)
15
21
5.6
Zambia (Luapula)
9
16
25.2
The above figures report strikingly intriguing results with the highest statistics obtained for
Mozambique showing in both nationwide and regional hotspots with a high HIV prevalence
rate, followed by Zambia. Ethiopia is highly risky; probably requiring value changes to
aggressively influence any substantial behavioural changes.
Policy implementation gaps
Shaping women-friendly policies may appear challenging with the primary concern bent on
more gender-sensitive policies that champion inclusiveness and femininity to help implement
such policies (Childs and Krook, 2009). The Overseas Development Institute (2016) points to
a collective approach for long-term leadership support and involvement for women to hone
their leadership capabilities through strategic discourse, associations and networks where
influential men participate, as a starting point. Women leagues can raise an acute awareness
7
and esprit de corps that emphasise shared expectations for interface with men (Alexander-
Scott et al., 2016). Edstrom, Hassink, Shahrokh, and Stern (2015) accentuate this view
arguing that the essence of diversity requires the frequent support of communities who
ostensibly share similar values and culture. Eyben and Turquet (2013) in the ‘gender ghetto’
lament the lack of collaborative work between teams and institutions seeking to positively
change gender relations, precisely because gender stereotype is commonplace in all societies.
The views tend to undermine culturally embedded fundamental values, threatening voluntary
decision making and social maturity while promoting the good cause for an inextricable
paradigm shift (Bano, 2012).
There is inadequate political will and leadership commitment to effect practical
implementation strategies that complement the robust vision reached in conventions meant to
recognize improved women acceleration to senior positions in public institutions (Ernst and
Young, 2016).
Conclusion
Obstacles that create underrepresentation of women in the leadership positions were analysed
with a view to understanding these from a sub Saharan African perspective. Some of the
barriers evaluated revealed gaps in empirical justification signifying the need for further
study. Nevertheless, there is substantial literature involving gender stereotypes fundamentally
supporting rigorous capacity building initiatives to foster women development to strategic
positions. Furthermore, a gender inclusive leadership appears imperative anchored by
mechanisms that reconcile the home-work dichotomy for women in leadership positions.
Genuine debates are necessary that consider inclusion of men if inclusive leadership is to
become a reality for win-win outcomes. Women associations can be used to mobilize women
support, adopting how men distribute knowledge and skills among themselves. Awareness
and capacity building programmes could effectively help shift the cultural mind-set for an
inclusive paradigm treating all individuals equitably. A more vibrant implementation agenda
through training initiative could impact on convention outcomes that have been the
commonplace for years. Consequently, comprehensive action plans are then developed
involving beneficiaries of all status. All these require focused enquiry to pertinent
impediments within sub Saharan Africa.
8
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