Taking notes on women in leadership from Thuli Madonsela

by Liz de Wet

Time Magazine recently named South African public protector, Thuli Madonsela, among the world’s top 100 most influential people. She has a strong sense of ethics and moral sensibility, which defines her particular leadership brand, and has more to offer South Africans than her hard-line stance on government corruption. Madonsela embodies a leadership quality that other women in leadership would do well to emulate.

Madonsela is very centred. Her leadership style is non-reactive and very clear. She signals her intention and holds her presence. This gives her enormous integrity, adds credibility and moral authority to her professional presence.

When she published the report on Nkandla, she maintained her composure while under severe pressure and won respect from all over. By being steadfast and not allowing herself to be drawn into derogatory comments, she strengthens her message instead of weakening it as her detractors may have intended.

Her strong leadership presence has contributed to her success, professional standing and the impact she has on the political sphere.

Women are still underrepresented in business

This is despite studies having shown that greater gender diversity is good for businesses, improving all aspects of company culture and ultimately translating into profits and greater productivity.

For the past seven years, the annual McKinseyWomen Matter studies has shown each year that companies with women in senior executive positions perform better than those with no women at the top. Yet in South Africa, a report earlier this year stated that only 19% of board members are women and 30% of senior management are female at the top 10 biggest SA companies.

There is a philosophy that diversity gives a more accurate view of reality

The more diverse boards are, the more accurate the perception is of what is going on. This, in turn, relates to the company becoming more agile the company which in return leads to better results.

While more women are entering senior leadership, many challenges remain:

  • Women continue to struggle to balance responsibilities at home with the demands of a high-pressure job.

However, companies are coming to realise that women in leadership – and being flexible about their working conditions to help them stay there – not only looks good on paper but is actually good for the company as well.

Research shows that top employers are increasingly spending more on education and training as well as on employee benefits such as:

  • More childcare or crèche facilities, and
  • Flexible working hours.

Of all the companies that took part in the Top Employers Institute certification programme in 2012, 89% said they offered leadership development programmes, which signals that companies are increasingly becoming aware of the benefits of diversity and upskilling leaders.

“There is growing pressure on organisations to be much more innovative, collaborative and responsive,” says Professor Walter Baets, Director of the UCT GSB. He says a lack of inspired leadership and a fear of innovation can ultimately have disastrous effects on companies.

This article first appeared on HR Pulse.

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