Voices

Female leadership: It’s so much more than quotas or social experiments

2019-08-29 23:45

It is no secret – when women are given the space to lead, and are supported sufficiently, organisations transform into productive places that inspire both males and females to thrive, fulfil their mandate and reach their goals.

In his recent Cabinet reshuffle, we saw President Cyril Ramaphosa taking the bold and necessary step of appointing a cabinet executive that was made up of 50% women. He proved to South Africans and the rest of the world that his government, at both provincial and national level, is serious about gender parity and transforming our country through its key institution – government. Precedence had been set in other countries and on the African continent.

In recent years we’ve seen female political leaders ascend to the highest office and make a huge difference to society.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Arden, has been a shining example of a holistic female leadership and set many firsts. She was the very first head of state to give birth while in office. More recently, her empathy during the gruesome Christchurch mosque terrorist killings was unparalleled.

Arden’s compassionate leadership united the country. She communicated a stern and unequivocal message of intolerance to terrorists yet remained sensitive and comforting to the scores who lost their loved ones.

Gender parity should not only be limited to government but should find expression and be implemented in the private sector and academia. In boardrooms outside of politics, compassionate and holistic women leadership is critical to lead industries forward. The importance of holistic female leadership goes beyond just meeting the quotas or taking part in social experiments.

We have seen that when women are in leadership positions, pressing issues on empowerment and development – not just women’s issues – make it to the agenda.

To lead, women don’t need to be copycats and emulate male leadership nor conform to standards set because when they do that, they set themselves up for failure. Instead, women leaders need courage to use their voices and stand firm by their principles and knowledge that they bring something special to any space they occupy.

The workplace becomes a better place for empowering all when a leader brings her heart and soul to the position.

We’ve witnessed and cheered on as women leaders forged ahead and claimed their places in the boardroom. For these women, there is no “glass ceiling” to break and they have entrenched their roots as CEOs, managing directors and academic leaders, and have become shining examples for other women. Leaders such as Dr Judy Dlamini and Wendy Luhabe also come to mind as women who are an inspiration not only to myself, but I am certain other women in the country look up to them. The country is filled with emerging female leaders who are preparing themselves for leadership roles and with these roles comes the responsibility to lead in a holistic way. It is tough but doable – it is about being vulnerable and opening oneself and taking those that you lead on this journey.

Over the years I have come to fully appreciate the value of authentic and holistic women leadership. It has had a positive impact not only on my career but also my general wellbeing. Women leaders who display a holistic leadership approach, are confident, trusted, transparent and ethical. These leaders are willing to share what it took to build their career, their families and themselves. They make time for others, sit and listen when you are in distress.

Having been exposed to these leaders at GIBS has given me the courage to also lead my team fearlessly and firmly but with empathy.

My journey thus far has seen me delving deep into my understanding on becoming a holistic leader, emulating those who have come before me, working on how to integrate my character and values in the way I lead my team.

I have understood that it is indeed about bringing more to the table than your skills or qualifications, it is about incorporating the whole self; mind, body and spirit and putting all this forward and leading authentically.

I have been inspired by many women leaders over the years but those that stand out so far are my direct mentors who have made a huge impact in helping me become the leader I aspire to become. I believe that as a leader there is always room for improvement therefore – we never stop learning to become better versions of ourselves. My alignment with women like Dr Lucy Vos Price from the Reserve bank; Dy Moonsamy, a psychologist and longtime head of learning at Comair, Professor Nicola Kleyn, dean of GIBS, and professional coach Dr Tendai Mhizha has had a very positive impact on my outlook on life.

I have also had my tribe that consists of women who subscribe to integrity, truthfulness and the ability to listen, to rely on, this has helped ground me on a personal level.

Through mentoring interventions both direct and indirect, I have been able to channel my positive attributes and abilities to elevate my leadership capabilities beyond what I thought I was capable of. These women in my professional and personal space have given me the tools to step out of my shell and navigate the complexities of leading during these rapidly changing times. I have learnt to be brave in my decision-making because I have watched these women make bold decisions and stick by them regardless of consequences.

I am proud to have crossed paths with incredible female leaders who prepared me for my role and growth. As a recipient of authentic leadership, I too have a responsibility to pay it forward and practice what I have been taught. And, that is my way of sustaining it.

• Neo Selepe is associate director: academic programme delivery at the Gordon Institute of Business Institute (GIBS)

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November 10 2019