Face The Complexities Together
South Africa’s first black female plastic surgeon, Gloria Tshukudu, says challenges remain for women in the health sector. Unconscious bias persists. She’s lost count of the number of times she’s been called “sister” on a ward round while “a male doctor will always be addressed correctly”.
“At the time of my entry into plastic surgery, there were few black practitioners, never mind a black female.” Tshukudu qualified in 2012.
Other issues include intolerance against women leaning in. “When women call out something they don’t agree with, it’s often perceived as complaining or even labelled insubordination. Women must also constantly be on their guard — if we show our emotions in frustrating situations we are perceived as weak.
“Women in this sector need to believe in themselves,” she says. “We need to work together and support each other, this will lessen the validation we need from men. That’s the way forward for us.”
“Go for it.” That’s the advice Angie Naidoo, Business Unit Head Diabetes for Sanofi South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, has for women trying to break into the higher echelons of the health sector.
That’s because, says Naidoo, in her experience many women have to conquer their fear of failure. “I’ve found women tend to doubt themselves. Many won’t try something if they haven’t done it before, while some will only apply for top positions if they’re guaranteed success.”
There are a couple of ways women can set themselves up for success, she says: “Be authentic. Build up a network of successful women and identify a mentor. Step up and step in and put your hand up for senior management and top management positions.
“Entering the health sector at the bottom of the pyramid is relatively easy for women — after all, the majority of the sales forces and admin staff are women,” she says. “However, going up the ladder requires some planning, including finding that work/life balance.”
Personally, Naidoo says she’s had to overcome imposter syndrome — and work twice as hard to achieve the same amount of recognition that men get.
She believes strongly in a few basic tenets: “If you take care of the people, the people will take care of the business, if you do the right thing, you’ll come out ahead, and set your standards high and lead by example.
“Leaders should be teachers,” says Naidoo.
Lynette Saltzman, co-founder and MD of Dis-chem, believes the sector has come a long way since she and husband Ivan, Dis-chem’s CEO, started their first pharmacy together in 1978. They met while studying at the Wits’ pharmacy department.
“A few customers were wary of a woman in charge.” One customer told Saltzman: “Just because you’re a pharmacist’s wife, doesn’t make you a pharmacist.”
That changed incrementally over the years.
“I don’t believe there are barriers to entry for women right now. Certainly, in our organisation senior positions are filled by women — and this has nothing to do with me. I don’t personally do any hiring.
“Women pay attention to detail. I also think that subconsciously, women feel we must prove ourselves, so we naturally work harder. We put in the hours — and people notice. And yes, women do have families, but most are able to make a plan. Many have supportive partners who pull their weight in their capacity as parents.
“The women I’ve met in this sector are confident, passionate and ambitious. There is no reason for them not to rise to the top.”
As Naidoo says: “Lessons for men and women in this sector are the same: We need to embrace learned leadership — that’s the principle that allows us to use what we know and learn what we need collectively to address the complexities that we face in our industry.”