Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Sister Are You out of Place on Top?: Indigenous Perspectives on Women in Top-Management from New Zealand and South Africa

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posted on 2021-11-15, 05:16 authored by Ndaba, Zanele Theodorah

This thesis examines the interactions between issues of race and gender as they affect top-management positions. Specifically, it asks how these issues affect access to top jobs and experiences in those positions for ethnic „minority‟ women. In response to this question, I conducted empirical research with Māori and Black indigenous women in two former British settler States, New Zealand and the Republic of South Africa. I investigated issues, lessons and strategies for indigenous women entering top-management roles. I investigated the experiences and perceptions of these women within their own historical and political contexts to interpret my findings.

I drew on the management literature which theorises issues of race and gender for women in top-management positions. In the broad context of theorising the interactions of race and gender in top-management, I focused in particular on studies which developed the metaphor of the „concrete ceiling‟ to explore the issues facing ethnic „minority‟ women trying to reach top-management roles and to succeed in them. To carry out this research in a way that was culturally appropriate, I developed a combination of methodologies, which drew on Māori and African cultural protocols, as well as western paradigms. I explored the experiences of 15 Māori women (10 in the public sector and 5 in the private sector) in New Zealand, and 12 Black women in the private sector in South Africa through qualitative interviews.

My findings added new perspectives to the „concrete-ceiling‟ literature, while also confirming some familiar themes. The „concrete-ceiling‟ theory focuses on barriers to accessing top positions, but, by contrast, the women in my study were actively recruited. In my findings I discuss how my participants used strategies, such as mentoring, which are familiar in the literature, from new perspectives based on their cultural and political backgrounds. The lives of the women I interviewed were part of a historical and political moment of change in both countries, where political struggles led to new opportunities for indigenous women. These changes included the post-apartheid Broad-Based Economic Programmes (BEE) in South Africa and the ratification of the Treaty of Waitangi as well as Government sponsored Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) programmes in New Zealand. The effects of these policies were that my participants were „head-hunted‟ in South Africa and „shoulder-tapped‟ in New Zealand without actively seeking new roles. My participants entered their initial top-management roles through these initiatives and they believed that they were perceived as tokens by their organisations, upon initial entry. They encountered familiar „concrete-ceiling‟ challenges based on negative stereotyping in terms of „racialised-gender‟. But in most cases my participants were able to go beyond token positions to become genuinely influential as top managers.

My project contributes primarily to studies focusing on ethnic „minority‟ women in top-management. The existing literature is based mainly on studies conducted in the United States of America and Europe. These studies therefore embed historical and political contexts of issues such as slavery and migration, present in these countries. In contrast, by studying indigenous women in Settler States, my project provides different perspectives and also highlights the importance of local context for any such research.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Victoria Management School


Jones, Deborah; Bridgman, Todd