About the Author(s)

Emmerentia N. Barkhuizen Email symbol
Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, College of Business and Administration, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa

Gwendoline Masakane symbol
Faculty of Commerce, Administration and Management, School of Administration and Management, STADIO (formerly Southern Business School), Johannesburg, South Africa

Lidewey van der Sluis symbol
Nyenrode Business University, Breukelen, the Netherlands


Barkhuizen, E.N., Masakane, G., & Van der Sluis, L. (2022). In search of factors that hinder the career advancement of women to senior leadership positions. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology/SA Tydskrif vir Bedryfsielkunde, 48(0), a1986. https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v48i0.1986

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

Received: 18 Jan. 2022; Accepted: 17 May 2022; Published: 28 July 2022

Copyright: © 2022. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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.

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


‘Career is a jungle gym, not a ladder’ (Pattie Sellers, Executive Director, Fortune Most Powerful Women).

Many notable public cases have drawn attention to the disparities in how men and women are evaluated for the skills and behaviours that lead to leadership positions (McClean, Martin, Emich, & Woodruff, 2018). For instance, Ellen Pao, a former investing partner at a well-known Silicon Valley venture capital firm, was passed over for promotion and later sued her former employer for gender discrimination (Streitfeld, 2015). In her case, she emphasised the difficult position of women who are expected to be more change-oriented, speak up or ‘lean in’ but are not given equal credit for doing so. Similar social dynamics are reflected in South Africa, because women continue to be under-represented in senior leadership positions in the workplace (Bodalina & Mestry, 2020; Seale, Fish, & Schreiber, 2021). As a result, the influential South African Constitution of 1996 (South Africa, 1996) promise of an equal society remains something to strive for.

This research aimed to look into the factors that prevent women from advancing to senior leadership positions in various South African business contexts. More specifically we aim to address the following research questions:

  • What is the prevalence of career obstacles for women’s advancement into senior leadership roles?
  • What types of career obstacles are constraining women’s career advancement the most?
  • How can women navigate their career progress successfully amidst the career obstacles faced?

Although there is a wealth of empirical data on the workplace barriers women face in general, research on women’s career challenges for progressing in senior leadership positions in the global context is limited (Smith & Suby-Long, 2019). Mwagiru (2019) alludes to the lack of regional information on senior women leaders in African private sectors and the significant gap in leadership positions occupied by women in Africa. Furthermore, the Sustainable Development Goals call for full, effective and equal participation for women in leadership roles (Shung-King, Gilson, Mbachu, Molyneux, & Muraya, 2018). Seale et al. (2021) allude that women in South Africa are still facing significant challenges in progressing towards senior leadership positions and that more research is required to understand these challenges. Therefore, we believe that research on women’s career advancement into senior leadership positions in the South African emerging context is essential for various reasons.

Firstly, the end of apartheid and the subsequent dawn of democracy in South Africa 27 years ago resulted in significant changes in legislative frameworks, such as the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 (South Africa, 1998), which granted women equal employment and pay opportunities (Espi, Francis, & Valodia, 2019). Even though more women are entering the professional job market in South Africa than in previous years, they continue to face challenges in obtaining leadership or senior executive positions in organisations (Ronnie & Glaister, 2020). According to the most recent employment equity statistics, women hold between 23.5% and 34.5% of top management and senior management positions (Department of Labour, 2019). Consequently, past gender imbalances are slowly eradicated, and women’s advancement to senior management positions is neglected (Coetzee & Moosa, 2020; Osituyo, 2018).

Secondly, South African workplaces require female leaders to challenge patriarchal systems and foster pluralistic leadership cultures that embrace transformation (Seale et al., 2021). The majority of gender inequality practices in organisations result from our societies (Sowjanya, Krishna, & Rao, 2017). Society perpetuates women’s marginalisation by fostering oppressive beliefs and values that continue to be unjust to women; for example, there is a widespread belief that men are superior to women (Berdahl, Cooper, Glick, Levingston, & Williams, 2018). The dominance of men in our social, political, cultural and economic spheres, according to Hingston (2016), tends to aggravate this belief. According to Wall (2014), centuries ago, Roman-Dutch law in South Africa treated married women as minors who had to be cared for by their husbands. Women were not permitted to enter into any contractual agreements, including employment contracts, without the consent of their husbands. Customary law granted black women the status of minors and denied them rights to children and property. In contrast, white women in South Africa were denied guardianship and other economic rights under the country’s common law (Wall, 2014). According to Pillay (2019), changes in communities’ patriarchal and legacy thought patterns could positively affect female career experiences in the business world. As a result, Africa’s unique history provides valuable insights into understanding gender imbalances in the workplace (Msila & Netshitangani, 2016).

Thirdly, women leaders can dispel negative gender competency stereotypes in the workplace. Women are held to a higher standard of leadership competence than men (Hejase, Haddad, Hamdar, Massoud, & Farha, 2013), although they are more effective than men in business and educational settings and mid-level and upper-level positions (Ngcobo, 2016; Paustian-Underdahl, Walker, & Woehr, 2014). A more significant representation of women leaders can improve positive self-perceptions of career progression and boost self-confidence in their performance in male-dominated environments (Born, Ranehillb, & Sandberg, 2018; Herbst, 2020).

Fourthly, women leaders play an important role as mentors in guiding female workers through their career paths, mainly STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field occupations. Senior women need role models to help them develop their ‘personal selves’ and managerial identities (Sealy & Singh, 2010). According to recent research, both Generation Z gender groups prefer transformational and feminine leadership traits to masculine leadership styles (Bornman, 2019). Female leaders’ visibility is critical to driving other women’s empowerment, making it more critical than ever (O’Neil, Brooks, & Hopkins, 2018; Steffens, Munt, Van Knippenberg, Platow, & Haslam, 2021).

Finally, workplace bullying, violence and harassment against women are rising (Hoel & Vartia, 2018). Unfortunately, South Africa’s sociopolitical society has a spillover effect in the business world, where women are subjected to various forms of abuse, such as sexual harassment in the workplace (Bosch, 2019). According to estimates, the murder rate of women in South Africa increased by 117% between 2015 and 2017, and a woman is raped every 26 seconds (Statistics South Africa, 2018). As a result, gender-based violence remains one of South Africa’s most serious social problems (Mahlori, Byrne, & Mabude, 2018). Eagly and Scezny (2019) also highlight the ‘Me Too’ movement, in which women are becoming driving and transformative forces in the political and economic spheres of life. It is possible that increasing the number of women in senior leadership positions will help to reduce incidents of sexual harassment (Manuel, 2017). According to Au, Tremblay and You (2020), companies with a higher representation of female directors experienced less sexual harassment.

As a result, gender matters in terms of career advancement. The story of women’s career advancement is one of contextual intervention. It entails comprehending the ‘labyrinths’ of talented women’s career advancement (Eagly & Carli, 2007), as well as how women can and are permitted to navigate their careers (Lyness & Erkovan, 2016). The current study focuses on one type of agency in career advancement: how women are hampered in their ascent through the career jungle gym (Bowles, Thomason, & Bear, 2019).

Our research closes an important gap by providing empirical evidence on women’s unique experiences in senior leadership positions. Women leaders can be better equipped and prepared for future leadership roles if more information about the challenges they face is available (Coetzee & Moosa, 2020). According to Nkomo and Ngambi (2009, p. 50), ‘scholars cannot ignore or misunderstand the status, experiences, and roles of women leaders in the African business context, as well as the challenges to their success’.

This article is organised as follows. Firstly, we will look at the theoretical underpinnings of career-constraining factors in the context of senior women leaders. Following that, we will go over the research design that was used for this study. Following that, we will present the study’s findings. This research article concludes by discussing the findings, practical implications and recommendations for future research. In what follows next, we discuss the most prevalent factors emerging from the available literature that constrain women’s career advancement to senior leadership positions.

Theoretical background

Factors hindering women in their career advancement to senior leadership
Corporate culture and dynamics

Organisational culture is a reflection of ‘how things are done here’ and defines the underlying values, principles, norms and acceptable behaviour in the workplace (Lundy & Cowling, 1996; Martins & Terblanche, 2003; Schein, 1990). Organisational culture results from leadership styles, organisational characteristics such as structure and history, environmental factors and the founders’ cultural philosophy (see Szczepańska & Kosiorek, 2017). As a result, most companies have masculine cultures because leadership roles have traditionally been reserved for men (Rodgers-Healy, 2008). Workplace leadership styles are incorporated based on the national ‘masculinity’ – ‘femininity’ cultural environment (Janićijević, 2019; Ünal, 2017). Combined with traditional masculine societal norms, national cultures lack women in senior positions (Lee, 2011). Masculine context cultures can lead to dysfunctional organisational climates marked by toxic leadership, bullying, harassment and gender inequality (Berdahl et al., 2018). Applied within the South African context, Martin and Barnard (2013) discovered that masculine cultures failed to accommodate women’s distinct physical, identity and work-life balance requirements. According to Toni and Moodly (2019), masculine cultures in South African higher education institutions leave women leaders without a voice and opportunity to participate in networking opportunities. According to Player, De Moura, Leite, Abrams and Tresg (2019), the criteria for recruitment and selection processes favoured men over women for leadership positions.

As such, liberal feminist theorists advocate for equal rights, democracy and participation of women in the labour market (Tong, 2009). By reflecting on everyday experiences, the feminist standpoint theory empowers oppressed women to improve their situation (Guring, 2020). Feminism gives marginalised women groups a voice in the workplace to negotiate their own identities (Nienaber & Morake, 2016) whilst challenging discrimination and sexism (Bell, Meriläinen, Taylor, & Tienari, 2019). In addition, feminism reflection helps women ‘identify, recognise and affirm their leadership philosophy’ (Smith & Suby-Long, 2019). According to Syed and Murray (2008), a cultural feminist approach can help women advance in organisational leadership roles. Similarly, Longman, Daniels, Bray and Liddell (2018) contend that organisational culture can shape women’s leadership experiences by influencing organisational objectives, mission and values, thereby forming female leadership identities. Senior female leaders who successfully developed their leadership identity in a masculine institutional environment prioritised values and established clear boundaries (Maki, 2015). Seale et al. (2021) advise that women who consider senior leadership roles in South Africa need to adopt transformational leadership discourse to cope with and change patriarchal workplace cultures.

Values are a central explanation for women’s desire to advance in their careers (Jenni, 2017). According to Moorosi (2020), the values and characteristics shaped their approach to leadership amongst African female school principals. According to a study conducted by Davies, Broekema, Nordling and Furnham (2017), the work values of male and female leaders differ significantly as they advance into more senior management and director positions. Male directors placed a higher value on commerce (i.e. profit realisation), power (i.e. desire to succeed) and science (i.e. being technology-driven) than their female counterparts. Women leaders emphasised altruism (caring for others), aesthetics (the desire to express oneself) and hedonism (i.e. socialising). Gender-based tensions are likely to arise because of conflicting work values (Hannum, Gentry, Booysen, & Weber, 2010). They can spread to the rest of the workforce because leaders play an essential role in establishing the values that underpin workplace culture (Hendrikz & Engelbrecht, 2019).

Although women in top management positions received professional and social recognition, they also faced challenges related to the organisation’s culture, apathetic and indifferent team members and a lack of trust from superiors and subordinates (Macarie, Calin Emilian, & Mora, 2011). According to Akram, Murugiah and Shahzad (2017), female leaders had fewer facilities and resources than their male counterparts. From the perspective of job-demands resources (see Bakker & De Vries, 2021), the absence of supporting resources (i.e. lack of management support, poor communication, meaningless work) in the face of escalating job demands (i.e. emotional labour, administrative overload, labour disputes) can have a negative impact on leaders’ well-being and the performance of their unit (Savage, 2019). As a result, culture reflects employee experience and ultimately determines organisational success (Morcos, 2018).

Societal expectations and stereotyping

Another common barrier to women’s career advancement is gender stereotyping. According to Macarie et al. (2011), women are under-represented in top management because of societal beliefs about the roles of men and women. According to Sowjanya et al. (2017), family systems and patriarchal social structures frequently prevent women from breaking free from predetermined functions such as nurturing children, caring for in-laws and being responsible for the family to their career advancement. According to Schwanke (2013), societal forces contribute to assumptions and stereotypes that challenge women in leadership roles, particularly in male-dominated work environments.

Eagly and Cowley’s (1986) social role theory helps understand the foundations of gender stereotyping in the workplace. In a nutshell, this theory proposes that people generally behave following the social norms associated with their gender. Women, for example, are perceived as caregivers in both the work and home domains, whereas men are viewed as heroes because of their strength and agency (Eagly & Wood, 2012). Agency (i.e. assertiveness, independence, instrumental competence and leadership competence) and communality (i.e. concern for others, sociability and emotional sensitivity) are two prominent and defining aspects of gender stereotyping (Hentschel, Heilman, & Peus, 2019). Stereotypes and adverse reactions emerge because of perceived conflicting conceptions of masculinity and femininity in the workplace (Clow & Ricciardelli, 2011). For example, women leaders are more likely to face discrimination because they are perceived to be incompetent to lead effectively (Eagly & Scezny, 2019). Koening and Eagly (2014) discovered that group beliefs and attributes based on social role theory predicted group stereotypes about communion and competence.

This study also applies the gender schema theory to explain workplace behaviours and attitudes contributing to women’s negative workplace experiences. Gender schemas, like social role theory, involve mental models (schemes) that determine roles based on biological gender (Lemons & Parzinger, 2007). Gender schema theory focuses on individuals’ gendered social-cognitive development and how society creates and enforces gender roles (Starr & Zurbriggen, 2017). A gender schema is a cognitive filter that categorises individual characteristics into masculine and feminine dispositions. Schematic people are more likely to stereotype than aschematic people (Valian, 2005). For example, Hajee-Ozman (2011) discovered that men and women differed significantly regarding the factors that advance women’s career advancement in a male-dominated car manufacturing company in South Africa. Men maintained the traditional view that women cannot succeed in their careers because of family responsibilities, insufficient knowledge and inadequate mentoring.

On the other hand, women cited factors such as a lack of equity in promotion, an ‘old boys’ network’, and a lack of equity in pay as impeding their access to leadership positions at work. Lyons (2013) discovered similar findings amongst academic staff in a predominantly male higher education setting in South Africa. Women academics cited the ‘old boys’ network’ and a lack of support as significant barriers, whereas men cited establishing credibility as a significant barrier. Both men and women agreed that family and childcare responsibilities are significant factors limiting women’s academic career opportunities.

Gender stereotypes, according to Heilman (2012), lead to a bias against women’s ability to perform in male-gender-typed jobs and roles. Women are also subjected to normative standards of disapproval, penalties and violation if they succeed. As a result, societal beliefs and practices can foster an environment where female leaders struggle to advance and lead teams (Moeketsane, 2014). Hentschel et al. (2019) discovered that women are more stereotypical than men, describing themselves as less assertive and competent. Men, on the other hand, were rated as less stereotypical. According to Larsson and Alvinius (2020), women in female-dominated and gender-mixed work environments rate their leadership competence more positively than women in male-dominated contexts, who perceive their leadership competence to be weaker. Women may still lack the confidence and self-esteem to perform traditional ‘masculine’ roles such as senior leadership (Born et al., 2018).

Mentorship, role models and social networking

Mentorship has received much attention in feminist literature over the last decade as a critical enabler of women’s career advancement in the workplace. In its broadest sense, mentorship refers to a relational process where the more experienced and expert person (the mentor) guides the less experienced mentee (Meschitti & Lawton Smith, 2017). According to Block and Tietjen-Smith (2016), having access to gender-based guidance and support is critical for successful leadership. Dennehy and Dasgupta (2017) discovered that female mentors supported women engineers’ career goals by enhancing their sense of belonging and confidence. Furthermore, top leadership mentoring promotes organisational effectiveness (Moore & Wang, 2017). Mentorship is also essential in assisting women in balancing their work and home lives (Heath, 2012). Mcilongo and Strydom (2021) advised that mentorship is a valuable tool to promote the career advancement of previously disadvantaged women in the South African public sector.

Role models are critical for forming social identities in the workplace (Sealy & Singh, 2008). The social identity theory of leadership is relevant in the mentorship process, where leaders and followers develop a sense of belonging and ‘sharing of a social identity’, that is, a sense of ‘we’ and ‘us’ (Steffens et al., 2021, p. 36). Mentors can influence others when they share a social identity with their followers. Minority groups, such as women leaders, can use social identity theory to challenge and resist material, economic and realistic disadvantages (see Meyer, Durrheim, & Foster, 2016). As a result, social identity can help leaders overcome weaknesses by adopting a prototypical leadership style that the group can identify with (Daher, Guillaume, & Crawshaw, 2018). Understanding social identities can also help women leaders manage a multicultural South African workforce (Booysen, 2007). According to Karelaia and Guillén (2014), positive social gender identity reduces identity conflict in female leaders, reduces stress and increases life satisfaction and motivation to lead.

From the standpoint of social exchange, the reciprocal relationship between leaders (mentors) and mentees can boost members’ self-efficacy and creativity in performing uncertain and risky tasks (Liao, Liu, & Loi, 2010). In the mentorship process, women emphasise the relational aspects of social exchange (Scheepers, Douman, & Moodley, 2018). The latter study also identified social exchange theory as a critical driver of women’s talent development in South African businesses. The leader-member social exchange relationship (i.e. mutual trust, honesty and socio-emotional care) can inspire followers to take charge and return beneficial work-related behaviours (Wang, Zhou, Bao, Zhang, & Ju, 2020). Gender role identity and gender management characteristics (e.g. congruency and authenticity) influence the social women leader-member exchange relationship (Tzinerr & Barsheshet-Picke, 2014). Relationships between social leaders and members improve work performance, organisational citizenship behaviours and perceptions of organisational justice (Kuvaas, Buch, Dysvik, & Haerem, 2012). As a result, perceptions of social exchange in the leadership-follower relationship are critical for employees’ sense of organisational belonging in developing African contexts (Mitonga-Monga, 2020).

Mentorship for senior women is still an underutilised practice. According to a global study on business mentoring, 63% of women have ever had a mentor (Neal, Boatman, & Miller, 2013). A lack of female role models for leadership contributes to the ongoing gender stereotyping of leadership. Woman-to-woman mentoring presents its own set of challenges. According to Hoyt and Simon (2011), women’s leadership status was influential in establishing the mentor-mentee relationship. Mentees could more easily relate to non-elite female leaders who demonstrated counter-stereotypic thinking than elite female leaders. O’Neil et al. (2018) discovered disparities in the career expectations of senior women and the junior women they were mentoring. Junior women expected more from senior women to advance their careers, whereas senior women saw their leadership-member exchange with juniors as adequate. As a result, both female groups may feel isolated from one another (O’Neil et al., 2018). Ellemers (2014) refers to this phenomenon as the ‘Queen Bee effect’ which prevents women in leadership from serving as role models for junior women in male-dominated environments. Women’s job satisfaction, career development and productivity suffer from a lack of mentoring (Cross et al., 2019). Therefore, organisations must establish in-house women’s networks to promote their advancement into senior management positions (Waberg, 2016).

Work-family conflict

Work-family conflict is a frequently cited barrier to women’s advancement in the workplace (Brue, 2019). The increased migration of women into the workplace can be attributed to two reasons. Firstly, the changing nature of society with increased employment rights significantly altered women’s traditional ‘stay-at-home’ roles (Sekścińska, Trzcińska, & Maison, 2016). Women now have greater access to career opportunities and advancement than ever before, and they can pursue a meaningful career of their choice (Mišić Andrić, 2015). Secondly, economic downturns and rising living costs result in dual-income generation couples, particularly in emerging markets. Traditional family types are now referred to as dual-career, dual-earner, new-traditional and status-reversal families (Duxbury, Lyons, & Higgins, 2007).

Participation in the work domain, according to facilitation theory, can enable individuals to provide support and resources for the home domain. Although dual-earner status can improve family finances, it can also harm work performance and cause societal problems (Adisa, Gbadamosi, & Osabutey, 2017). According to the spillover theory, an individual’s life domains are interconnected, and thus emotions (both positive and negative) can be transmitted between work and personal life domains (Radó, Nagy, & Király, 2016). According to Brue (2018), women leaders must take on multiple roles, presenting challenges in balancing their work-life interface effectively. As a result, female leaders are more likely to carry emotions, attitudes, behaviours and gossip from work to home and vice versa (Liu, Wu, Yang, & Jia, 2020). From the standpoint of spillover-crossover, spillover is more of a within-person spillover from one domain to another. In contrast, crossover occurs when a person’s workplace stress can be transferred to the individual’s partner (Bakker, Demerouti, & Burke, 2009). Role conflicts are on the horizon as the ‘home-system-ecology’ is disrupted, with women still regarded as the primary caregivers of the home environment (Alqahtani, 2020). Work-family conflicts arise when women devote more time and attention to their jobs whilst neglecting their domestic responsibilities and relationships with their partners (Bakker et al., 2009). As the line between work and life becomes more blurred, women must develop more effective boundary management strategies to promote work-life balance (Field & Chan, 2018; Leduc, Houlfort, & Bourdeau, 2016).

Resource-based research shows that women in management are more likely to balance their work-home environment with support from spouses, families, employers, supervisors and colleagues (Mahasa, 2016). According to Kahn (2014), many organisations do not have ‘female-friendly’ policies and are still dominated by masculine-type cultures. According to Belwal and Belwal (2014), family-friendly policies can help women leaders manage their family responsibilities, create flexible work environments and perform better in domestic and professional domains. In contrast, Von Hippel, Kalokerinos and Zacher (2017) discovered that family-friendly policies could exacerbate gender stereotypes and negative attitudes towards women in the workplace.

Career development opportunities

Changes in global workforce dynamics and talent investments increased the demand for women’s leadership development programmes to eliminate women’s underrepresentation in leadership programmes (Debebe, Anderson, Bilimoria, & Vinnicombe, 2016). According to Kanter’s (1993) theory of structural empowerment, groups are promoted in work environments where they have access to opportunities to learn and develop, amongst other things. According to this theory, jobs that are highly visible and central to the organisation’s purpose, such as leadership, facilitate opportunities for meaningful work through informal and formal support alliances (Orgambídez-Ramos & Borrego-Alés, 2014). In a male-dominated environment, women who participate in training interventions are more likely to experience increased social networking activities, self-advocacy behaviours and enhanced positive psychological states (Pereira, 2017).

According to O’Neil and Bilimoria (2005), male and female career development should not be viewed in the same manner. Women’s career advancement can counter men’s traditional career models defined by stability, maintenance and decline. Women are significantly more vulnerable to social and contextual challenges that impede their career advancement (Ellemers, 2014). Because of insufficient alignments between individual career planning and organisational development and career advancement practices, female leaders may be overlooked for promoting executive positions (Schulz & Enslin, 2014). Chun et al. (2019) discovered that gender and stereotyped gender roles influence female employees’ overall career planning, career moves and client relationships.

As a result, women leaders must take the initiative and invest in their professional development to achieve their career goals. According to the self-determination theory (see Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2017, 2019), three psychological needs must be met: autonomy (i.e. freedom of expression and decision-making), competence (i.e. feelings of success at work) and relatedness (i.e. sense of belonging). Self-determination theory not only promotes the well-being and positive business outcomes of leaders (see Van Tuin, Schaufeli, Van Rhenen, & Kuier, 2020), but it can also be used to improve the motivation of followers (Forner, Jones, & Berry, 2021).

As a result, the psychological link between the individual and the organisation is critical in stimulating female leadership aspirations (Fritz & Van Knippenberg, 2017). Inclusive leadership development programmes can improve relationship-building amongst diverse groups and promote gender synergies for achieving business goals (Sugiyama, Cavanagh, Van Esch, Bilimoria, & Brown, 2016). According to Bodalina and Mestry (2020), instructional leadership, professional learning communities, integrated quality management systems and mentoring and coaching can help women advance to senior positions. Other factors contributing to women’s leadership development and career success include a trusting environment, social support, new business competencies and reframing women’s mindsets about their potential (Lämsä & Savela, 2019).

Leadership identity formation

According to Humberd (2014), how a woman sees herself as a leader is a complex process in which non-work identities (such as gender) influence her work leader identity, career choices, aspirations and leadership career path. According to Karelaia and Guillén (2014), the more positive women’s leadership and gender identities are, the less conflict they will face. Much has been written about the gender differences in leadership between men and women and the societal values that inform their respective leadership styles. Men, for example, are perceived to be assertive, controlling and confident, whereas women are perceived to be more caring, sensitive and sympathetic to others (Tzinerr & Barsheshet-Picke, 2014). However, national culture, organisational context and business nature are essential factors to consider when typifying gendered-leadership characteristics and cannot be generalised across countries (Larsson & Alvinius, 2020). Nonetheless, researchers agree that senior women leaders worldwide struggle to establish their distinct leadership identity in male-dominated environments. Mgcotyelwa-Ntoni (2017) found that women in various South African government departments were subjected to ‘nuanced identity politics’ that manifested through discriminatory practices based on ethnicity, age and disability.

According to the double-bind theory, femininity is associated with appearance whilst also displaying masculine personalities whilst holding executive positions (Mavin, Grandy, & Williams, 2014). Scholten and Witmer (2017, p. 53) conducted a study that demonstrated how a female leader was ‘playing with the boys on their own turf’ by adopting competitive behaviours and gendered images such as an exclusive company car, high-tech cell phone and masculine reading materials. According to Drydakis, Sidiropoulou, Patnaik, Selmanovic and Bozani (2017), women with masculine personality traits were more likely to gain access to male- and female-dominated occupations than those with feminine personality traits. Drydakis et al. (2017) discovered that women with masculine personality traits earned more than those with dominant feminine behaviours. These findings are encouraging and can promote more gender equality in leadership for the future.

To summarise, the above discussion highlighted various prominent factors that can substantially impact women’s career progress in senior leadership positions. Masculine cultures, underpinned by patriarchal values, result in organisational cultures that do not recognise the unique contributions that women leaders can make in the workplace. Although new family types emerge (i.e. dual-income families), women are still perceived to be primarily responsible for family-life aspects, challenging them to balance their multiple home-work roles. As such, women find it difficult to establish their leadership identity in society and the workplace characterised by ongoing gender stereotyping. In the form of mentorship, the absence of support further constrains the leadership ambitions of women.

The next section describes the research design and method adopted for this study.

Research design

Research approach

This study used a qualitative research approach to investigate the factors that impede the advancement of women leaders in the South African labour market. According to Creswell (2014), qualitative research is a process of inquiry used to understand a social or human problem by constructing a complex holistic picture using words and detailed accounts of informants in a natural setting. This study employs a phenomenological research paradigm. Phenomenological research is a type of qualitative research in which the researcher focuses on the individual’s lived experiences to identify phenomena as perceived by the actors in a situation (Hall, Chai, & Albrecht, 2016). The phenomenological lens assisted us to uncover the experiences of women regarding the factors that prevent them from advancing in senior leadership positions.


This study’s sample included nine women from various South African industries (i.e. ministry, law, information and communication, government, dentistry and finance). These individuals were purposefully chosen based on their standing in their respective industries and their ability to address the study’s main research question. The interviews focused on their professional journeys and aspirations to become senior leaders in their workplaces or professions. The data was saturated with nine participants. Therefore, no additional interviews were deemed necessary to achieve the objective of the present study. A description of the demographic characteristics of the participants are displayed in Table 1.

TABLE 1: Demographic characteristics of the participants.

The participants were primarily black African women (n = 7) and two white women. The age range of the participants was mostly between 30 and 40 years (n = 5), with three participants aged 50 years and older and one participant in her early 40s. The majority of the participants owned a bachelor’s degree as their highest level of education, with two more participants in possession of postgraduate qualification.

Data collection and recording

The data was collected using semistructured interviews (see De Vos et al., 2011). Semistructured interviews, in particular, were used to allow for a mix of closed- and open-ended questions (Adams, 2015). De Jonckheere and Vaughn (2019, p. 1) describe semistructured interviews as a ‘dialogue between researcher and participant, guided by a flexible interview protocol and supplemented by follow-up questions, probes and comments’. The interviews were tape-recorded with the participants’ permission. The interviews were then transcribed and returned to the participants for accuracy verification.

Data analyses

Theme analyses were applied to analyse the data. We followed four main stages in the theme analysis process: decontextualisation, recontextualisation, categorisation and then compilation (see Bengtsson, 2016). Firstly, we familiarised ourselves with the transcribed data before breaking it into more meaningful units (i.e. decontextualisation). Secondly, we verified whether the content of the interviews was in line with the purpose that we wanted to achieve. In addition, we started with tidying up the information collected (recontextualisation). We categorised the initial codes during the third stage and identified themes and subthemes. Finally, we presented the themes and supported that with direct quotes from the participants. Content analyses assisted us in analysing the data systematically and scientifically (Thyme, Wiberg, Lundman, & Graneheim, 2013).

Ensuring the quality and rigour of the research

The quality and rigour of the research were maintained through various methods. The authors used peer-debriefing and member checking throughout the research planning, execution and dissemination (Treharne & Riggs, 2015). In accordance with Johnson, Adkins and Chauvin (2020), the authors also applied reflexivity and safeguarding against possible biases. The researchers also applied the principles of credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability to ensure the trustworthiness of the research (see Lincoln & Guba, 1985). In this research, credibility was achieved by providing a true reflection of the findings and the phenomenon under investigation in line with reality. As regards transferability, the richness of the data and findings provide a foundation for future research to embark on similar studies.

Ethical considerations

Ethical clearance to conduct this study was obtained from the Southern Business School Research Ethics Committee (reference number: SBS-20192-0022-MM).


The theme analyses resulted in six underlying factors that constrain women’s career progression towards leadership positions. These are societal stereotypes and beliefs (mentioned 29 times), mentoring (mentioned 16 times), corporate culture and practices (mentioned 14 times), leadership identity distortion (mentioned eight times), learning and development and promotion opportunities (mentioned eight times), and work-life balance (mentioned six times). The themes and subthemes are presented in Table 2.

TABLE 2: Themes that emerged from the analyses.
Theme 1: Societal stereotypes and beliefs

Combined, the theme of societal stereotypes emerged as the most frequently mentioned theme. The participants made specific references to culture, traditions, religion and stereotypes and biases against women’s leadership abilities. The majority of participants blame culture, certain traditions and some religious beliefs as the source of why women have not been able to occupy senior positions in the organisations. Some comments relating to how societal stereotypes hinder career advancement are presented below:

‘My mother was never educated. My grandfather believed that it was a waste of money to educate a girl child because she was going to get married, and if she is educated, the education will benefit her in-laws rather than her family that paid for her education. It is going to take a while to catch up with our male counterparts because of a patriarchal system which marginalised us for centuries. We are still suffering the effects of that system, and men are still benefiting from this.’


‘Faith-based institutions insist on teaching respect for authority and not to question power. And men are mostly at the helm of these institutions, so, therefore, no one is allowed to question things lest you be regarded as a delinquent.’

Participants mentioned that there are still some stereotypes and biases about the competence of women to be employed as leaders. Participants were probed if there was any fundamental difference between men and women in leading organisations. Some of the comments from participants were the following:

‘Instead of focusing on allowing people to be authentically themselves and do the job well, there is a general expectation on how all lawyers should speak and look, and this is stemming from legacy and history. I am facing the challenge of being unable to progress because I am not able to speak like they do, tough and loud. It’s a deliberate exclusion, in my view.’


‘IT is a tough industry to progress because it is male-dominated, and for a woman to occupy a senior position, you need to be super special. There is still a great belief that men make better leaders than women in this industry because we are seen as too soft. We, as women, face higher standards than our male counterparts. This is very discouraging.’

Theme 2: Mentoring

The participants in this study also mentioned that mentoring is a critical factor in career development to progress in the organisation. The following subthemes were derived: lack of mentoring, coaching and sponsors, lack of perceived role models and access to top management and networks. Some of the comments include:

‘I have learned the art of attaching myself with leaders in the organisation as mentors and coaches. I don’t just have one; I have several of them. This has helped me to learn the organisation, the politics and just exposure to some of the strategic projects which has been good for my growth.’


‘Having a mentor seems to be the quickest way to career development. I have colleagues whom by just having mentor relationships, there has been a big improvement in terms of what things they get exposed to. These mentor relationships do not come easy. I have not been able to get a mentor; I just have a lot of peer relationships, and these are mostly very lateral and have done nothing for my career.’

As regards access to role models, the participants mentioned the significant lack of access to women mentors. Also, women executives are not always willing to act as mentors. The participants also expressed the need to have women role models that they can relate to. Some comments were:

‘I don’t think we will ever make it to the top. I mean, there are a few women currently occupying top positions as it is, with all the educated and brilliant women we have in our country, makes you wonder. Even with those women who made it to the top, it just seems that our circumstances are not the same. As inspiring as it is to see that our chief executive is a “boss lady,” she does not have children; maybe that is why she has made it. We need more everyday women at the top, those who are juggling kids, family, social and career so we can learn how they do it.’

Participants also mentioned that a lack of mentorship prevented them from getting access to networks that can enhance their career advancement. As indicated by one of the participants:

‘I have been stuck at the same level for the past 7 years, and reality is that it ultimately boils down to being known by the guys at the top, but access to them is a challenge sometimes, even with mentors. For an opportunity at the top, you have to be known by the big bosses.’


‘The networks are tightly closed and inaccessible, and that’s where promotions opportunities are discussed, and if you are not part of those, then forget about making it to the top.’

Theme 3: Corporate culture and practices

Combined, the theme relating to corporate culture and practices emerged as the third most constraining factor hindering women from career advancement. The participants mentioned a hostile corporate culture towards them and a lack of enforcement of gender equity practices. Some of the comments included:

‘The organisation that I work for is 150 years old, and sometimes I believe that the things we are doing are still entrenched in the 150 years’ legacy we carry. Women were not working 150 years ago, meaning when my organisation was formed, it was formed by men, shaped by men to what it is. Even though women have been working in the organisation for so long, I think there is a lot that can still be changed to change the culture. Its culture is my biggest challenge. If you are an executive, you work long hours. If you are seen working long, odd hours, it is seen as commitment. The likes of us who are rushing out to fetch kids are often referred to as unreliable and risky employees so we can’t be promoted to a demanding senior position. So I think long working hours are equivalent to success and progression.’

Another participant supported this by saying:

‘My boss, who is female [with] no children, said the most painful thing to me one day in a casual chat. She said one of the reasons that she does not like working with women is the fact that she has to deal with the risk of having to do the work of someone who has gone for 6 months on maternity. In our department, we can’t get a temporary employee while one is on maternity. She further said that then when they come back, the organisation has to understand that the child is sick now and then, and then school. So how can we women get hired let alone get promoted if senior people still hold this mentality? I mean, the organisation makes provision for maternity and family responsibility leaves.’

The respondents mentioned that although organisations have policies and targets on gender equity, there seems to be a lack of will and enforcement of those policies by those who are accountable for implementation. Even at the senior executive level, there seem to be no consequences for not adhering to the gender equity policies or not achieving the targets. Some of the statements that support this are the following:

‘We have a very beautiful initiative that was adopted by the organisation from the UN Women, that is the #HeForShe. This is encouraging senior managers, especially at the top positions, to create an enabling environment for women to thrive and progress in their careers. The organisation is encouraging these managers to push women into strategic roles, promote women into senior roles, give women preference where there are opportunities. However, just looking at what is happening in our organisation, this is just but all talk, and there is no action from the managers who are supposed to adopt the program. Most of these managers at top positions (men and women) when you look at their compositions of executive committee members, you will find that they are still dominated by males. We are going nowhere slowly.’

Theme 4: Leadership identity distortion

The fourth theme to emerge is the distortion of women’s identities by adapting male-like behaviour to survive their work environment. From the responses, it was evident that women are experiencing conflicting gender-based identities to ‘fit in’ with the masculine environment. The sacrifices and adverse consequences of adopting male-like behaviour are also evidenced in their personal work-life. As mentioned by some of the respondents:

‘I did not earn my seat on the executive table by being myself. I had to learn to speak with aggression and speak louder. It was very uncomfortable, but it worked because it earned me the respect I needed to be heard in these meetings. My mentor said I was too meek; I needed to toughen up. Otherwise my subordinates won’t respect me and my counterparts will never listen to me. Talking louder with confidence somewhat meant I was more ambitious and a go-getter. I am not sure if this was everyone’s experience, but this was mine, and to this day, I am very grateful to my mentor. The only downside to this is that it is as if I have multiple personalities because when I get home, I have to be the meek self now. If I were to speak loud to my husband, that is seen as disrespect.’


‘As women, I find that we are faced with higher standards in proving that we can lead. It is somewhat interesting that personal characteristics are something we even consider when considering promotions of individuals into leadership positions. It does not matter how great you are in your work if you are shy; you are not assertive enough. Men are considered authoritative and aggressive and therefore able to lead because they can see the bigger picture. While us women, we are labelled as too emotional.

Theme 5: Learning and development

In this study, learning and development also emerged as a hindering factor for women’s career advancement. The participants mentioned aspects such as a lack of access to training and development opportunities, training opportunities with no impact and a lack of promotion based on training programmes. Some of the comments included:

‘I am not sure if these programs are doing enough to create an enabling environment where women can take learning from these and position themselves adequately to progress to senior leadership roles. I have attended too many, and none of them has made it possible for me to progress. All that these have managed to do is that men are more equal than us because we needed to work harder for these opportunities.’


‘I am just saddened that the learning and development does not necessarily equal opportunity for progression. I wish our organisations can be intentional about the progression of women in the workplace and ensure that they are sending us to programs that are helping us with progression to the next level. I think these programs, when they are designed properly, they can assist in learning and development for women so that they are ready to take up the senior positions and fast-track progress.’


‘With me, my organisation does not have those courses that one can do internally, but they do encourage external studies, and they would even pay for it. The more you study and get degrees of higher learning, the better your chances of being moved up the next notch. It is just difficult to have a career, study and take care of family.’

Theme 6: Work-life balance

Participants had concerns about how the work responsibilities seemed to continuously conflict with the family responsibilities and jeopardise their chances of progressing with their careers. Some of the comments regarding this conflict included the following:

‘Though the organisation in theory supports and encourages flexible working times, you would still get bosses who wants you at the office from 08:00 to 17:00. I stay in Pretoria and work in Johannesburg. I have to drop off my kids at school from 07:00 (school gates only open at 07:00 and are not allowed to leave kids outside the school before gates open). Then the travel from Pretoria to Johannesburg on a normal day is 1 h 30 min. Despite my several requests, you will still find team members or stakeholders scheduling 08:00 meetings. Now how on earth will I be able to get to those meetings? Missing the meetings is seen as a lack of respect in my organisation and not living the values of the organisation. Not living any of the values means your rating is low, therefore cannot be promoted with a low rating.’

Another respondent added that:

‘As much as I aspire to one day be in an executive position, right now I can’t take up such a position because it comes with the responsibility to be available 24/7. I do homework in the evening with my kids and in my work environment, executives seems to be working till late. I’ll wait till both my children are independent enough to do homework on their own.’


The primary goal of this study was to explore the factors that impede women’s advancement to senior leadership positions. Six main themes emerged from the participants’ responses to denote women’s leadership advancement challenges in the South African context: societal stereotypes, mentoring, corporate culture, leadership identity distortions, learning and development and work-life balance.

In this study, societal stereotypes emerged as the most prevalent constraining factor for women. According to the responses, women’s career advancement is still hampered by patriarchal systems’ belief that women should primarily stay at home and care for the household (see Schwanke, 2013; Sowjanya et al. 2017). According to the participants, traditional value systems will stymie their career advancement to the point where they struggle to compete with their male leaders and colleagues. According to O’Neil and Bilimoria (2005), women’s career leadership advancement will differ from men’s because of contextual factors that impede them. Our findings also support the social role theory, which holds that women are excluded from career advancement because of societal connotations of masculinity and femininity in the workplace (see Clow & Ricciardelli, 2011). One participant stated that women’s progress to senior leadership positions is hampered because they are perceived as ‘soft’. In this study, women were perceived to be more communal than the agency traits associated with male leaders (Hentschel et al., 2019). When women lack the necessary skills to be effective leaders, they are more likely to face discrimination (Eagly & Scezny, 2019). Gender schemas were also discovered in our research. According to one of the responses, women can be seen but not heard in some religious institutions. Women are not permitted to question authority in these denominations because men predominate as leaders. Traditional mental models limit the empowerment of gender roles in general society and specific institutional contexts (Lemons & Parzinger, 2007).

The second most significant barrier to women’s leadership advancement was a lack of mentorship and coaching. Several key trends were identified. Firstly, the participants repeatedly emphasised the importance of having a mentor for career success. Participants stated that women who had access to a mentor advanced much faster in their careers than those who did not have access to a mentor. Access to gender-based guidance and support is widely regarded as critical for future leadership success (Block & Tietjen-Smith, 2016). Secondly, there was a lack of female mentors in male-dominated environments. The participants expressed a desire for role models to help them balance work and family life. However, most female executives who could serve as mentors made personal sacrifices by not marrying or having children. The available mentors lacked gender role identity and gender management characteristics needed to facilitate the mentee’s social-exchange relationship (Tzinerr & Barsheshet-Picke, 2014). In the mentorship process, women place a high value on relationship-building (Scheepers et al., 2018), which appeared to be lacking in this study. Participants in this study stated that female executives were less willing to serve as mentors to upcoming female leaders. Women, in particular, were perceived by participants to be adopting ‘boss-lady-like’ behaviours to fit into the organisation. As a result, the ‘Queen Bee’ effect is prevalent, which prevents women in positions of leadership from serving as role models for other women (Ellemers, 2014).

In addition, status played a role in forming the mentor-mentee relationship. In this study, as in previous studies, participants could not relate to the elite status of senior female leaders (Hoyt & Simon, 2011). Our findings also support O’Neil et al. (2018), finding a gap between senior and junior leaders’ mentorship expectations. Thirdly, a lack of mentors has limited upcoming leaders’ access to networking opportunities. Women in this study reported an exclusive work environment that prevents them from rising through the ranks. An internal women’s network is critical to women’s advancement into senior management positions (Waberg, 2016). According to the participants’ responses, a social identity is also lacking in their respective institutions, which is required to build a sense of belonging to their workplace (Dennehy & Dasgupta, 2017; Steffens et al., 2021).

Corporate culture was identified as the third most limiting factor for women’s advancement in leadership. According to the responses, masculine cultures predominate, with women’s unique needs (such as childcare and family responsibilities) being overlooked (Martin & Barnard, 2013). This study’s findings also suggest that men and women have opposing work values. By equating success to long working hours, the participants perceived men to be driven by commercial and power needs (see Davies et al., 2017). Our study’s findings revealed little room for participants to rely on feminine perspectives to navigate their work identities and career advancement as leaders in toxic work environments (Berdahl et al., 2018; Smith & Suby-Long, 2019).

The study’s findings also support the participants’ double-bind as a result of a lack of gender-based leadership identity in their workplace (Mavin et al., 2014). Participants in this study were required to exhibit male-like behaviour, such as speaking loudly and aggressively. This is consistent with agency gender stereotyping of masculine characteristics such as assertiveness (Eagly & Wood, 2012; Hentschel et al., 2019). Furthermore, ‘playing the boys on their own turf’ appeared to benefit the participant at work (Drydakis et al., 2017; Scholten & Witmer, 2017) but caused role and personality conflicts at home. This supports the spillover-crossover theory, which holds that emotions experienced at work can be internalised and transmitted to the home environment by women (Bakker et al., 2009; Liu et al., 2020). As a result, role conflicts arise as the home-work ecosystem is disrupted, with women continuing to be the primary caregivers of the home environment (Alqahtani, 2020). Arguably, women’s challenge is to develop boundaries to improve their work-life balance (Field & Chan, 2018; Leduc et al., 2016). Biases exist when recruiting women for leadership positions, just as they did in previous research (Player et al., 2019). Masculine traits are preferred over more feminine leadership traits.

In this study, inadequate learning and development opportunities emerged as another career barrier for women. Despite the availability of learning and development programmes, participants felt that the programmes did not help them advance in their careers. These findings are troubling because training and development are critical for preparing and equipping women with the skills needed to lead in the new world of work (Bodalina & Mestry, 2020). Inadequate training and development not only have negative psychological consequences for women’s career aspirations (Fritz & Van Knippenberg, 2017), but they also limit women’s advancement to senior leadership positions (Kanter, 1993; Orgambídez-Ramos & Borrego-Alés, 2014).

In this study, work-life balance emerged as the final constraining factor for female leaders. The participants discussed their challenges in balancing work and family responsibilities. In line with the job-demands resources perspective, it appears that women in this study are experiencing more work and family-related demands that limit their career aspirations and progress (Bakker & Demerouti, 2018). Although flexible work arrangements are available, it is clear that women require more support from their employers and families to effectively balance their multiple roles and advance in their careers (Mahasa, 2016).

Practical implications

This research has important practical implications. Firstly, women leaders are still subjected to traditional career hindering factors such as stereotypes and hostile masculine corporate cultures. Managers need to adopt a mindset that recognises women as equally as competent as their male counterparts to act in senior and executive leadership positions. Moreover, management needs to create a workplace culture considering the multiple workplaces and societal roles women still need to play in this neoliberal world. This requires more flexible work arrangements that will allow women to balance their work and family responsibilities more effectively. Management also needs to invest in state-of-the-art mentorship programmes that can facilitate the career advancement of women leaders in the workplace, considering the requirements of the ever-changing world of work. As such, organisations can benefit from in-company networks that will allow women to access the experience necessary for their professional development and career advancement. Finally, management is also encouraged to develop talent management practices and methodologies that will allow for the inclusion of women in talent pools based on their competence. This will create a culture of inclusivity that will foster diversity management and eradicate gender stereotypes detrimental to individual and organisational effectiveness.

Research limitations and implications

This research had some limitations. This research was qualitative and limited to nine participants representing a few occupations. The results can therefore not be generalised to other occupations and contexts. However, with qualitative research, the purpose is not to generalise the research but rather provide a knowledge base that can serve as inputs for further research on similar areas in Africa and other emerging market contexts. Secondly, a vast amount of literature exists on factors constraining women’s career advancement in general. However, research on women’s career advancement in senior leadership positions on the African content is scarce. This challenged the researchers in interpreting the results, as available research from Westernised contexts is not always applicable to the unique African contexts. Therefore, more research is required to explore African countries’ unique cultural contexts and workplace dynamics on senior women leadership. Future research can also be cross-cultural and cross-national to obtain a more holistic perspective in women’s leadership within the global context. With its technologies, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is disrupting workplaces across the globe and quantum-leaping globalisation. More knowledge is required on how women leaders can successfully lead a diverse global workforce. Finally, research can benefit from using longitudinal studies to determine trends and periods when women leaders are experiencing the most significant challenges to their career advancement. Such information will be helpful in the development and validation of senior leadership development models that can guide and sustain women’s advancement through the various seasons of their leadership careers.


This research highlights the vital role that women leaders can play in the workplace. However, there is still much to be done to break down societal perceptions and stereotypes to assist women in earning their rightful places as leaders in the world of work. This research encourages management and organisations with masculine cultures to rethink practices, behaviours and orientations towards women leaders. Organisations can invest in developing a healthy workplace culture that will allow women leaders to excel and make valuable contributions. The implementation of mentorship programmes can assist in fast-tracking the career progress of women into senior management positions. Upcoming women leaders can also benefit from gaining access to networking opportunities in the workplace to create a sense of belonging. The contemporary 21st-century workplace and rapid advances in technology allow for more flexible work arrangements. Organisations can create a digital workplace ecosystem that will enable women to work from home and balance work and family needs.


Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors’ contributions

E.N.B. compiled the entire article, provided editorial inputs and supervised G.M. G.M. did the data collection and analyses, and provided editorial inputs. L.v.d.S. provided editorial inputs.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

The data is available on request for a period of 10 years.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.


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