Women who have risen to high-level leadership positions are the exception and evoke a sense of awe. In South Africa, Maria Ramos, Wendy Luhabe and Monhla Hlahla hold the office of Chief Executive. Fortune magazine named Maria Ramos as the 20th most powerful woman in the world in 2016, the only South African woman listed in the top 50 most powerful women in the world based outside of the US. Whilst women have made strides in politics, industry and society, it is still the exception with an imbalance in representation worldwide. Below are 3 ways in which organisations, men and women can build a supportive environment to assist women to thrive in business and leadership.

1 Organisational: Create a structure for change

Does the senior leadership of the organisation understand the commercial imperative for gender diversity? McKinsey’s (2007) Women Matter Report investigated the link between corporate performance and women’s representation on boards. Results showed that gender diversity promotes and gives rise to more effective boards and engenders stronger market growth. A study conducted by Piterman (2008) suggests organizations can take action by:

  • Identifying development opportunities and identifying mentors for women through successive stages of their career;
  • Enforcing appropriate management behaviours and standards that address professional inclusion, meeting dynamics, and communications and language protocols. These should be role-modelled at the most senior levels and every opportunity should be made to communicate standards and behaviours through the organisation;
  • Seek the achievement of a ‘critical mass’ of women in management positions to avoid isolation, maintain confidence to encourage emerging women leaders.

2 Men: Helping women get ahead

Sheryl Sandburg’s #LeanInTogether encourage men to campaign for gender diversity by:

  • Becoming an advocate for women by looking for opportunities for women to lead, present projects and manage others;
  • Promote and hire women: studies show that men will apply for positions when they meet 60% of the criteria whilst women will wait until they meet all the criteria;
  • Share “office housework”: Stereotypically women are most likely to take notes, organize office party and social events. Men are encouraged to put their hand up for such tasks. In so doing, men break the mould and role model the taking the “office housework” role for their counterparts (Rosato, 2015).

3 Women: Developing executive presence

At the individual level, a number of strategies are proposed for women to actively engage in developing an executive presence:

  • Women are encouraged to adopt a proactive stance towards building networks and strategic relationships through various mechanisms: joining professional bodies, volunteering for strategic projects, and attending social events.
  • Develop a personal brand, which promotes strengths, accomplishments and passions. Design a 60-second statement “elevator pitch” which can be used in an online profile and for networking events.
  • Strategic development of a career path is an essential component for directed career progression. To this end, women are encouraged to make visible their accomplishments, negotiate for promotions and salary increases and to scan for opportunities inside and outside companies.

The bottom line? In advancing gender diversity it is the company that gains. Study after study has concluded that with more women in leadership roles the company outperforms its competitors. On this note, we conclude with the words Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Co:

“When women are in leadership roles brands get better and morale gets better”.


McKinsey Report (2013). Women matter: Gender diversity in top management: Moving corporate, moving boundaries. Retrieved from
Piterman, H. (2008). The leadership challenge: Women in management. Retrieved from: http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/our-responsibilities/women/publications-articles/economic-independence/the-leadership-challenge-women-in-management?HTML#1

Reingold, J. (2016). Inside our 2016 most powerful list. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/most-powerful-women/

Rosato, D. (2015). 5 Best Ways Men Can #LeanInTogether to Help Women Get Ahead. Retrieved from http://time.com/money/3735124/leanintogether-men-women-career-work/

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash