South African female individuals' perceptions and experiences of their gender and leadership roles
Literature on leadership and gender has primarily focused on gender differences between men and women's leadership styles as well as the existence of barriers to the advancement of women. This research has also shown that due to these barriers there is underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. It also appears that this research is mostly based on subordinates' perceptions of leaders and their leadership preferences. This research has also been quantitative in nature and has ignored women's personal experiences as well as their perceptions of gender dynamics within the organizational context. It becomes of interest how some women manage to advance into senior positions despite research indicating that women are still faced with many obstacles in doing so. This study was thus aimed at exploring the perceptions and experiences of South African female senior managers with regard to gender and leadership roles. The study's objectives were; to explore with South African female individuals in leadership positions their perceptions of gender roles and leadership, their experiences in leadership positions, their home and family lives and finally notions of gender stereotypes and prejudice within leadership. The theories used in making sense of the information and findings were the social role theory, and a derivative of it; the role congruity theory. An exploratory qualitative framework using purposive and snowball sampling was used. Six female individuals with at least a year's experience in a leadership position in the private sector who were based in the Western Cape and Gauteng provinces of South Africa were part of the study. Face-to-face semi-structured interviews were used in collecting data and an interview guide containing open ended questions was used in guiding the interview process. Ethical considerations with regard to anonymity, confidentiality and informed consent were also adhered to. Braun and Clarke's method of thematic analysis was used and themes that emerged were organised and coded accordingly. The thematic categories that were identified were; leadership and gender, barriers and challenges to the advancement of women, work/life balance, support structure and cracking the glass ceiling. Participants identified certain characteristics that they believed are attributed to leaders and were also of the opinion that women and men display different types of leadership styles while at the same time sharing how they approached their leadership positions. The participants also identified various socio-cultural, organisational and individual barriers that were viewed as preventing women from advancing to leadership positions. Further, the participants shared anecdotes with regard to work/life balance and the various strategies they employed in achieving this. In maintaining this balance the participants had in place support structures composed of various individuals who provided instrumental as well as emotional support. Finally, the participants were willing to provide advice and strategies that could be used in advancing women's careers as well as improving the representation of women in leadership positions.