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empowering africa: women who are rising and inspiring us all

Empowering Africa: The Women Who Are Rising and Inspiring Us All

Khalipha Ntloko

Aug 5, 2020

  • 29%
    The percentage of women who hold Senior positions in Africa.
  • 7%
    The percentage of female Executive Directors with Board positions in Africa.
  • 5%
    The number of female CEOs in Africa.
  • 63%
    However, companies with women in senior positions deliver 63% higher returns than those without.

To drive change through technology and innovation, we cannot just have 50% of the world focused on it. 

At Meltwater Africa, we are proud to boast a 50 / 50 split between men and women across the management layer, with the overall operations being made up of 65% women. As an organisation, we are fully committed to the advancement of women in business and we remain optimistic that it won’t be long until all other companies in Africa can say the same.

When a woman is empowered it changes absolutely everything in the community,” Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle stated recently during her royal tour to Southern Africa. But, with a recent, growing societal movement towards women empowerment, we need to ensure that the few women who have made it to the top aren’t the only ones, but that every other women has the opportunity to make it, too.

And so, we sat down with a couple of high-power, successful, inspiring women in Marketing and Communications across the African continent, and asked them about their career growth and success, the state of women representation in their industry and what they predict the future will hold in technology, marketing and innovation in Africa.

A common thread was the importance of “rising by lifting others” – each interviewee credited powerful mentors for their success, and stated how passionate they are about mentoring, inspiring and empowering other young women in their fields to reach the top.

As you read this article, begin to see the tapestry that validates that hard work and big dreams matter, and that the next generation of fierce females have advice that will help them go beyond the barriers that these women have boldly broken.

Nontokozo Madonsela: Refusing to Apologise For Her Success

The “#NoApologyForMySuccess” Campaign in August 2019 proved to be effective as women across South Africa shared their success stories, inspired by this campaign that went viral. The idea for the campaign stemmed from the personal experience of Nontokozo Madonsela, Momentum’s Group Chief Marketing Officer. She realised that women who had done well in business, generally underrated their success. She set out to change this attitude and the impact was immense.

An undeniable problem-solver with a curiosity to challenge conventional thinking, Nontokozo has been at the forefront of transforming big brands with marketing campaigns. She was personally responsible for creating and driving marketing campaigns such as the Standard Bank “What’s Your Next?”, the change of brand name from MMI to Momentum Metropolitan Holdings, and the “Womentum” Campaign for South Africa’s Women’s Day in August.

Nontozoko is a woman who not only makes no apologies for the successes she has worked hard for, but she also truly knows how to own them too. 

empowering africa: women who are rising and inspiring us all

Rayhana Erasmus: Always Up For a Challenge

Rayhana Erasmus – a visionary and strategic thinker – heads up marketing for Africa’s largest private equity infrastructure investment house, African Infrastructure Investment Managers (AIIM). Marketing comes naturally for this marketing maven, who finds herself drawn to the industry because of how it encompasses her personality, creativity and innate ability to solve problems.

Rayhana knows how to build and grow multiple brands, including the likes of AIIM and now, Old Mutual Alternative Investments. If there is one thing you should know about Rayhana, it’s that if you throw her in the deep end, she will find a way to rise – “and then some.”

empowering africa: women who are rising and inspiring us all

Fathima Beckmann: Big Heart, Big Dreams

Having been in the industry for over 20 years, current Communications Director for Viacom International Media Networks Africa, Fathima Beckmann has established herself as a global thought leader within Communications across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

With a heart for creating mentorship and finding ways to give back to women who are coming into the industry, Fathima has a passion for understanding the need to create and facilitate a process of including more women in, especially, the tech industry.  She knows how crucial women and children development is, and works closely with UNICEF to help host mentorship programs like International Day of the Girl Child.

empowering africa: women who are rising and inspiring us all

Stephanie Stoneham: Breaking Boundaries and Smashing Glass Ceilings Comes Naturally

Stephanie Stoneham personifies a passionately paramount woman who currently heads the Marketing department for Stanbic Bank in Botswana. Her career cycle includes achieving success working at Saatchi & Saatchi and BancABC. 

Coming from a big family, Stephanie’s love for people have brought her to an industry where she not only draws inspiration from the very people that she is inspired by but knows how to draw parallels with her personal life and work life. As a forward thinker, Stephanie is already looking to 2020 with aspirations of personal development and understanding the way that technology is impacting the customer experience within the Marketing industry. 

empowering africa: women who are rising and inspiring us all

The Power of Mentorship

Storytelling is naturally embedded in us as. We learn from stories and as marketers, we use this in our strategies to help businesses and brands become more authentic and relatable to their audiences. But there is a beauty about hearing the stories of these women and how they came to be who they are in their Marketing careers.

Mentorship manifested as a clear story arch for each of these women, with each one sharing how being mentored by someone set them on the course they find themselves on today. “I see myself as a facilitator of change,” says Rayhana, who reflected on how she flourished in an environment that enabled her to operate freely while having mentors that helped her think entrepreneurially. This was an environment where learning was encouraged and her employers wanted to nurture her leadership. From there, Rayhana saw the value in knowledge, and how it could take you from being ignorant to being empowered. The age old saying “Knowledge is power” is exactly what Rayhana has achieved with self-empowerment.  

Fathima speaks with a gentle appreciation for the male mentors she had during her career, but also understands the value of having women as mentors too. “It’s a different narrative to the mentees,” Fathima says, echoing how this dual dynamic to mentorship provides a holistic experience to mentorship. But this isn’t a competition of having more female mentors than male, or vice versa. There is value in having both, something that Fathima recognises and appreciates. And so does Nontokozo. “Isn’t not about being anti-men. We are simply, for women.”

Sipping coffee like a casual catch up, Nontokozo continued her story of her career path in Marketing, recounting how she was recruited by British American Tobacco. It was here where she learned about experiential learning. “This is where I learned how to be stretched,” she shared, describing how she now sees marketing as a simple formula: Solving a Problem + Being Emotional + Understanding People.

I see Marketing as problem-solving, and I’m clear that my role in Marketing is to solve problems, ask questions and disrupt thinking to shape ideas. Because generations need to find a way of accepting that the future is digital. – Nontokozo Madonsela

People, and the growth and development of people, was at the heart of this topic for these women. Mentorship is the guided movement of going from one point of your life to another, and Stephanie expressed her sense of gratitude to the women who had mentored her. “It has been women rallying and supporting me,” she warmly echoed during her interview, and it’s her words that defy the common narrative that women don’t want to help each other succeed. We do, and we will. It is only a matter of creating these opportunities for more women to be led by women.

Opening the Door for More Women

Nontozoko exudes an energy that you can’t help but be captivated by. Throughout the interview, she’s friendly, lively and emanating a warmth that you feel will reignite career passions within yourself as you listen to her own career journey.

We have seen the stats – more women get into higher education institutions and job streams than men, and women generally outperform men. Yet few women actually find themselves in senior, executive positions within these spaces, particularly in South Africa. So what could we, as a nation, do to challenge this?

empowering africa: women who are rising and inspiring us all

“Women must sell themselves,” was a point that Nontozoko raised. Moving up the corporate ladder is often a tough and lonely journey for women in South Africa. According to research by the Sirdar Group in 2018, only 21.8% of South African boards have a female director. While a number like this may sound disheartening, it certainly shouldn’t stop us from going into the spaces that we are called into.

“Sometimes, there will be resistance to this,” Nontokozo continued as she spoke about the challenges women face when wanting to advance themselves in their careers. And while some current narratives emphasise how women need to empower themselves, Rayhana posed a question directed more to men: “How do you, as a man, empower and create the change?” It was a question that lingered languidly in the air for a moment. Rayhana affectionately refers to herself as a “facilitator of change” and urges both men and women to do the same. 

We need to create platforms where women, across industries, can come together to learn from each other and talk honestly about the challenges we face. – Fathima Beckmann

Coming from Botswana, Stephanie enlightened us on the level of maturity the country has. It is one of the few African countries with a stable democracy, a high adult literacy rate and a nation rich with resources. She said it is also country where the number of women who are succeeding in the workplace is increasing. “But we still need more women in industries that have been traditionally male-dominated, like technology, and finance. This will help us balance the scales.”

We not only need more women in these industries across Africa – more importantly, we need them to succeed. And how this is accomplished is through constant and consistent collaboration.

You Either Sink, Swim or be the Captain

empowering africa: women who are rising and inspiring us all

“I remember being seconded to the office of Litha Nyhonyha, the Chairman of Regimans. He is my second, and most influential, mentor,” Rayhana recollects as she reflected on the individuals who guided her in her life. You can see the shift in her eyes, a fondness that takes over as she shares the pivotal part Litha played. “When I sat in front of him, he asked me if I was ready for the challenge that his demanding office was. And I told him that I would exceed his expectations – and then some!”

While women still face gender disparities at work, there are other common challenges that women encounter – from striking a balance between work and family to feeling the need to tone down their success in boardroom scenarios, how can women be more empowered and given the platform to grow into leadership roles?

empowering africa: women who are rising and inspiring us all

“Firstly, women need to help each other,” Nontozoko answered. It’s true – we need more women at the top of corporations and businesses in South Africa, and Nontokozo calls on men to not just take a chance on us but to focus on inclusion, especially in the diverse thinking that women have to offer. “Women need to put their hands up,” Stephanie echoed, and you can almost feel the need to physically raise your hand as we sat with her in the boardroom during her interview. Doing so felt like an empowering expression of doing exactly that – owning the boardroom.

Botswana, for me, has given me all the tools I’ve acquired in my personal capacity to raise my hand and level the playing field. – Stephanie Stoneham

Rayhana spoke passionately about this burning issue. “There’s not enough women rising to the top in the Finance industry,” she shared, highlighting that we, as women, should not compete with one another. “Let’s transfer skills to one another,” was her challenge, along with her call for men to accept the undeniable fact that women will rise – no matter the pace – and those in leadership should do what is necessary to empower these women.

Tip: Learn more about financial services marketing trends in South Africa

There is Even More to Me Than Business

The women we interviewed are, without a doubt, powerhouses in Marketing. They are breaking borders and barriers across Africa while still maintaining their own identities outside of the boardroom. Because at the end of the day, even Superwoman hangs up her high heels and cape to call it a day. 

empowering africa: women who are rising and inspiring us all

“So, I’m 41.” This is how Nontokozo began her introduction. And she owned it unashamedly. As the room reverberated with her laughter, those three simple words paved a path for us to learn more about Nontokozo outside of being Momentum’s Group CMO. She’s proud to be a mother of two boys, and craves cuddles on Sundays, much like how the rest of Twitter does. But you can tell how comfortable and content Nontokozo is with herself and the woman she has become.

Much like how Stephanie has a passion for connecting people, so does Nontokozo, who loves to do this by hosting dinners in her home. And while you can find her indulging her inner Nigella Lawson for those close to her at home, she also values the time she takes to discover new wines and interesting places, like Cape Town’s very own Bombay Bicycle Club. 

I love to read! And study! I keep saying to myself ‘After this, it’s the last one! But it never really ends. I’m starting a leadership course, because ultimately, the world opens up to you when you have knowledge. – Rayhana Erasmus

With the utmost pride, Stephanie also indulged us on her love for running with us, particularly half marathons. She’s found a way to combine her love for people and running, and has even co-founded a running club that, today, has 60 people as members. But when she isn’t getting gold in the office or delivering keynotes, Stephanie fuses her love for unofficial mentorship and making an impact in people’s lives through coffee catch ups with aspiring marketers. It’s in creating these informal moments for young women to be themselves where Stephanie truly enjoys the help that she can provide.   

Fathima took us back to her part of her childhood that unlocked her love for literature. “I found that reading took me into incredible worlds and discoveries, and it was fascinating for me.” Books and learning – even Rayhana echoed how she empowered herself like this is a part of her passion. It isn’t all contracts and strategy meetings for these women. Their passion outside of the workplace only emphasise the greatness and well-roundedness of who these women are.

What Moves Me?

Marketers know how powerful, or pointless, hashtags can be in marketing strategies. Inspiration can strike from anywhere. For Nontokozo, “#NoApologyForMySuccess” stems from her own personal experience, an experience that perhaps many more women in Africa face. “Women apologize too much,” Nontozoko began, as she unpacked the process of coming up with the successful “Womentum” campaign.

But her passion for creativity and strategic thinking led her to start asking the question of “What’s that got to do with us [Momentum]? How can we connect this question to our proposition of connecting this to success?” What an important question to ask because it speaks to the very heart of Marketing – solving a problem. Any brand can ask themselves what does this particular experience have to do with us, but as soon as you can start connecting dots that begin to solve problems, you are doing Marketing.

Tip: Check out the most trending hashtags in South Africa.

empowering africa: women who are rising and inspiring us all

Perhaps Marketing may not be your particular career path, but there is something within yourself that you love. Find what moves you, and when you do, move passionately.

“As a woman, you also got to understand what fuels you. So whether that’s gym, or business, or cooking. Whatever it may be, do those things! You’ve got to go out there and do those things because that’s your creative soul food,” Fathima advised. Much like how all of these women have identities outside of their work in Marketing or Communications, these identities have various passions and hobbies that should be fed and worked on so that you become a multidimensional yet holistic woman.

I promise you, it takes a village. Our success is not in individual success. Our success is because of the people around us. – Fathima Beckmann

Rayhana was fueled by her answer to her previous mentor, Litha: “I will exceed your expectations, and then some!” And it is this answer that we hope sparks something within you.

These women – powerhouses in their own right yet connected through similar experiences of working hard to rise to the top of their careers – have imparted wise words of wisdom that serve not merely as advice but as little matches that we hope you will add fire in lighting your career paths. Women are natural leaders; our interviews with some of the Top Women in Marketing in Africa have proven so.

And we hope that wherever you are in your career, this article gives you enough fuel to face your challenges at work, and exceed expectations – and then some!