The idea that every act of a woman leader must be seen through the lens of her femininity is offensive. All you need to do is not even question whether the accusations against Nomvula Mokonyane (South Africa’s Water and Sanitation minister) are true, but just replace her in the scenario with a male minister, and the story dries up and loses all vanity and excesses.
When I look at all the woman in politics, in business, leading unions, I think of my mother, and my sisters, and my colleagues who still struggle, daily, against sexism. These are women who don’t want to be sexually harassed on the job, who prize the qualities they bring to the workplace, who take pride in the males who support them.
Nomvula is one of the few women who are ferociously breaking down barriers and proving that tough female leaders can thrive in a “man’s world”. The era when women are only admired for their patience, understanding and grace is over. Conversely, the era when men are encouraged to be, well, men, stoic and hard-nosed to the expense of all other traits is very much over.
A McKinsey “Women Matter” report concludes that women are better at collaboration than men, and collaborative behaviour can at times appear indecisive or deferential, as recently argued in Collaboration’s Hidden Tax on Women’s Careers, by Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath and Mary Davis Holt.
The problems women still face in the workplace are enduring and need a concentrated and consistant effort to root them out.
1. People are quick to question their leadership skills and capabilities. Women are often perceived as having inferior rationality and reasoning skills (this story of Nomvula is overflowing with this sentiment) compared to their male counterparts.
2. People assume emotions, not rationality, drive their decision-making. The idea that women are emotional creatures, driven solely by their feelings and not the facts at hand, is a deep-rooted misconception in many workplaces.
3. They are viewed as cold and bitchy rather than direct and to the point. Men who are regarded as formidable are seen as strong leaders that often rise quickly and easily to top management roles. They are rarely judged on their demeanour, but rather on their vision and results. Conversely, a woman’s persona often affects how others feel about her, clouding the importance of her efforts.
4. They must work harder and longer to prove themselves than their male counterparts. Women have to work longer hours to prove their worth, especially in jobs that are dominated by men (i.e. law enforcement, military and engineering). If men are dominating the workforce, it is inevitable that the perception is – well, men must just be better at this job. (Not unlike the racial mistrust in the workplace.)
5. Their ambition is seen as intimidating, not inspirational. The most unfortunate struggle of all is that women in leadership roles who have accomplished inspiring feats are often perceived as simply intimidating.
Yes, being close to President Jacob Zuma these days is a licence to be disrespected. But Nomvula, like other women who have risen to these heights of leadership, is a strong woman and probably a pioneering feminist in a world still gravely in need of this kind of feminism. She is a human being with no more or less faults than most other human beings and politicians. She is far superior to Julius Malema, and unlike Malema, she actually has a governing record to be judged on, unlike Julius’s childish noise which goes whithersoever the wind goes.
When women want to collaborate, they are seen as weak, as ceding their power to man. When women seek advice, they are seen to be incapable – why don’t they know everything and do everything. When women do in fact choose to do it all that are accused of having a male-hate, trying to prove that they are better than men.
So, all this concludes the need for the involvement of men in the process. All men want an equal and a better living place for their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and would want them to grow and empower in any way possible.
All men must get on board in this programme and help in getting and influencing more men to work towards the growth of women. DM