One of the activities marking the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995 was a conference in Beijing addressing the issue of women and children rights as well as the more germane issues of gender balance. The conference ended with a 38-point resolution designed to ensure equal opportunities for women not only in politics but in the corporate world.
There is no gainsaying the fact that all over the world, the proportion of women functioning in corporate leadership roles is abysmally low. Same goes for politics. In the last twenty years however, appreciable progress has been made in addressing the imbalance and reversing the trend. Nonetheless, several challenges still face the female CEO and others of the female folk in Executive positions. In many large organizations, there is an unspoken glass ceiling that seems to put a lid on how far a woman can rise in an organization before she has to retire. In politics, it is perhaps even more pronounced. The number of women that have risen to the highest level of leadership in their nation is very negligible compared to their male counterparts. Even the United States of America which is perhaps the bastion of possibilities is yet to have its first female President.
It is heartwarming to note however, that more and more women continue to shatter this glass ceiling and are making it to the zenith of organizational leadership in Fortune 500 companies. Although they are just about five percent of that bracket, it is an appreciable achievement, considering the fact that it was less than three percent less than five years ago! In American politics, Hilary Clinton was a two-time top contender for the Oval office. In Africa’s recent political history, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently left office as President of Liberia after two terms in office. Elected into office through the first democratic election after the civil war that ravaged her tiny West African nation, she led the country through post-war reconciliation and rebuilding efforts.
Notable among the women who hold the reins of leadership of giant corporations in the Fortune 500 category is Indra Nooyi who has steered the affairs of PepsiCo International for about twelve years and currently doubles as its Chairman. The company is the second largest soft drinks manufacturer worldwide. She is not alone. Lynsi Snyder is the CEO of In-N-Out Burger. She joined the company at the age of seventeen as floor staff leafing lettuce. Eighteen years later, she had risen through the ranks to become its CEO, a move that made her the youngest female billionaire at that time.
After spending thirty years with KPMG, Lynne Doughtie became the multinational’s CEO. The company continues to be a global big player in its area of operation.
The construction industry all over the world is a male-dominated, almost in exclusivity, industry. But one woman shattered that myth that women are not fit for tough jobs. Sheryl Palmer, CEO of Taylor Morrison, a conglomerate in the construction industry, does not buy into that narrative. She has not only taken the company to higher altitudes, she was able to steer the company through a period of global recession between 2008 and 2013. This was a period when the construction industry suffered a serious hit. By the end of 2013, she had taken the company public, a clear testament of a success story.
The glass ceiling in one of the world’s biggest accounting firms, Deloitte, was shattered in 2015 when Cathy Engelbert took over as CEO.
Mary Barra did in 2014 when she assumed the leadership of General Motors. Between then and now, she has piloted the company into a new era of technology and innovation in the autonomous and electric vehicle categories.
Nigeria has her own Ibukun Awosika, the first female Chairman of First Bank, one of the nation’s largest banks. Another is Funke Opeke, CEO of MainOne.
It is noteworthy however, that most of the issues that seem to militate against women’s ascendancy in positional leadership have to do more with sociological factors than a deficiency in competence. Cultural prejudices in several societies of the world seem to amplify the fact that the woman is only to be seen, not heard. Her role is largely reserved for the kitchen and what our President has called “the other room”! In Mediterranean and many African cultures, a woman’s place is in the home where she is largely saddled with child-bearing and raising. In Saudi Arabia, until very recently, women were not licensed to drive.
Unfortunately, attempts by many women to challenge the status quo have alienated the menfolk by their confrontational approach that seems to demonize the male folk. This has led to the setting of lofty goals for inclusiveness and gender equality. Unfortunately, for the most part, such goals or agenda lack a clear strategy for implementation and so hardly gain sufficient traction. In many instances, the only case advanced in favour of the woman is the fact that she is the weaker s3x and so should enjoy certain concessions. This ‘s3xist’ position pushes merit to the background, a factor that makes the female folk appear to play the victim card with an entitlement mindset that seeks recognition on the basis of gender, looks or the dispensing of s3xual favours rather than capacity. What this approach has done is to reinforce the glass ceiling in many cases as issues of gender equality in leadership have become an “us against them” matter that simply makes men believe that even if they had the skills and competences, such women lack the mental and emotional capacity or balance to handle the rigour and challenges of leadership in the marketplace. To effectively deal with the diversity challenge, Lynne Doughtie, the CEO of KPMG frowns at an approach that promotes lofty goals but has no definite, clear strategy. According to her, “we have to do more than tell women they need sponsors. We have to identify high-potential women by name and strategically map them to those who will help them to get to the next level. We set goals, we measure them and we hold leaders accountable.”
Speaking on the secret behind her success in the corporate world, Cathy Engelbert, the CEO of Deloitte attributes it to “building a team that brings you solutions instead of challenges, listening to and collaborating with them – that ultimately prioritizes your focus on issues where you can have the most impact… productivity is directly related to the personal relationships you are able to build.”
Apart from the socio-cultural challenges that women have to deal with on their way to the top, what are the other issues that militate against female ascendancy to the drivers’ seat? How does a woman navigate the labyrinths of the mazy route to the top? … continued
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!