If we want to be successful women leaders, we must drive a culture of change

Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke will be taking part in the Women’s Month master-class. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA)

Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke will be taking part in the Women’s Month master-class. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 18, 2023


OPINION: Women used to be in the shadows of men. But now women have gained more presence and power in the workplace and leadership roles, writes Babalwa Ngonyama

By Babalwa Ngonyama

We know that life is not a bed of roses, it has seasons, summer, winter, autumn and spring, it has good and bad, joy and sorrow .you have to learn to navigate these seasons and challenges to be successful in life.

We all agree women leadership, over and above these challenges they have to grapple with gender bias in the workplace and business world. We know that women have to overcome more than their male counterparts to even get into leadership positions. We also know that this is unfair and unjust.

So if we can acknowledge all of these challenges facing women, why can’t we get past them? The answers are historical and require an exploration of what truly effective women leadership behaviours are.

Centuries ago, women used to be in the shadows of men. Thanks to the general movement of rebellion against the existing state of affairs and thanks to the progressive men, women have gained more presence and power in the workforce and leadership roles.

Indeed, the issue of women playing second fiddle to men is slowly disappearing and we are stepping up. More of us are in executive committees, boardrooms, and even acting as role models for women further down the corporate hierarchy.


We are indeed influencing corporate decision-making, proving that we are just as qualified as men in contributing to achieving organisations’ stated financial and strategic objectives.

However, there is a long road to equality. First, let us discuss why we can’t get past leadership gender bias.

Regardless of our accomplishments, there are several factors preventing us from scaling more heights, including patriarchy – the system in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from, balancing work and family – as women have more domestic responsibilities, the inflexibility to accommodate women in top management positions because of these challenges, outmoded cultural practices, religious prohibitions, social stratification, and ethnic prejudices inhibiting women from acquiring an education that will lead to career progress and eventual leadership positions.

There are stories of highly talented women that have been side-lined and excluded from leadership and management positions based on the perception of poor cultural fit.

Male chauvinism inhibits and hinders the performance of women who may presently be occupying positions of management and leadership.


If men were to change their attitudes towards women, more than half of this battle will be won. It’s important that we work with progressive men, name and shame those who instil bias. Recognise those who play their part. To change the leadership positions in the corporate world, as leaders we need to focus on realistic solutions of driving a culture change in inclusivity, fairness, excellence, transformation, and building resilience. We must call for inclusivity with excellence.


Excellence is a non-negotiable. But we understand that excellence is not innocent. It has its downside, it can marginalise, and undermine and it doesn’t happen on its own.

We see men, in particular white men, being excellent because they have been enabled. We want to enable excellence in its diversity through transformation and inclusion.


Inclusion helps us question and strengthen the excellence we are building; it makes us think deeper as to how we build excellence in light of the fact that other people were not recognised because excellence was recognised in particular ways that excluded them.

Inclusivity does not just strengthen excellence, but it enables sustainability in all spheres, such as social, financial, and environmental.


Transformation and inclusivity will bring the diversity we need, otherwise without transformation our excellence weakens.

By pursuing transformation and inclusivity we will not be strangers to our environment. Once you understand and know your environment, you are then able to relate to it better and serve it better.

We need to change conversations in boardrooms, what is spoken about, who is speaking, when, and about what. What questions are being asked? This is all relevant to transform the culture.


I’m passionate about enhancing knowledge, as it is essential to gain knowledge to build resilience and evolve. Knowledge of these challenges is not taught, ignorance keeps people in the darkness.

This makes it impossible to develop solutions that are pertinent to the challenges we face. We can accumulate as many degrees, but without understanding the vagaries of the personal challenges we face, we will struggle to prosper in life.

As women, we must develop our intellect. Our intellect must reach a position of strength whereby we are able to navigate the challenges that confront us.


For example, for me, as founder and CEO of Sinayo Securities – an independent, majority black women-owned member of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange specialising in equity sales – resilience in leadership has proved to be an art and a skill that requires nurturing and development.

Indeed, to cope with hardships, trauma, or challenges, and to be successful as women leaders, we must be resilient.

What is resilience? The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines resilience as “the ability to become strong, happy or successful again after a difficult situation or event.”

Psychologists and scholars remind us that there are numerous types of resilience, but the common ones include: physical resilience, emotional resilience, mental resilience, social resilience, and community resilience.

For me, resilience is that mental and intellectual reservoir of strength that helps us to handle stress without falling apart as we climb the corporate ladder. Resilience helps us understand that corporate leadership is not a bed of roses, but the road to confidence.

Future leaders must be able to think differently, to be able to confront ever-complex challenges in a world that is changing more and more rapidly. We must certainly retain the professional standards and excellence that have underpinned our careers.

I would not be where I am today without the professional qualification and experience and guidance I gained from exceptional leaders in the corporate world. But, increasingly, these older ways of working are not up to the challenges that we face. We need new generations of leaders who think beyond the bottom line, and who create shared value across society as a whole. That is why we at Sinayo Securities, to celebrate Women’s Month, we will be hosting a master-class themed: “Women’s Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment: Building Back Better for Women’s Improved Resilience”.

We have brought together women leaders for a series of Master-classes beginning on August 26. Drawing from our diverse business careers, I, Dr Shirley Zinn, Tsakani Maluleke, Tryphosa Ramano, Shiphra Chisha, and Tantaswa Fubu, will provide insights into how to build resilience, define your purpose, set direction, motivate diverse teams and manage effectively.

As women leaders, we can play a central role in developing these new ways of thinking by transforming our approach to developing ourselves in general. Creating a fair and just society with a purpose is what we should strive for.

– Babalwa Ngonyama is Founder and CEO of Sinayo Securities.

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL.