Where have all the talented women gone?

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“Currently, there is a word wide trend where there is not enough support given to women in the working world. Highly intelligent and well-trained women between the ages of 30 and 40 are starting to give up,” said Tanya Woker, a professor of law at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, speaking at the Intelligence Transfer Centre’s (ITC) first annual Women in Justice Conference.

She explained that most career trajectories are based on a male model, where there is a lack of support and understanding of the issues that women face. Due to this, the system does not retain young talented women.

“A lot of money and time spent on training young women for the workplace is being wasted. We’re losing a lot of talented women because we’re not addressing these challenges,” added Woker.

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“A key to understanding this is not formal education, but speaking to men in our environment and explaining to them the situation. Women don’t tell them about the challenges we’re facing, we just assume that they know.”

However, women’s mindsets need to change first.

“Often, we are the lone voice in the boardroom among men so it’s easier to buy into a man’s mind set and assume that they will do a better job. But we need to change this mind set and adapt it so we can bring in a woman’s values.”

“We have to change ourselves, the world out there is not just going to evolve and change. It is up to us to make those changes and explain why we want those changes. Don’t sit back and expect men to lead.”

Another issue is that women in senior roles are often isolated and are given no opportunity to have values and norms validated through interaction with other women. This needs to change.

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“If we want change, we have to educate men and point out that there’s an alternative way of doing things,” said Woker.

 Another challenge is that in the workplace, women tend to gravitate towards administrative and social responsibility duties while men focus on advancing their careers.

“When extra duties crop up in the office that makes the workplace more collegial such as pro bono work, training interns or planning social functions, women tend to organise these things while men are very good at doing things that matter for their career,” she explained.

Woker advised that women should focus less on social responsibilities because it is overlooked when companies promote staff to higher positions.

She therefore proposes that in order to change the workplace environment, women should establish networks and support systems where they can share their experiences, learn and inspire each other.

“You need to source out the people in your life who can further your career, whether it be a man or a woman. Your career doesn’t just happen, know what your goals are and plan for them,” she said.

“It’s not easy, it’s going to be hard and you’re going to knock heads with some people but at least you’re getting ahead.”