Women in Corporate

     Rumbidzayi Caroline Kahari 

     In this article all the five personas for women i came up with after observing  female interaction in the corporate world.  Also as a woman thia article reflects some to the challenges i personally faced.  I also interviewed a leading psychologist to get her take.  Comments are welcome.



    Women in the Corporate Game

    World wide women  face challenges on fitting into the corporate environment.  South African women are in an even more difficult position as try to grapple with issues such as affirmative action and race issues.  In addition there has been a limited number  of female role models in South Africa to help  young women with the integration process.  Women are also faced with challenges of mentoring other women, managing men and trying to find the balance between family and work.  There has been an increased number of business and corporate women who are relying on emotional enhancement drugs to cope with the stresses and pressures which are placed upon them in the business arena.

    According to Thandi  Mvakale, Founder of Larona and a clinical  psychologist  said women are trying to for into something that is not well designed for them.

    "Why not play net ball instead of soccer in this corporate game.

    "As women enter corporate, both  private and government, they are entering a male  oriented environments and women are expected to fit in, therefore its time to think about changing the game?" she said.

    Women are rising faster within the corporate ladder as a result of affirmative action programmes, however, they are still expected to handle to handle the same emotional and physical challenges  that come with the job.

    In order to cope, women have to learn to transform themselves in order to meet the challenges which they face in corporate, which  range from  race, gender, class, globalization as well as sexual issues.  In most cases these women are the first generation women into corporate South Africa, and they need a different kind of advice  which their mothers or friends cannot give them.  In addition there has been a limited amount of literature written from a female perspective on the day to day challenges which come with a senior position in corporate.

    Thandi's   Mvakale, who has done extensive studies on  women in leadership post democracy in South Africa said statics indicated that  major movement took place in government ,where women are  well represented at executive.

    "However, issues of socialization have to be addressed, as role models remain men, most leadership programmes tend to focus on male environments. It is important to look at leadership from a female perspective.

    "Women are supposed to be soft and tender, they are socialized in a motherly environment and  society expects this of women."

    When women now take up an assertive leadership role, they are considered to be tyrannical.  She also attributes the failure of women ,to mentor other women to the fact that most of the role models in leadership that women are exposed to are male, therefore ,some women tend to adapt the male persona at work.

    However,  there is no female persona or male persona,  there is preferences on the type of persona which a woman wants to adopt in the corporate world.  Most women would  try to fit in with the organization or their job description.  In this article through  over 17 years experience in corporate, i have identified the following personas which i believe women  tend to adopt when entering corporate.

    Nurturer persona

    Initially women's   roles in corporate were limited to secretarial duties.  These roles  comprised of taking care of everyone's needs, especially that of the boss. This nurturing positions were  an extension of from the woman's  traditional roles at home.  However with the coming of computers, most  secretarial duties are becoming redundant.

    Advantages of these roles

    • Women were just extending traditional roles at home

    • Less demanding after hours as they could leave and go home


    • There is no career growth in this role

    • Chances of being taken seriously are very slim

    • You can become everyone in the company's door mat

    One of the Boys persona

    As  women started climbing the corporate ladder ,  they  found themselves in  the minority therefore, they developed  this persona to help them fit into their environment.  Power dressing was introduced as  women started wearing suits with shoulder pads, and pant suits became the norm.

      Women polished out all their feminine ways, while at work, they did not want to be identified in any feminine way or draw attention to themselves,  because this will have meant they were not taken seriously by the male colleagues.  They were out to prove that anything the boys could do, they could do it better.

    Advantages of One of the Boys Models

    • Men took these women seriously

    • They were affectively able to compete for position in the company with men

    • Showed that women could be successful in corporate.

    Disadvantages of the one of the boys model

    • Women alienated other feminine women from their sphere of influence

    • They failed to mentor other women

    • The lost their ability to be multi skilled

    • Failed in their mission for diversity-as male colleagues did not learn about working with ultra females

    • Sacrificed their family life

    Feminist Persona

    The feminist persona is the extreme to one of the boys, in this role women believe that the men  are out to suppress their views because they are women.  In this instance men are approached from the position of being guilty and their intentions were always viewed from a feminist angle. These women are often aggressive .   They will also be blind sighted and will  sometimes put too much confidence in other women,l then start discriminating against men.


    • They are assertive in the office and will try to get things done

    • Instills confidence in other women

    Advantages of this model


    • Alienates male colleagues

    • Builds hostility among male colleagues

    Sexy Persona

    Some women will decide to adopt the persona of sexy.  They will exude sexuality and they will dress for sex.  They usually try to use their sex appeal or charm to get ahead in an a organization and would give indications that they are available to male colleagues  in position of authority who can advance their career. 


    • Women will get noticed by the top boss which may result in a promotion

    • Once noticed they can then prove that there is more to them that meets the eye


    • They may be just used for sex and no promotions

    • If they are not qualified t

    for the promotion they gained, they could be set up for failure

    • Their reputation within the organization will be ruined

    Brain Box persona

    These are women who will down play their dress sense and their femininity . They will rely more on their intellect to show everyone that they are intelligent and they know their stuff.  They will adopt a nerdy kind of attitude and  are more inclined to be working in a highly technical field such as engineering where complex issues are always discussed.  They also would relate to one of the boys kind of persona and will have very little time to network.


    • They gain respect from all colleagues

    • both male and female


    • They have limited networks

    Women are  do not have to adopt any persona as they go into corporate, but can strive to be authentically self.  They can built a new leadership style which will not be defined by  their gender,  and can adopt a persona which suits them through  developmental courses ,which can help them with emotional intelligence.

    "When women are faced with a problem, there is need to plan analytically therefore,    skills such as thinking  are other non cognitive variables , could be learnt in order to come up with a solution.

    "Emotional self awareness is important, women's strength lies in their ability to verbalize emotions.  They are able to influence people through emotions, they need to build on their strengths.

    "Women are generally more astute than men, they are also more sensitive to political correctness, which men are not, however, they need to gain more  influencing styles, impulse control and  utilize their skills of empathy correctly," Thandi said.

    She said there were very few  courses on leadership specifically designed for women, which could help them tackle the challenges of management.

    "I deal with assessments that help people with selection, sometimes people are hired for their skills, but fired for their behavior.

    There is a need for a combination of skills one needs to do the job and their behavior on the job, which now deals with emotional intelligence issues such as your values and what motivates individuals to do  what they do.  Positive psychology leverages on the strengths, women should use their strengths," Thandi said.

    She said if women focused on their weaknesses, then it would be twice as hard for them to achieve results, therefore, they needed and transform themselves.  "There are other more effective ways of   watching for result, women can choose effective while being authentically  self and to be able to go home and sleep.

    "There is no need for women to be one of the boys, they need to be coached to be good leaders, women are built differently and they work well as a team," she said.