It is Women’s Month and the term ‘women empowerment’ will likely be flung your way from billboards, TV ads and, of course, flood all of your social media accounts. Women empowerment evokes different responses from different people, some perceive it positively and others negatively, but regardless of which side of the fence you sit, the very existence of the term implies that women are or have been disempowered. With this in mind it is interesting and very refreshing to find that many female entrepreneurs in South Africa don’t feel in the least bit disempowered. But more about this later.
I could use the rest of this blog to go down the typical road of how gender discrimination restricts women in business or focus on how few female CEO’s there are in business in comparison to men, but I’m not going to. Not that the latter isn’t true, a recent study conducted by The News York Timesrevealed that there are more CEOs in the top 500 listed companies in America named John than there are female CEOs in total! While that sounds crazy and we clearly need more female corporate CEO’s, let’s rather look at what female entrepreneurs in SA feel about the issue of gender and building their business.
For female entrepreneurs the emphasis is on business not gender
When it comes to starting and building your own business, many female entrepreneurs, including myself, will tell you that they haven’t encountered different or more challenging obstacles than male entrepreneurs have. All aspiring business owners face huge challenges to build a business, many, male and female alike experience failure. It takes enormous courage, tenacity and doggered determination to succeed.
I’d like to share the thoughts, on this topic, of four top South African business women that you need to keep your eye on:
ICT guru, Videsha Proothveerajh is young, dynamic and has earned her stripes in the sector. She has worked for some of the biggest technology companies including Microsoft South Africa. In 2008, at the age of 30, she became the Country Manager for Intel.
In an interview with Forbes, Proothveerajh reiterates that success is dictated by hard work and going above and beyond the call of duty not your gender. Not denying that she has encountered challenges on her way to success in the ICT sector, she adds that it’s all about what you know and what your capabilities are. Proothveerajh believes that embracing the qualities of being a female business woman have assisted her in many aspects of business as well as changing perceptions about gender in the ICT sector.
Founder of the successful recruitment company Pro Appointments, Cindy Nortcott has excelled not only in her own business, but is also applying her skills to help coach other businesses and is a motivational speaker. Her book How to be Unstoppable and achieve more in Business and Lifeoffers simple and practical advice and lessons for entrepreneurs through her own experiences. Furthermore, she also heads up a non-profit organisation, the Robin Hood Foundation.
Norcott says she doesn’t believe that there is a major focus on gender in business. “I operate in the small business space and most business people, both men and women, are just going about doing business. Running a successful business is hard for anyone – regardless of their gender.”
Looking towards the future, Nortcott says her foundation is busy with a project to build a school in rural Zwelibomvu in KwaZulu-Natal, which we will start in September 2015. She is also working on an audio book to promote general happiness as she feels that many people live in a disconnected state.
3. Zama Phakathi
Zama Phakathi, the CEO of Splendid Marketing & Communications, is an award-winning female entrepreneur and has worn the hat of university lecturer and marketing & communications manager of the Durban Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
On the topic of women empowerment, Phakathi says she doesn’t think the gender issue remains a challenge for women in business. “I think the business society has acclimatised to women being independent thinkers and being capable of making the right moves and decisions in the boardroom and business environment. Once you’ve demonstrated your worth and capacity, you’re given due respect and acceptance.”
Phakathi has recently ventured into the infrastructure development sector with one of her business partners, Beyond Boundaries. They are a 100% black-owned female enterprise that operates in South Africa and is also fast penetrating Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
4. Matsi Modise
Another one of our top female entrepreneurs, Matsi Modise has her finger in many pies. She is the founding curator of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Soweto Hub and has also been theNational Executive Director of the South African Black Entrepreneurs Forum. Modise is currently the Managing Director of the SiMODiSA Association, an organisation that catalyses and amplifies the entrepreneurship ecosystem in South Africa. Their main focus is advocacy and policy review.
Modise agrees that there is still a heavy focus in promoting women in starting enterprises in South Africa. “The reason for this is that we are still a minority in the total early stage entrepreneurship activity (TEA) in our country.” In her opinion the general promotion of entrepreneurship development in South Africa must be further enhanced by the public, private and the relevant civil society organisations.
One of SiMODiSA’s current projects is the creation of a venture capital fund aimed at seeding the commercialisation and scaling of businesses in South Africa.