Original Research

In search of factors that hinder the career advancement of women to senior leadership positions

Emmerentia N. Barkhuizen, Gwendoline Masakane, Lidewey van der Sluis
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 48 | a1986 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v48i0.1986 | © 2022 Emmerentia N. Barkhuizen, Gwendoline Masakane, Lidewey van der Sluis | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 January 2022 | Published: 28 July 2022

About the author(s)

Emmerentia N. Barkhuizen, Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, College of Business and Administration, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
Gwendoline Masakane, Faculty of Commerce, Administration and Management, School of Administration and Management, STADIO (formerly Southern Business School), Johannesburg, South Africa
Lidewey van der Sluis, Nyenrode Business University, Breukelen, the Netherlands


Orientation: Despite promising legislative frameworks and policies to eradicate gender imbalances in the workplace, women have yet to earn their rightful place as senior business leaders.

Research purpose: The primary goal of this study was to investigate the factors that prevent women from advancing to senior leadership positions in a variety of South African business contexts.

Motivation for the study: More research is required to understand the unique challenges that senior women leaders experience in various South African business contexts.

Research approach/design and method: This research followed a qualitative approach. Data were gathered using semistructured interviews with nine women (n = 9) who made significant inroads in their respective professions. Theme analyses were applied to analyse the data.

Main findings: The findings revealed six factors that hinder the career advancement of women to senior leadership positions: societal perceptions and stereotypes, a lack of mentorship, masculine corporate cultures, leadership identity distortions, inadequate training and development and poor work-life balance.

Practical/managerial implications: Organisations are encouraged to create more feminine workplace cultures that allow women to realise their full potential and establish their identity as senior leaders. Mentoring, networking, and professional development opportunities can all assist women in advancing their careers. Senior female leaders play an essential role in fostering workplace cultures that promote equal opportunity and combat unfair discrimination on various grounds. They pave the way for younger, upcoming female talent to move into senior management positions more quickly.

Contribution/value-add: This study fills important gaps in the global understanding of the factors limiting women’s career advancement to senior leadership positions. The findings of this study emphasise the importance of recognising and embracing women’s leadership competence in the modern workplace.


career development; leadership identity; mentoring; stereotypes; women leadership; work-life balance


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