Women Leadership in Africa


Management research within Africa remains limited (Acquaah, Zoogah, & Kwesiga, 2013; George, 2015; Zoogah, 2008). Little knowledge exists to help Africans navigate gender inequality (George et al., 2016b; Joshi et al., 2015), and political, economic, and environmental turbulence (George et al., 2016b). According to the report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), European nations have the lowest Gender Inequality Index (GII), while countries in Asia and Africa have the highest GII, the most recent GII of Ethiopia was 50.2% (UNDP, 2019). It is widely corroborated that high levels of gender inequality inhibit the effect of economic growth on poverty reduction (Unesco, 2016). Specifically, the paucity of women occupying major institutional leadership positions is stated as both a cause and a result of gender inequality in Ethiopia (Magnus, Tushune & Haileamlak, 2016). We identify female leadership as key to improving the challenges.

Our study of female leadership is built upon justice theory (distributive, procedural, informational and interactional justice, Greenberg, 1990; Colquitt, 2012) in the African management context. We aim to explore the following streams:

  1. Entering/beginning the role 
  2. Delivering work as leaders
  3. The need to protect themselves and the organisation from adversity. 

We will carry out this work through the following steps.

Step 1: Literature Review and Preparation for Meta-analysis

Women leadership research remains in fragmented streams with a wide range of disciplinary, theoretical and methodological perspectives, inhibiting scholars from capturing a holistic picture of leadership effectiveness. We aim to address this through conducting a meta-analytic review of the outcomes and enabling and inhibiting factors of leadership, ensuring a focus on female leaders. We would also build on existing literature of women leadership in Africa and try to link literature in education and psychology regarding leadership development (in families and in schools) and literature in workplace.

Step 2: Macro and Micro perspectives

We will conduct interviews and observations, in which we will glean the relevance of both macro and micro factors to female leadership effectiveness, enabling us to tackle the following:

  1. How do institutional, economic, political, and legal structures positively and negatively influence: (1) the routes of female leaders into leadership positions in Africa, (2) the effectiveness of their work as a leader, and (3) their leadership behaviours and abilities (such as strategic thinking, resilience and social networking skills) to protect themselves and the organisation from turbulence?
  1. How do current and desired identities (including social identities) influence women leaders? This is important because the role of social identities of women leaders is not salient and should be more impactful for the society (Carrim & Nkomo, 2016, Lumby & Azaola, 2014).
  1. It is likely that a simultaneous combination of leadership styles could prove most effective (Zhang et al., 2019). Conducting these preliminary qualitative analyses will help us identify factors which influence both a leader’s ability to use this combined leadership (‘paradoxical approach’), and explore the linkage between paradoxical mindset and resilience of women leaders (Zheng et al., 2018). This configurational approach of joint effects of multiple leadership behaviours is particularly important in Africa due to cultural context (Waldman et al., 2019).
  1. Baker and Kelan (2019) shows how females themselves can reinforce the gender divide. Our research project looks at how such factors can have adverse consequences whereby they further reinforce the gender divide. Whilst collecting the qualitative data, we also aim to explore the dark side of factors which female leaders may use to help them enter and sustain their leadership positions.