Today 39% of South Africa's workforce are women, and 11% of top management positions are filled by women, but many working women are considered aggressive if they stand up for themselves, whereas the same behaviour in men is considered assertive.
"There's still a long way to go before we break through the glass ceiling, but there are ways to increase your chances of success in your career," says Robyn Farrell, MD of 1st for Women Insurance Brokers.
Assertiveness is about being able to express your thoughts, beliefs and feelings confidently, openly and honestly. Behaving assertively will encourage others to trust, respect and admire you more.
"Learning to be assertive is essential when standing up for yourself in certain situations like put-downs and asking for a raise. It's a skill that is crucial not only for the workplace, but for our personal life as well," says Farrell. But it is a skill many women need to learn.
Here are ways in which assertive people behave, according to Farrell:
Communicate confidently, give constructive feedback and try to understand what other people are saying. Assertiveness does not mean being insensitive to others when they stand up for their rights;
Assertive communication involves eye contact, non-intimidating body posture, appropriate gestures, a well-modulated voice and good timing. How you speak, when you speak and where you choose to speak are often more important than the words you use;
Deal with stressful situations by trying to reach a win-win resolution for all parties. Communicate directly, appropriately and honestly with the people involved;
An assertive person is open, polite, has good self-esteem and seeks to build other people's self-esteem; and
If you are a boss, lead by example: do not look for or avoid confrontation. "Occasionally assertiveness can seem hostile, but when it does, that hostility is usually warranted. But remember that, to people who still think that women are not equals, any woman who asserts her rights might be seen as aggressive."