Empowering Women: Exploring Authentic Leadership, Vulnerability, and Gender in the Business World

Despite significant progress in recent years, women continue to face a wide range of challenges in the workplace. For starters, women remain underrepresented in positions of power and influence

On April 13th, 2023, Regenesys Corporate Education in Sandton hosted an insightful Masterclass about Empowering Women featuring three prominent women in leadership roles. We had the opportunity to have IORBF SA Chairperson Nokuthula Ndlovu, IBM Consulting Financial Services Associate Partner Charlene George, and Mkosi Group CEO and Founder Zama Mkosi to come and share their insights on authentic leadership, vulnerability, and gender in the business world.

With the CEO of Regenesys Corporate Education, Kapil Jaggeth, as the host, they were able to highlight the importance of authentic leadership, challenges women face, bias and discrimination, misconceptions, cultural diversity as well as emotional regulations. They also touched on many other themes and issues that are critical to the experiences of women in the workplace.

Over the course of the discussion, the panellists shared their personal stories, discussed their strategies for success, and offered advice and inspiration for women aspiring to leadership roles in any industry. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key takeaways from this masterclass and explore how women can apply them in business today.

Challenges Women Face in the Workplace
Despite significant progress in recent years, women continue to face a wide range of challenges in the workplace. For starters, women remain underrepresented in positions of power and influence: according to Fortune 500 data, women make up just over 10% of CEO positions. This lack of representation can make it difficult for women to advance their careers and gain access to important networks and resources.
Furthermore, women often encounter bias and discrimination on the job, whether it’s in the form of unequal pay, microaggressions, or outright harassment. Women of colour, in particular, may face even greater barriers to success, including a lack of access to capital, intersectionality and a dearth of role models and mentors who look like them. All of these factors can contribute to stereotypes and misconceptions about women’s abilities and potential, creating additional obstacles to career advancement and success.
There are also internal challenges and inner monologues that women go through, and Zama noted that self-awareness is a trait that is critical for leadership. How do you judge that self-awareness? Firstly, yourself and how you define those things that you’re aware of about yourself is actually what’s going to determine whether you’re going to make it or break it.

What can women do differently?
According to Charlene, “Be yourself! Do your own dance”, which reminds us to embrace our uniqueness and not to compare ourselves to others. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to fit in or conform to societal expectations. She further stated she felt the experience of bias mostly at senior level because that’s where you have less females in the room.

As our Regenesys Business School COO Indherani Reddy said, “we’re not equal, we’re complimentary”, So, stick to being a unique you and the rest will follow.

Misconceptions and Authentic Leadership.
There are many misconceptions about women in the workplace, such as that women are not able to be authentic because they’re fighting to be equal to their male counterparts. Aside from this not being the case, how can women embrace being authentic? Zama stated that knowing yourself, being confident in who you are is essential and, if you’re not confident in who you are, you’re going to be susceptible to how other people view you.
The other misconception is that women of colour in the earlier days who were in leadership were in positions that were for the sole purpose of window dressing. Nokuthula noted that some women land in positions where they’re not prepared for, based on certain quotas that must be met and they learned in those roles. She made an example of a time where she found herself in a role where there was no induction or introduction so she had to make a decision that either she’s going to blame everyone and complain, or she’s going to navigate.
She advises that you should read the room and sense the objective of your presence. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re expected to prove that females can’t do it, her tip is not to waste your energy trying to prove them wrong. Instead, focus on winning the people over and understanding their objections.

Charlene points out that tokenism still exists in corporate South Africa. Some companies lack the ability to develop and support non-white females. While meritocracy is important and people with the required skills should be in positions that fit them, development should not be ignored. She suggests that if a black person lacks a skill or two, they should be given the necessary support and guidance to help them grow. Otherwise, the transformation of the workplace will not be possible.

When is the Best Time for Leadership to be Taught or to be exposed to Leadership?
“Leadership starts at home,” Nokuthula stated. “We need to teach leadership at home such as giving equal chores for both boys and girls.” Indherani added that we must ensure that in our homes there’s gender equality in the way we’re raising sons and daughters. She further added that we need to empower men to accept strong women around them.

This discussion serves as a reminder of the importance of creating a supportive and inclusive environment for women in the workplace and the need for continued progress towards gender equality.

Below is a video of the entire event for you to view.

Written by Neo Webb

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