Claudette Saygran: The Woman and Her Work 


Our chat with Claudette Saygran – The Da Vinci Institute Master’s degree alumnus  

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A trending topic both locally and abroad, within and outside corporate structures, relates to gender equality and the empowerment of women. Gender parity is fundamental to growing economies and creating business competitiveness. There is a strong sense, however, that the pace to accelerate gender equality is slow-moving. This area of interest has been a key research domain for Da Vinci Master’s alumnus Claudette Saygran, who used her razor-sharp intellect and experience in the banking sector to explore the low representation of women in senior management positions in the banking sector.  

The title of her research is: Barriers to the career progression of women into senior leadership positions within a selected South African Bank. This study, as its title suggests and along with Claudette’s elucidation, explores the challenges that impact the career progression of women who specifically have a focus on advancing from middle management to senior management in the banking sector. Claudette admits that in her personal experience, “it was far easier for me to navigate from junior management to middle management. However, getting into senior management [seems] far more challenging.” This reality propelled her curiosity and need to explore, through others’ lived experiences, the reasons behind these challenges. Claudette notes a steady increase in the number of women getting employed, both in the middle and lower management spheres – and yet, “there is still an under-representation of women in higher levels of management”, she states. Accordingly, Claudette advances her aim to identify and explore the key factors that impede (or influence) career progression for women, as “the research draws from the lived experiences of women in middle management and senior management”. Following a thorough process of literature review, questionnaire survey, and semi-structured interviews for conclusive data collection, the key themes linked to career barriers emerged. Claudette mentions, “self-concept, gender stereotyping, bias, lack of role models, as well as societal, culture and religious expectations” as hindrances to the progression of women. Highlighting those as, “simple yet fundamental concepts”. 

Claudette also notes the challenges that women experience in middle management, and that the challenges are comparable to those of their female counterparts at the senior management level. A noticeable yet “fundamental difference between middle management and senior management is their perception of their own ability to overcome these challenges. Moreover, senior management displayed higher levels of confidence as opposed to middle management. The perspectives of the women at an executive level confirmed the challenges highlighted by women in middle management and senior management. Furthermore, the women in executive management confirmed that some of these challenges still exist even at the highest level”, says Claudette. 

Claudette explains that “by gaining an understanding of the challenges women face in their careers and interpreting the behaviour, experiences, and perception of women in middle management and senior management positions, an underlying contributor … was identified to be related to societal expectations of women, as well as religious and cultural lessons on traditional gender roles … A fundamental contribution to gender biases is our upbringing since birth associations regarding gender are reinforced into the individual. This continues throughout life as these messages lay the foundation for unconscious gender bias that could shape the decisions which impact the career development of women.” Claudette proposes that “through child-rearing, we can shape and mould the next generation of the workforce with no biases – to eliminate gender stereotyping. Society, culture, and religion need to support this notion.”  

For her intrepid rigour in this study, Claudette credits persistence as one of her attributes, against the backdrop of the occasional daunting odds of doing thorough industry-related research. She is as motivated and driven to succeed as it gets, and further confesses to having a disciplined nature, with a willingness to work hard. All this, she says, can only come from having clear goals and, in the process, celebrating goals attained. 

Claudette’s personal journey feeds into the narrative of an inspiring alumnus. When she first embarked on this academic journey, Claudette admits to having “had no idea about the intensity of the journey, but nonetheless, the learning outcomes and skills acquired are useful and remarkable. There is no doubt it was the most challenging journey that I have so far embarked on … This journey has truly proved that I am capable of more than I can possibly imagine.” Moreover, Claudette credits her academic passage for having “transformed all aspects of my life, both professionally and personally. Two of the greatest learnings for me are, there is no problem that cannot be solved, and remaining calm is a superpower. Systems thinking is also one of the skills that I gained through this journey at The Da Vinci Institute. Lastly, as a consequence, solving complex problems in the workplace has yielded valuable results.” 

What is crystal clear is the fact that having been emboldened by her hard work and research study, Claudette casts a realistic portrayal of a capable and inspiring captain of her industry. In addition to her studies, she became more agile by finding a balance between “a stressful job and working through the Master’s degree programme,” both of which, she says, have summarily made her a more resilient figure than she ever was before. Claudette also credits the immense influence her observations and banking experiences impressed upon her, having brought her close to this academic quest.  

When asked about her future endeavours, Claudette states that she will “most definitely be embarking on the PhD journey. I am passionate about learning, imparting knowledge, and upskilling people. I am keen to explore personal coaching with a focus on career coaching as a short-term goal. Realising that most people spend about a third of their lives at work, that alone should stress the importance of being happy with one’s career. One of my long-term goals includes pursuing an academic career.” 

Claudette says to other students embarking on this journey,

“post-grad research can be a testing quest; however, with hard work, determination, and a drive to succeed, it is possible. More importantly, the value gained from this journey outweighs the effort put in. In other words, you get out of it what you put into it.” 

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Claudette Saygran has contributed to the important topic of gender parity in the workplace, doing so in her own remarkable style. The Da Vinci Institute looks forward to co-creating realities alongside her, as an alumnus and future Doctoral candidate.