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Achieving career success for women in Africa

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Despite their growing place in the world of work, women are still few in number to obtain the most strategic and best paid positions in companies.  However, they are increasingly well educated and, in Sub-Saharan Africa, they are almost as numerous as men in accessing higher education, representing 47.6% of graduates. It is said that women face a glass ceiling that prevents them from advancing in the corporate world.

Dalberg, a strategy consulting firm, and Talent2Africa, the first pan-African web platform for executive employment, are working together to address the issue of parity in the African workplace with the Elles Talks webinar series. The first webinar of the series “5 keys to break the glass ceiling and succeed as a woman” hosted by Awa Dia, Chams Diagne and Patricia Sennequier took place on August 13.

Discover in this article why a balance between men and women at all levels of the organization is preferable for both companies and society and what are the keys to achieve parity.

 Must see: Executive Search in Africa

What is the glass ceiling?

The glass ceiling reflects the often invisible barriers women face in the workplace that prevent them from reaching positions of economic power on par with men. Women are not only underrepresented in management positions but also among the highest earners. Static data is not available for all countries in the region and there are wide disparities, but the cases of Senegal, Nigeria and Cameroon are of interest.

More broadly, the term “glass ceiling” is also relevant for any job with career development opportunities. In Africa, only 19.69% of management positions are held by women. For Patricia Sennequier, certified professional coach and founder of BeautifulSoul, a company that accompanies organizational and individual transitions, “the glass ceiling is both vertical and horizontal. Women find it harder to reach positions of responsibility and they are also more often in support functions that are far from the core business of companies and therefore from decision-making. We will therefore try to understand what, for equal skills, hinders the professional advancement of women compared to men.

These obstacles that prevent women from advancing

For Awa Dia, Founder of ADN Strategy, Strategic Positioning Consulting Firm, “the obstacles are both external (societal) and internal (psychological). Patriarchy, gender stereotypes, education are all elements that prevent women from progressing. But sometimes the brakes can come from women themselves: self-censorship, imposter syndrome and perfectionism are important but not insurmountable obstacles. For the professional life coach, Gilly Weinstein, “men are satisfied with 75% correct work, while we force ourselves to reach 120% perfection. We need to stop this!”.

Take action and seize opportunities

Doing well, yes, but above all letting people know about it. In the world of work, we notice that women are competent but often struggle to showcase their work. Patricia Sennequier notes that the women she coaches “do not seek promotion like men do. They tend to wait for recognition of their value. At Talent2Africa, recruiters make the same observation: men apply more than women.

To take action and seize opportunities, it is important to deconstruct certain limiting beliefs, break down self-imposed barriers and dare! Continuous training, not being afraid of failure and on the contrary using it to progress are essential conditions for success. It is also essential to rely on allies within the company, to know how to decipher an organization chart and to understand where the key resources are, regardless of the hierarchical level. Developing an informal network beyond the walls of the company is also important.

Finally, the question of timing is central. For Awa Dia “there are life cycles that you have to respect in a career. There are times to establish one’s legitimacy in a position, to train, and other times that are conducive to a leap in one’s career path.

Dare to showcase your uniqueness and find your own management style

Playing a role and trying to manage like their male counterparts is a solution often considered by women to impose themselves in the company, but it is to take the risk of losing oneself during one’s professional life. For Awa Dia, “it’s a mistake to sell one’s personality at the cost of a professional life. Our individuality and our mental balance must remain the ultimate goal”. Identifying and highlighting one’s uniqueness would be the key to success.  Being authentic, honest and finding meaning in one’s actions allows one to develop a management style aligned with one’s values. Ironically, the old stereotypes could even play in favor of women today, since the trend is towards collaborative management, focused on team development and listening, qualities that are often attributed to women.