Black African women who bring their #BlackGirlMagic and ubuntu management style to the South African workplace provide leadership that is more culturally relevant to transformed and diverse organisations and leads to better business performance.

Businesses that understand these women’s impact, and tailor their leadership development and mentorship programmes accordingly, can “capitalise on ubuntu-infused leadership and Black Girl Magic” to build an organisational culture geared to greater employee engagement, productivity, and profitability, says University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) lecturer Dr Phumzile Mmope.

In the 2020 Women’s Report, in association with the South African Board for People Practices (SABPP), released today (26 August), she says that while the concept of ubuntu is rooted in African traditional philosophy and #BlackGirlMagic is a modern-day movement stemming from social media, the two are linked by values of solidarity, unity, inclusion and a focus on relationships and collective well-being.

“When deployed by leaders these qualities can create more humane workplaces and engaged workforces,” she said.

In her article #BlackGirlMagic – does it have a place in the workplace? in the 10th anniversary edition of the report, themed The rise of the black woman: Celebrating black women’s excellence, Dr Mmope said that research on women and leadership in the African context was limited and that leadership training and development in South Africa remained mainly Eurocentric.

“But the concept of ubuntu-based management, specifically in the context of its application by black African women through #BlackGirlMagic, provides a foundation for leadership development that is more contextually and culturally relevant in transformed and diverse South African organisations.”

Dr Mmope said while increasing numbers of black African women were rising to leadership positions in business, they often had to adapt their behaviour to “the norms in organisations historically dominated by white male leadership” to assimilate and as a coping strategy against discrimination and stereotyping.

“More recently, however, there is a surge of professional black African women who are positively embracing their authentic self and influencing and reshaping organisational cultures with their practise of ubuntu values and their embracing of the #BlackGirlMagic movement that celebrates black women’s success and resilience and gives them a collective voice.”

“Black Girl Magic is an affirming phenomenon that resonates deeply and amplifies the traits that professional black women embrace when they practise leadership that is shaped by ubuntu values,” she said.

Professional black women who identify with the #BlackGirlMagic movement share their stories of success and encourage others, and attribute their leadership traits such as resilience, accomplishments and triumph over adversity to their #BlackGirlMagic.

“Black Girl Magic could be a powerful force in the South African workplace, because its power lies in uniting and establishing a collective voice among black African women leaders who are all striving for the same thing — to challenge the status quo and create humane workplaces.  In reality, black African women should be supported to reach their full potential through community, while they, simultaneously, protect each other from the world that often views them as ‘others’,” she said.

Studies on black African women leaders found that they employed ubuntu-style leadership and employee engagement, focusing on achieving goals through collaborative problem-solving and collective action, building unity and authentic relationships in the workplace, and seeing leadership positions as more about making a difference in the lives of others, including personal goals.[i]

Dr Mmope said that rekindling humanness, or the spirit of ubuntu, in the workplace could “perhaps be considered one of the most significant contributions of professional black African women to organisations to improve the effectiveness of leaders and thus enhance organisational performance”.

“The authentic relationships resulting from genuine ubuntu-infused leadership remind leaders that people are human beings, not just human ‘doings’ for the achievement of organisational goals. People want to experience a sense of community, a sense of belonging,” Dr Mmope said.

She said the value of understanding ubuntu from a practical management and leadership perspective – the ethical aspect and the notions of interconnectedness, being part of a collective, making decisions with a view to both individual and collective well-being – lay in the ability to develop organisations “where people enthusiastically align themselves with organisational goals without feeling the need to sacrifice their own individual goals”.

Similarly, the power of #BlackGirlMagic lies in uniting black women and giving them a collective voice, fostering a spirit of solidarity, and encouraging and inspiring others to persevere despite the odds.

“Leaders now practise these principles of ubuntu and Black Girl Magic connect employees, promote team spirit and enhance employees’ involvement in their work. Employees experience a sense of meaning, significance, inspiration and pride in their work, and that in turn translates into improved organisational performance,” Dr Mmope said.

Dr Mmope’s recommendations for organisations to capitalise on the power of #BlackGirlMagic include contextualised leadership development and mentorship programmes that foster a welcoming environment for professional black women to apply their ubuntu-driven leadership style and be their authentic selves rather than having to assume behaviours and identities to cope with discrimination.

Training and development opportunities should focus more on using existing studies on ubuntu as a management concept, to ensure that these programmes are culturally and contextually relevant in the South African business environment.

About the Women’s Report:

The 2020 Women’s Report focuses on the rise of the black woman: Celebrating black women’s excellence”. The report is compiled in association with the South African Board for People Practices (SABPP) and sponsored by the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). The Report is available to download from https://womensreport.africa/

[i] Ngunjiri, F.W. (2016).  “I am because we are”: Exploring women’s leadership under ubuntu worldview.  Advances in Developing Human Resources, 18(2) 223-242. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301275349_I_Am_Because_We_Are_Exploring_Womens_Leadership_Under_Ubuntu_Worldview

Press release by: Linda Christensen on 0846669972