5 Pillars for Women’s Success


I thought since I had the privilege and pleasure of having interviewed one of my heroines, Dr Judy Dlamini,at the Leaderex conference, I would share her findings from her thesis that she shared with us. It would have been better if the footage was available but I thought it was an important finding to share.

The surprise and gift of tenacity

Whilst reading her thesis I was surprised to have discovered some of the challenges she encountered when she conducted her research, one of them being that she experienced difficulties in confirming some participants for interviews. The reason I say this is because when I started my online channel I experienced the same obstacles. But please understand my surprise stemmed from the fact that Dr Dlamini is an established business woman who sits on several boards and runs several successful businesses; plus she’s featured on The Sunday Times Rich List a few times. Point is I didn’t expect that for a woman of her caliber. However it adds to the beauty of her research.

It was through her tenacity (something she refers to briefly in her thesis) that lead to her achieving the outcome and resulting in a paper that other women, and men, can learn from. The main outcome of her thesis are the 5 Pillars for Women’s Success. She did not call them that in her thesis but at the conference she referred to them as that, so I’m going to roll with it.

The 5 Pillars

Before I get into the 5 Pillars it’s important one understands the topic and goal of the thesis. The topic: The impact of the intersection of race, gender, and class on Women CEOs’ lived experiences and career progression: strategies for gender transformation at leadership level in corporate South Africa. She conducted one-on-one interviews with 14 participants (none identified by their real names) of different cultures, class, and races. The goal: providing guidelines for achieving gender transformation in democratic South Africa, and to develop a model that could be used by business leaders, government and academic scholars to achieve this transformation.

The 5 Pillars of Women’s Success:

  1. Know Yourself
  2. Domestic support/ family support/ prioritizing family
  3. Organisational culture and progressive leadership
  4. Societal influence
  5. Practical implications for women empowerment & gender transformation at leadership level

Explanations of Pillars

1. Know Yourself – knowing oneself is the key to unlocking all potential in you. Knowing yourself, being comfortable in your own skin and knowing your purpose will allow you to make the right career choice (Hadary & Henderson 2013; Sangster 2012; Dudu). Self-awareness allows you to know when it is the right time to leave and what will work for you (Jenny – a participant).

2. Role of support – the role of the domestic worker is a privilege afforded by the upper class to assist the women to build their careers. The support of the family helps to propel the women to achieve ambitious goals set out in their careers and to stay grounded to more than their work. The consensus is that you never find a balance; you just have to prioritize (Sangster 2012).

3. Organisation – the key areas of an organisation is leadership and culture. The key to finding happiness in an organisation is to ensure that it matches your values and passions. Secondly, the culture of the organisation can be positive if influenced by progressive leaders who embrace diversity. Furthermore progressive leadership results in mentorship and women development programmes that add positively to the culture of the organisation.

4. Societal Influence – beyond the stereotypes the women had to fight against, there was also a cultural impact for the black participants. The cultural impact affected people’s behaviour towards the women.However it was the role of men in the organisations that assisted many of the women to their current positions and learn valuable lessons along their journeys. Catalyst (2012) asserts that men who champion women’s rights exist in all regions of the world and this has to be encouraged. There is also a UN he and she initiative that discusses this topic in more detail.

5. Government – Government quotas, like the Employment Equity Act (1998), give women the opportunity to succeed. The Employment Equity Act has enabled black people and women in SA to access senior positions in the corporate sector, which in turn has led to these people becoming role models for the younger generation, especially for those that are in the public eye. A World Bank report finding, by Mason, one of the contributors, noted that societies that discriminated on the basis of gender paid a high price in higher levels of poverty, slower economic growth, weaker governance and a lower quality of life.


For myself this thesis summarized an eco-system that women participate in daily but may not have been aware to the keys to unlocking the next door for their growth. It gives clear objectives of what women should be discussing in order to empower themselves as well as future women leaders.  More than anything the most important thing I took away from this thesis is that you have to build yourself first in order to understand where it is that you going. Otherwise any external help won’t be beneficial to any of your long-term goals.

“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example” – John Wooden

Love and Happiness,





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