Women still tripped up by workplace obstacles
A survey shows that SA's working women are looking for more than money, writes JANETTE BENNETT
Of course salary is important, says University of SA (Unisa) business management professor Barney Erasmus, but women will look for more. They base their job choices on a host of other factors which determine how attractive an organisation is to them.
Erasmus and Unisa applied accounting professor Elmarie Sadler are the people behind a significant survey of issues affecting working women in South Africa. Their sample included 617 chartered accountants, 512 human resources professionals, 218 nurses and 512 mostly businesswomen and professionals.
For Sadler, the survey's pertinent message is that working women are here to stay, and managements have to realise that women are factors in organisations. But they still face obstacles to career advancement in mostly male-oriented workplaces.
The survey results were presented at the Economics, Business Management and Human Resources Management conference in Cape Town recently, and at a meeting of the Business and Economic Society International in Rome in July.
The researchers found that what women want most is promotion (79%), professional support (76%), and a balanced professional and public life (71%). Also important are job satisfaction (57%) and power and status (52%). Better pay was noted as a top career expectation for only 29% of the surveyed women.
Lack of recognition and respect and experience-limiting restrictions on the type of work given are identified as the major barriers to career advancement. Perhaps surprisingly, this is closely followed by a lack of mentor support from women, which Sadler and Erasmus say "highlights the responsibility of women managers in organisations to act as role models".
Some barriers are directly related to women trying to juggle the demands of their careers and their families. Lack of flexibility of working hours and little allowance made for family commitments are seen as significant obstacles to getting ahead, as are low salaries which cannot support child-care payments. Other barriers include a male culture in organisations and gender bias by supervisors.
Their findings are backed up by the Work-in-Life survey, conducted in March, which researched attitudes of Business Times readers.
This survey found that 37% of women will change jobs for more job satisfaction, 33% for better career prospects, 30% for a better financial package and 30% to expand their skills. It also found 68% will downgrade to a less senior or financially rewarding position if they want to acquire new skills, 64% for a better quality of life, and 58% because they have children to look after.
Women, the professors emphasise, have particular abilities which can be very valuable to an organisation. However, it is up to management to determine to what extent those abilities are utilised.
Apart from sexism issues, it would be foolish to stand in the way of women's advancement at work, considering South Africa's skills shortage. By 1995, women made up 44% of SA's working population, compared to just 23% in 1960.
There are other reasons too. "Management in organisations that treat women as individuals and create equal opportunities for them are likely to attract and keep good and loyal women," the professors say, referring to research which shows that higher-level women have lower turnover rates than men at comparable levels.
Drawing on other research and their own, they point out that women are more people-centred, intuitive, holistic in their thinking, interested in aesthetics and focused on mediating to resolve differences. They are also more family and individual-oriented, and emotionally expressive.
Men, meanwhile, are more object-centred, rational, analytical in their thinking, interested in technology, competitive and aggressive, and peer and group-oriented.
Even the brains of men and women differ. Women's brains function in a more integrated manner, more easily using both sides of their brains. Men are better at spatial, mathematical and structured thinking; women are better in the communicative and emotive areas. Men are more comfortable with logical problem-solving, and women generally consider people and feelings.
There are also similarities. Both men and women use the same defensive reasoning processes when they deal with issues that could be embarrassing or threatening.
Employers, Erasmus and Sadler say, could acknowledge "the special leadership styles women possess - such as transformational leadership, charisma and networking. They could ensure organisational transformation, giving the status of managers to women who earn it and also giving women managers the freedom to manage."