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Gender-based challenges faced by women in leadership: a case study of one government department in KwaZulu-Natal.

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In post-apartheid South Africa, various legislation, policies and strategies have been introduced, including the new labour and employment legislation aimed at advancing equitable, fair and non- discriminatory labour force practices. These laws and legislation have resulted in an increased number of women occupying managerial and leadership positions in large organizations, both in public and private organizations. However, it has become evident over the years, since the dawn of the new South Africa, that women still face challenges that are gender-based. Women still face discrimination and other related challenges that inhibit them from performing their assigned duties to the best of their ability. These challenges are a result of patriarchal tendencies in the treatment of women by men. Amongst other visible challenges, the number of women who hold managerial positions is still low, and there is a material imbalance between men and women. The patriarchal mindset holds that women cannot be leaders of organizations and that leadership functions were meant for men only; women’s functions involve household chores, taking care of the male of the house and raising children. With the employment and labour laws now in place, South Africa is in great position to fast-track the transformation agenda in relation to equality and gender-equity in organizational structures should strict measures be put into place for implementation purposes. However, it is of utmost importance to first understand the underlying challenges that women in managerial positions face and then strive to address those challenges in a manner that will be favorable to everyone. The main objectives of this study were to establish the challenges that women face as managers and leaders in organizations and ascertain whether or not such challenges have any material impact on the performance of women managers as well as the overall performance of the organization. A case study approach was adopted and face-to-face interviews were conducted with nine women who hold positions of power and authority in one selected government department in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government. The findings of the study show there are still gender-based challenges confronting women who hold managerial positions. These challenges include discrimination on the basis of gender, unfair treatment of women by men, patriarchal treatment and stereotyping in relation to the thinking capacity of female managers, not being acknowledged and appreciated as their male counterparts, not being respected and treated fairly compared to male managers, and work functions that conflict with their household responsibilities, such as late-night meetings. The research results showed that women are still confronted with multiple gender-based challenges in organizations; they deem these challenges as hindrances on how they perform their duties as well as their managerial capabilities as women. Emanating from the study’s results, the researcher has suggested a number of recommendations that may assist the organizations in addressing the challenges faced by women. The recommendations suggested include investigating whether or not the available legislation is producing the desired results, for government to take a proactive approach in creating a conducive environment for all irrespective of gender, conduct continuous education and training on the effects of patriarchy and unfair-discrimination, establishment of a Women in Leadership Forum which will serve as a support mechanism for women in leadership, have a clear consequence management against the perpetrators of gender- discrimination, formulate an EEA that is gender balanced and enforce compliance thereafter as well as ensuring that information on the matters of gender in an organization is easily accessible to all personnel through posting on the intranet as well as having printed material on the strategic points of the organization.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.