Financial Data
Updated 29 Sep 2020

What women really need to get ahead in business

What does it take for women to get ahead in the workplace?


Donna Rachelson, 31 August 2015  Share  0 comments  Print

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My new book is entitledPlay to Win: What women can learn from men in business.The title is intentionally provocative unlike the Bic women’s day ad which encouraged women to “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, work like a boss”.     

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We all know that what women bring to the workplace is compelling but the stats are astounding. 

  • The private sector pay gap in South Africa means that women earn in a full year what men earn in eight months.
  • The percentage of working women in senior management positions in South Africa has been static at 26 – 28% for the last seven years.
  • Only 15% of women are board members.
  • Only 9% of JSE listed companies have 25% or more women directors.

Understanding the rules of work

We simply aren’t performing as well as men in the workplace. We need to have some courageous conversations of what it really takes for women to get ahead in the workplace.

In writing the book, I had access to an international women’s network which shared cutting edge research about what is being done internationally on this issue. I accessed some powerful and successful women in my own network and asked for their advice and I used my own experience in male dominated environments. 

The bottom line is that women need to understand that the rules of work are set by men. We need to understand the rules to be able to play.

Yes, women have strong relationship building skills, they are intuitive and collaborative, they can put things on the table that men don’t feel that comfortable to express. But the fact is that the world of work was developed by men and they created the rules by which business happens. If we can understand the rules plus bring our compelling abilities as women - it will make us a force to be reckoned with. 

Asking for what you want

The realities of the workplace start with our socialisation as children. Boys play sports and physical games. They learn at an early age that it’s all about winning or losing. They then apply this to the workplace - business is a game and you win some or you lose some.

Girls for instance are brought up to believe that it’s more polite to wait to be asked. Women wait to be asked out on a date, they wait to be invited to dance and they wait for someone to ask to marry them.

This carries over to the workplace, where women wait to be noticed or to be asked and then they become increasingly frustrated. This is contrast with the rules men play by – they will tell you what they have achieved and ask for what they want. 

Not taking “No” for an answer

Another example of women being passive in the workplace is when women tend to take a ‘no’ answer at face value. To a man a ‘no’ can be interpreted as ‘maybe’, ‘later’ and maybe even ‘no’ if all possibilities have been exhausted. This understanding can help women become more assertive. 

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I believe we should scrap all the meaningless women’s events that happen in August. Companies that put on women’s day events include issues like work life balance and how to deal with abuse in the workplace. These topics are not going to get women to the top.

One of my chapters focuses on results and deliverables. What women really need is increased financial/commercial acumen and strategic understanding to get ahead. But what is generally offered is assertiveness, confidence and image. There’s clearly a mismatch. We need to be looking at the real issues to support women to get ahead.

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About the author

Donna Rachelson

Donna Rachelson, branding and marketing specialist, is the author of three books. She has held marketing director positions in blue chip organisations and has a solid business education, including an MBA and is a guest lecturer at GIBS. As a successful businesswoman and investor in businesses, Donna is passionate about empowering entrepreneurs and women, uplifting them with her inspiringly practical, strategic guidance. She is Chief Catalyst at Seed Academy - a training and incubation ecosystem for entrepreneurs. Donna recently released her latest book – Play to Win: What women can learn from men in business.

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