Are women really making progress in business?

The progress of women in the business world is an age old topic of debate but one which remains relevant even as the proportion of women in the workplace and specifically in executive roles rises.

An update on the latest statistics 

report published a few years ago recommended that FTSE 100 companies should aim for a minimum of 25% female representation on their boards by 2015.  The latest figures show that women now hold 17.3% of board positions, so the percentage is gradually increasing, as women make their mark in the business world.

The good news is that companies within South Africa are holding their own against the FTSE companies, with similarly increasing statistics.  According to the 2012 Women in Leadership census conducted by the Business Women’s Association, whilst making up 52%of the population in SA, women hold 17.1 % of directorship positions, 21.4% of executive management positions,  and only 5.5% and 3.6% of chairpersons and CEO roles respectively. 

There is clearly still a long way to go to achieve a truly representative business leadership demographic , and there is no doubt that women need to work at overcoming stereotypes in the work place – whilst also balancing partners’ career needs, children and family obligations with the achievement of their own career goals. 

Some advice to aspiring women 

So whether you are aspiring to get to board level or rise up the chain in your company or simply make your mark - here are a few thoughts on the dos and don’ts of being a successful woman in today’s corporate world:

Don’t think that you have to do everything just because you are capable of multi-tasking.  According to Noeleen Bruton, Marketing Director of Tsogo Sun,  many women in senior positions feel that they have to leave the ‘top of the tree’ to sort out problems that ‘only they can solve’ further down the management chain.

Don’t automatically feel threatened by people beneath or around you.  Not everyone is out to get you and teamwork can benefit everyone.

Don’t be a hyper-perfectionist. It is OK to sometimes make mistakes or not get everything done perfectly – so do your best, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right all the time.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your successes.  You don’t need to be shy about your business successes or achievements – it can help you earn respect.

Do believe in yourself as this will give you the motivation and drive to succeed.

Do set your goals and know what you want to achieve.  Women are great at doing this in their private lives but how about at work?  A clear direction and goal will help keep you focused and on track as you make your mark.

Do learn to trust those you have placed in positions beneath and around you to do their jobs - even if it means that they may occasionally fail.

Do delegate to people around you, which allows everyone to have a sense of value and importance.

Do network with other women in senior executive positions in a less formal setting, such as a sports club or dinner parties.  It is a well known fact that men talk business and exchange ideas during their round of golf, so why not do the same?

Do be ambitious and persistent.  Go the extra mile to make sure you stand out and persevere until you get where you want to, even when you have challenging days where you think you are just not getting anywhere.  

Do be confident: Confidence helps you win people’s trust and respect, which is essential in order to gain a good solid reputation. Stand tall and remember to have a firm hand shake and look someone straight in the eye at your first meeting to give a positive impression.

Do work hard but work smart too:  You need to work hard to be successful but you do need to get the balance right! A bit of R & R will help you to work well and achieve better results!   


And finally, apart from the above ground rules to surviving in the corporate environment, we need to remember that women also add huge value by bringing their compassion, empathy, attention to detail and multi-tasking capabilities to the work place.  There is strength in these attributes, so don’t be shy to bring them to the table.


We do not believe that it’s ‘women vs men’ in the corporate environment.  We believe it’s about each person rising with confidence to add as much value as possible.