A Girls Guide to Boardroom Table-Building

A Girls Guide to Boardroom Table-Building

I am an entrepreneur, which means that I am no longer in the shadow of a big corporate logo or under the burden of a fancy title. However, I still remember and see, clearly, the inherent disparity in female representation on boards of directors and executive management for corporations and conglomerates. My years spent inside these organisations gave me a particular realisation about our gender’s place in the world and my experience outside of them has given my conviction strength

Even in 2016, there are limited spaces for women at the corporate table, even though, according to the other comfortably seated occupants, women should be at the table. (This is some of my favourite rhetoric from our trousers-wearing counterparts.) And I do not see anyone getting up to offer us ladies a chair.

This is especially prevalent in my home, Africa. The patriarchy is unshakable, and men rule with finality. Our chiefs, both tribal and political are male, and some with the typical male traits of war, ruin, and self-aggrandisement. Business is not as bad, perhaps, but it is not much better.

Personally, I am getting tired of trying to ‘make it in a man’s world’ – playing catch up. This is all we are doing. The world we live in was crafted by men, for men. Is it really surprising that women struggle so to compete and perhaps comprehend with the architects of the playing field?

There is a show I recently started watching called ‘Pitch’ (the fictional story of a girl trying to become the first female pitcher in Major League Baseball). In it, the heroine’s father says to her, “A girl will never be able to throw hard enough to compete with boys. It is biology and we can’t change that. This is why we need a secret weapon…” I love that.

How much time do we, us ladies, waste trying to pitch as hard, run as aggressively, talk as structurally, compute as logically and otherwise compete with a gender that is better suited, naturally, to aggression, structure and logic?

Here is a reality that us women need to understand, while fighting tooth and claw for gender equality. Men and women will never. Be. Equal. Ever. Oh, we are the same in the same respect that a jaguar and a lion are both cats, or that an open fire or a pair of warm socks are both ways to keep your feet warm at night. But they are not the same. Neither are boys and girls.

Our bodies are physically different, sure, but so are our minds and our hearts. Linguists can tell the gender of an individual, simply by reading their writing. This is symptomatic of how we think. While, men have a pugnacious, pugilist winner-take-all approach, women look for win-win situations, co-operation and mutual benefits.

It really is a man’s world, baby, and men will always dominate in a man’s world. And that is ok. Because there is another world in the making. Our world. And it is here that our focus should be.

Should women have a seat at the table? Absolutely. Should it be the same table? I ask, ‘Why?’ And, do we actually want to be seated there? The view is not great, and everyone seems to be watching sport, playing golf, drinking cognac and talking about cars and us…

It will be a whole new world, and it is happening! You know this because you can see it in the faces of the Michelles of this world and dynamic first ladies such as Monica Geingos from little ol’ Namibia (my home) standing up and stating, “Enough is enough!” You can hear it in the voices of women like Zimbabwe’s Beatrice Mtwetwa – described by the New York Times at some point as the top human rights lawyer – who are softly, but firmly, pushing back against the ruling (male) regime. You can feel it as Netta Elzie uses her camera and strength of will to bend millions of opinions on civil rights issues without ever having to shout. And do not forget (or forget to Wiki) Thuli Madonsela, who was the most respected, beloved South African Public Protector, and took her title to heart with grace, beauty, and unflappable power.

You can feel the world moving on in the air. Individuals are leaving their corporate jobs, to found new companies that are not as focussed on profit as they are on people. Large institutions are seeing their most basic models being challenged by the little guy (or girl) with an idea, passion and a Twitter account. Activists can rally, en masse and yet peacefully, to stop an oil pipeline destroying the environment. Co-ops are springing up on every corner, so are unique, markets that value quality over revenue. Happiness is now the most desired reimbursement. There is far less ‘what can I get from you?’ and far more ‘what can we do together? Forbes lists influence and empathy as the two greatest qualities that are shaping this new world. All of these are more feminine traits.

The world is moving out of its tumultuous, cave-man phase, and into one of enlightenment. And in this world, few men can compete.

So, I conclude with this: Do not conform yourself to society’s idea of the typically male archetype of a leader – redefine what leading should be. Stop fighting for a place at the table, and start building a table worth fighting for. Man or woman, African or not, this will be done through hard work, perseverance, empathy and, above all, it will be done together. This is our world now, and we are not taking over, we are recreating. – This article was first published on the Huffington Post Contributors’ platform on 3 December 2016.

• Lelanie Basson is a best-selling author, entrepreneur and board member, ‘even though she’s a girl’

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