A true legend of South African business (and a role-model for all young South Africans) Dr Judy Dlamini is the Founder and Chairman of the Mbekani Group. She began her working life as a medical doctor, but after 10 years (in addition to four years as an occupational health practitioner), before changing careers and building what was to become an illustrious career in the business world. Dr Dlamini shares with BBQ readers her insights into the challenges faced by South African women in achieving their goals and class.


My interest in this area of study is based on my strong belief that people are born equal but different. It is a belief that equity across gender, race, social class and sexual orientation will be attained in my lifetime.

The key for the future of any country and any institution is the capability to attract, develop and retain the best talent. Women make up one-half of the world’s human capital.

Empowering and educating girls and women, and leveraging talent and leadership fully in the global economy, politics and society are thus fundamental elements of succeeding and prospering in an ever more competitive world. In particular, with talent shortages projected to become more severe in much of the developed and developing world, maximising access to female talent is a strategic imperative for business. - Schwab (2012)The aim of this book is to share the wisdom I have gained in the field while investigating the impact of the intersection of race, gender and social class on women leaders’ work experience and career progression in order to come up with strategies for gender transformation at leadership level in corporate South Africa, as the subject of the thesis for my Doctor- ate in Business Leadership, awarded to me by Unisa in 2014.

My interest in this area of study is based on my strong belief that people are born equal but different. It is a belief that our differences are our strength as a people and should be celebrated. It is a belief that equity across gender, race, social class and sexual orientation will be attained in my lifetime.

Considering where we stand in terms of gender representation in South Africa, and globally, my belief is quite ambitious. This is confirmed by several statistics globally. The world’s first female Prime Minister who was not a relative of a male leader, Margaret Thatcher of the UK, was only elected in 1979. In close to four decades the number of female political leaders is still just slightly over 10% in the world. Women CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies only account for 4.4% (2015); the JSE is no different at less than 3% (2015).

Getting the perspective of woman CEOs across race and class on how to transform gender at leadership level could add an important voice to transformation and could benefit decision-makers in business and in government. The objective of gaining a better understanding of women’s lived experiences in leadership using a more holistic approach, and understanding their success strategies, was to formulate strategies for a racially equitable gender transformation at leadership level.

The under-representation of women at leadership level is a universal challenge that has been investigated by many scholars. However, the inequity persists globally. BWASA 2012; Gastelaars 2002; ILO in Calas & Smircich 2006; Pesonen, Tienari & Vanhala 2009; Van de Vliert & Van der Vegt 2004). Bell and Nkomo (2001), Haslam and Ryan (2008), Hoyt & Blascovich (2007) and Sanchez-Hucles and Davis (2010) are some of the scholars who have investigated the intersection of different social identities among women in their corporate experience in the USA.

Nkomo and Ngambi (2009, p. 52) did a comprehensive search to identify published research on African women leaders and managers during the period between 1990 and 2008. Out of 43 publications, 18 focused on women in South Africa. The topic most commonly investigated was barriers to the advancement of women. Only a few studies investigated race and gender simultaneously (Littrel & Nkomo 2005). One surprising finding was the gross under-representation of research focused on identifying empowerment strategies and policies to effect change in the status of women leaders and managers on the continent (Nkomo & Ngambi 2009, p. 59). Nkomo & Ngambi (2009, p. 52) conclude:

The relatively small number of studies focusing on leadership suggests we have yet to fully explore the meaning and practice of leader- ship among African women leaders and managers. This is clearly a fertile area for future research studies.

The above statement is supported by Williams (cited in Nkomo 2011, p. 367) who contends that there is a complete lack of “authentic, well-sustained African input” on post-colonialism.

The target population for my study (The impact of the intersection of race, gender and class on women CEOs’ lived experience and career progression: strategies for gender transformation at leadership level in corporate South Africa) was women leaders across race and class who held leadership positions as CEOs or chairmen. The chosen participants provided diversity in race, class, professional qualification, sector of work and background (e.g. rural and urban). There have been concerns in gender studies about lack of research in developing economies and by women from those economies, especially Africa (Nkomo & Ngambi 2009). Most of the studies in this field have come from Western countries and have investigated the experiences of white middle-class women, which then become generalised to women of all races and classes. Through my study I sought to give a voice to women across class and race, using their life stories to understand the intersection of different social identities. Eleven South African women, and two from abroad, gave permission for their stories to be included in the book.

The South Africans were Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women; Maria Ramos, CEO of Barclays Africa; Philisiwe Mthethwa, CEO of the National Empowerment Fund; Gloria Tomatoe Serobe, Founding member and Executive Director of Wiphold and CEO of Wipcapi- tal; Siza Mzimela, Founder and CEO of Fly Blue Crane, former CEO of SAA; Dr Vuyo Mahlati, Chairman of the Development Commission and former President of the International Women’s Forum (IWF) South Africa; Sisonke Msimang, former CEO of the Soros Foundation, and writer; Cora Fernandez, Head of Sanlam Investment Management; Phuti Mahanyele, Executive Chairman of Sigma, former CEO of Shanduka Group; Coco Cachalia, Founder and CEO of Grounded Media; Dr Lulu Gwagwa, CEO of Lereko Investments; and Sindi Zilwa, Co-founder and CEO of Nkonki Inc.

From abroad, the participants were Anne Stevens, former Chief Operating Officer of Ford in the Americas; and Nancy Coldham, Founding partner of The CG Group in Canada.

The resignation of three top women leaders from South African companies was further motivation for gaining an in-depth understanding of women leaders’ experiences. Cynthia Carroll, CEO of Anglo American, and Siza Mzimela, CEO of South African Airways, both resigned in October 2012. This was followed by the resignation of Pinky Moholi, CEO of Telkom, in November 2012. These were women from different races and nationalities who presided over top companies in different sectors of the economy.

Government has done much for gender transformation, however, it cannot succeed without the support of business leaders. This was confirmed by other women leaders in my study.

Gender does not exist in isolation from other dimensions of difference, such as race, ethnicity, class, sexual identity, religion, age, and nationality. We all inhabit, enact, and respond to many different social identities simultaneously. Similarly, organisations are not only gendered, they reflect and reinforce divisions along other axes of difference as well. These divisions operate simultaneously to create interlocking systems of power; gender is only one relevant strand among many. - Ely and Fletcher (2003, p. 7)

Lewis (2006, p. 98) asserts that conflict of gender occurs not only between male and female, but also within the “livedness” of differently positioned femininities in the context of racialisation and unequal“power” exchange.

Diggins (2011) argues that race, social class and sexuality differentiate both our experiences and our interpretation of systematic oppression that we endure.

The realisation that ignoring differences within groups contributes to tensions among groups, inspired Crenshaw to develop intersectionality as a way of mediating this tension (Knapp 2005). “‘Intersectionality’ acknowledges and illuminates where disadvantages interplay and coincide or conflict between and within groups where new policy approaches need to be considered. Thus intersectionality alerts us to the need to fine-tune policy in a more sophisticated manner than in the past, once we have assessed its impact on people with more than one social differentiation that creates disadvantage.” - Squires in Franken et al 2009, p. 51. This assertion is supported by Hancock’s (2007) view that recognition of the simultaneity of gender, race and class and its impact on the population you wish to empower is critically important in developing effective comprehensive policies.

The themes that emerged from the women’s life stories indicated that while race was the dominant social identity for black women, gender was the dominant issue for white women, whereas class and generational issues formed an overlay to the dominant identities. Language and culture were mentioned by two participants, in each case as a source of prejudice.

The Afrikaans language and culture were issues in companies or regions of the country where the Afrikaans language and culture were dominant, and Indian culture was identified as prejudicial to women’s career progression.

South Africa is still battling with post-colonialism—human consequences of external control and economic exploitation of a native people and its lands. Its biggest impact concerns the colonised mind (feelings of inferiority within some post-European colonies, owing to the comparison of their own to the values of foreign powers) and the inferior education that was, and continues to be, available to the majority of the population. The career of the triad of “race–class–gender” started in the USA around the late 1970s and early 1980s when feminists of colour voiced vehement criticism of what they saw as a white middle-class bias, an unrecognised self-centredness in much of feminist theory and politics. Understanding race, class and gender as interrelated structures of oppression, as Patricia Hill Collins called it, was most strongly advocated in the context of black feminism with its comparatively marked radical (left) tradition of social theory (Collins 1990; Napikoski 1982; Davis 1981).

The political observation that ignoring differences within groups con- tributes to tensions among groups inspired Crenshaw to develop the concept of intersectionality as a way of “mediating the tension between assertions of multiple identity and the ongoing necessity of group politics” (Crenshaw, cited in Knapp 2005, p. 255).

According to McCall (2005), one could say that intersectionality is so far the most important theoretical contribution to women’s studies, along with racial and ethnic studies.

McCall distinguishes three approaches: anti-categorical approaches that she mostly sees represented in deconstructionist and poststructuralist theories; intra-categorical approaches, which focus on differences and inequalities within the frame of one of the categories, be it class, race, ethnicity or gender; and third, inter-categorical approaches, the study of relations between categories.

In the thesis for my Doctorate (The impact of the intersection of race, gender and class on women CEOs’ lived experience and career progression: strategies for gender transformation at leadership level in corporate South Africa) the focus was on inter-categorical and intra-categorical approaches.In the past ten years, intersectionality has evolved and expanded from being primarily a metaphor within structuralist feminist research to an all-encompassing theory (Carbin & Edenheim 2013, p. 233).

There are different views on whether it should be defined as a “theory” (de los Reyes and Mulinari 2005; Winker and Degele 2011; Yuval-Davis 2006), a “framework” (Hancock 2007; McCall 2005), or as“politics” (Crenshaw 1991).

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Issue 83


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