While many companies are investing in female empowerment, gender diversity in business leadership is still sorely lacking. According to Grant Thornton’s 2015 International Business Report on Women in Business, only 22% of senior management roles are held by women and almost a third of businesses have no women at all in their senior leadership teams. Furthermore, SA has one of the largest gender pay gaps in the world – an estimated 35% disparity between the wages of men and women.

Social entrepreneur and business coach Refilwe Khumalo says businesswomen still face several obstacles in the workplace due to stereotyping, inequalities, prejudice and patriarchy. “That being said, many women have been able to overcome these challenges by facing them head on,” she says.

Read more: Four women nominated for Gauteng judge positions

Khumalo suggests using these strategies:

Communication

You many encounter male leaders that are overpowering, but you need to ensure that your voice and contribution are heard, which requires you to be assertive. If this isn’t a strength of yours, try partaking in activities where you can practise voicing your opinion in a safe zone. Participating in female boot camps, debates and community or spiritual forums will help you grow your professional confidence.

Interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence

When working in a male-dominated environment, there may be times where your emotions, expertise and leadership will be challenged. Train yourself to separate your professional self from your emotions. To ensure that your male counterparts give you the respect you deserve you must stay as focused, consistent and assertive as possible.

It’s important to have mentors, both inside and outside your industry, to get advice from and bounce ideas off. Surrounding yourself with a solid support system will help you to overcome the emotional challenges.

Knowledge, education and expertise
Be confident, work diligently and aim to further your education, training and on-the-job experience. Joining industry organisations, attending conferences and keeping abreast od trends is key as knowledge and education are your most powerful assets.

Read more: SA mining companies global leaders in female board representation

Plan your career
Career planning is important for everyone, but it’s especially important when navigating male-dominated waters. If you have a vision and a road map you are less likely to become derailed, demotivated or defeated in spirit.

Plan and decide now where you want to be in six months, a year or five years from now, and how you intend to get there. Remember to track your progress along the way. Key areas to consider include career assessment and development areas, your workplace values, personal mission statement and vision.

For more information about Refilwe Khumalo, visit www.refilwekhumalo.com