Experiences of gender and power relations among a group of black women holding leadership positions: a case study of six government departments in the Western Cape
Mgcotyelwa, Nwabisa Bernice
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In this study, I explored the experiences of gender and power relations among a group of black women holding leadership positions in six government departments in the Western Cape. South Africa is in a process of transition and, to create a departure from the past, key objectives focus around the transformation of gender disparities and the eradication of racism and other forms of inequality and discrimination in all spheres of this society. There are many methods utilized to increase the number of women in leadership positions in the private and public sectors. However, there is a lack of research regarding the social environment for women once they have entered into these structures (Angevine, 2006). This study made use of a feminist qualitative methodology which guided the research. Six semi-structured, open-ended interviews were conducted in order to carry out an in-depth exploration of participants’ experiences. After the participants had given consent, the interviews were audio-recorded, then transcribed verbatim. Data was analyzed in accordance with qualitative thematic analysis. All standard ethical considerations to protect the participants and the researcher were taken into account and practised throughout the research. The findings show evidence that black African women leaders in government departments have internalized learnt subservient characteristics; and that this serves to undermine their authority as leaders. Specifically, larger social power relations and traditional forms of authority undermine their capacity to express authority in work environments. They also experience both subtle and blatant racist and sexist prejudice in the form of stereotypes and hostility in the workplace. A minority of women managers actively oppose the gendered notions that undermine their leadership. Ultimately, black African women managers are not accepted or supported as legitimate leaders in the workplace. Women leaders are perceived to be incapable of performing effectively as leaders because of gender and racial stereotypes that serve as hindrances to their expression of leadership. The study found that some participants conform to the socially constructed notion of maintaining a work-life balance and this poses a challenge for such leaders. Those who are married attempt to balance career and life by maximizing on their management of their time. A number of women had made the personal decision to remain single in order to focus explicitly on their careers.