Much has been written about women in business and why there aren’t more. According to a SAQA report, in 2011, “the majority of students enrolled in public higher education institutions are female”. But the Grant Thornton 2015 report, Women in business, states that only 27% of senior management roles in South Africa are held by women.
Is there still a glass ceiling preventing women from succeeding in an historically ‘man’s world’? And what do we actually mean by success? Position, power, money, respect, publicity, recognition? Does success mean the same thing to a woman as it does for a man? Do women also have to be driven, to get to the top, to be successful?
And why do both sexes consider it to be more acceptable for men to be ambitious that it is for the ‘fairer sex’? Openly ambitious female executives are often frowned upon whereas such men are more respected. And yet, women who want to have a career and be a home-maker are either looked down upon in the business world or are expected to be a Super Woman.
To prove that they are ‘good enough’, many women work harder than their male counterparts in the office, and they certainly cannot be accused of lacking in motivation. Yet, does being highly motivated have to translate into being highly ambitious? Can we say that ambitious people who don’t have work-life balance really are successful?
Perhaps what we should be asking is: what do women want from their business life? Do women really have to succeed in a ‘man’s world’? Many ladies have shown that they can be happily successful in a woman-oriented business world. Retail business-women, Monalisa Sam and her team have proved that.
How much is dictated by the expectations that the world imposes on us? Young men and women are groomed to expect a certain culture in the business world.
But not all successful people are driven to dominate in a corporate environment. Steve Wozniak, the tech genius behind Apple once said: In business and politics, I wasn’t going to be a real strong participant. I wasn’t going to tell other people how to do things.
A joint Time and Real Simple survey suggests that women are not much less ambitious than men, but maybe it’s a different form of ambition. What many women want is not always achievable in the corporate workplace where the agenda is set by a male-entrenched culture. Acknowleging what she has achieved may be more more meaningful to a woman than where she’s got to.
Its not just that corporate careers are designed to fit a male mould which doesn’t accommodate personal or family needs particularly well, they also don’t address a more holistic understanding of what achievement means to 21st century people.
But there is a business world where women (and men) can be successful, on their own terms. And South African women have embrased that world with both arms.
As entrepreneurs, women can write their own rule books, decide what they consider success to be, achieve whatever goals they set themselves, not have to meet male-dominated corporate expectations.
Entrepreneurs don’t have to prove their competence to anyone else. They can be the CEO, the MD, whatever position they want, there’s noone that has to give them permission. Entrepreneurs can be as ambitious, as successful as their heart desires.
And there is ample evidence to prove that this is no pipedream. Melanie Hawken celebrates 100 women entrepreneurs on her inspiring Lionesses of Africa website.
first published in SME South Africa
South Africa needs many more successful entrepreneurs and South African women are just the right type of people to be successful entrepreneurs.
business advisor at DoBetter.Business
Click here if you want to discuss how women may be better suited to entrepreneurship.