Invisible Barriers: Societal Norms Versus Female Workplace Progression


  • Dominique Nupen The IIE's Varsity College
  • Jayseema The IIE's Varsity College



Cultural and societal norms constantly assign different family and religious expectations to women as compared to men. Therefore, this research paper seeks to provide insight into the effects of prevalent cultural and societal norms on the progression of lower-level female managers. It examines the impact of these norms on the fulfilment of work-related duties and the resultant implications for the success of a female within their professional role. The research integrated qualitative and quantitative approaches and was carried out within the culturally diverse province of KwaZulu-Natal, in South Africa.  Primary data was gathered using a quantitative questionnaire distributed to thirty-five lower-level female managers, typically fulfilling an entry-level supervisory role, within two separate private organisations. The research was independent of race and age. The findings of the study indicate that respondents face societal and cultural norms that adversely affect progression. These include assumptions of weaker and more emotional management styles, lack of support in meeting family and work obligations, and gender biases impacting access to opportunities for progression. The findings also include women from many cultures by virtue of the diverse cultures within the KwaZulu-Natal region. This paper will therefore be of value to female managers from diverse backgrounds in developed and developing countries. Specifically, female managers encountering invisible barriers to breaking through the glass ceiling and progressing to higher levels of management due to their own cultural and societal norms will benefit from insights delivered. The findings will also be of value to mentors of aspiring female managers, male senior managers with female subordinates, and human resources departments. The research paper will commence with a literature review that examines the relevance of cultural and societal norms in the progression of female managers. The research methods and results of the study will then be described, and findings discussed. The paper will conclude with final insights and recommendations for further research.


Author Biography

Jayseema, The IIE's Varsity College

Jayseema Jagernath completed her undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Financial Management at the University of KwaZulu Natal. She had started her career in industry, before moving onto academia. Jayseema currently fulfils the role of Deputy Head of School of Management for Varsity College, a brand of the Independent Institute of Education (IIE). She is responsible for the academic management of Management qualifications across campuses. Jayseema shares a passion for gender equity.