Challenges of shattering the ceiling in a male-dominated industry

by | Sep 29, 2022

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By Jeanette Marais, CEO of Momentum Investments

The infamous glass ceiling is just about as old as the tale of time. While I believe that we have made great strides in shattering this glass ceiling, there is still a way to go.

I distinctly remember in the beginning of my career, walking into a board room in a room full of men. I was the youngest and the only woman and as I introduced myself, one of the men asked if I was there to make tea! I remember being extremely shocked at the outright discrimination and ignorance to the fact that women are just as capable as men to sit around a board room table.

As women, we often put extra stress on ourselves as we feel that we must take responsibility for all the people in our lives. To make career advances, we can fall victim to trying to portray ourselves as invincible – a superwoman.

We play many roles as mothers, businesswomen, daughters, friends, siblings and many other. Ultimately, no matter the role we play, we all struggle with one common emotion – guilt.

In my role as the deputy CEO of the Momentum Metropolitan Group and the CEO of Momentum Investments, I also struggle with balancing work and personal life and even when I find that balance, I feel guilty about the possibility of neglecting the other.

Finding that perfect work-life balance but more importantly being true to what you need as a human being, requires preparation and discipline, if you want to be successful and fulfilled in both areas.

As women, when we are at work we feel guilty that we are not giving our undivided attention to our family. In fact, working from home has certainly made this even more difficult. On the flip side, when we are at home with our families, we feel guilty that we are not working.

When I am at home, I pour all of my energy into my work. When I see my husband on our farm on the West Coast, I make sure to switch off and be completely present. The problem is it is not easy to separate these spheres of your life. Just a few weeks ago, my husband was with me in for the whole week. I found it extremely difficult to focus on my work because I was feeling bad that I wasn’t savouring those few days that he was home.

I’ve realised that the more invincible you appear the less tolerance people have for you to be a human being.

I believe that a lot of these feelings come from how we were raised, and the expectations people have for women. For example, our generation had mothers who either didn’t work, or if they did, did not work at the same levels and pace as we do now. These were our role models. But more importantly, this is how people are “used to” seeing women.

Women are traditionally seen as the home maker and nurturer. While this is still very true, and we must not lose these important qualities, these are not the qualities we associate with people in business. This pressure often forces us to try to hide our feminine characteristics because we are trying to prove our worthiness as a businesswoman.

We often hear things from our parents like “you are not putting enough effort into your family” or “you can’t be a good wife if you are never home.” Unfortunately, our role models are people that haven’t embraced the very important evolution of this industry – or any industry for that matter.

In my career and my personal life journey, I have learned that there is a fine line between pushing yourself and challenging yourself and burning yourself out to the point that you neglect your family and your own needs. Another piece of advice that I would give is to plan and be disciplined about planning. Be disciplined and strict about your work time – give it your all. However, be very strict about hanging up your cape and switching off.

What I adore about being a woman, is that I can be strong yet gentle, assertive yet nurturing, the list goes on. While we strive for success in the business world, do not lose touch with who you are. This is one of the reasons why maintaining balance is so important.

As women, we have the power to excel in many facets of life.

Strong women – may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.

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