This was the key message from Wrenelle Stander, senior vice president of public affairs and real estate services at Sasol.
Stander was speaking at the launch of the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (Bwasa) and Sasol Women in Leadership Census 2015, which measures the inclusion of women in South African businesses.
The 2015 survey showed that while there had been a slight improvement in the representation of women in business, the representation is still inadequate in JSE-listed companies. Of a total of 293 organisations, only 34 top performing companies (companies in which women hold 25% or more of director positions and 25% or more of executive managerial positions) of which 24 are JSE-listed and 10 state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
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At the briefing, Stander urged women in the corporate world to ask themselves what they are doing in their careers and workplace that holds them back personally, as well as other women.
She gave the example of two issues she had to overcome: balancing between been liked and being effective, and the albatross around the necks of most career-minded women: working mom’s guilt.
“I have wanted to be a mom since I was 16 — thankfully, I held out until I was 28 — but as a working mom, I was painfully aware of the challenges of balancing being a present mom and excelling at my work.
“My early working life was characterised by pangs of guilt when I missed school recitals and other activities.”
Stander said she only found equilibrium when she had a frank conversation with her daughter about her guilt. “My daughter told me that frankly, I would drive her mad if I were a stay at home mom! I realised that it is possible to choose to be a mom, and have a career, and as result I have dedicated myself to get flexibility for women — and men — in the workplace.”
Another obstacle she had to overcome was the need to be liked. “Women always have to chose between being liked or winning. Success and likeability are negatively correlated for women.
“We are always trying to tow the line between getting things done, and being liked.” In her career, Stander said she had been told she was too soft because she was always hugging her colleagues. “I was told I should be more aggressive, but I insisted on being myself and I resolved to simply change the rules.”
She emphasises the importance of other women paving the roads, and if you’re in leadership, to change the corporate culture to one that empowers women and male leaders.
“Let’s battle our inner demons, and create alternative paths for ourselves and other women. In our respective environments, we can be the Malala Yousafzais and bring about meaningful change that will empower us all.”