Women and innovation

South African, African and global innovators showcase their exceptional talents at South African Innovation Summit

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Hot on the heels of Women’s Month (August), the SA Innovation Summit (SAIS) in September featured entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas, investors investing, creatives drawing inspiration from all around, businessmen and -women networking and delegates learning about the innovation potential of Africa.

Among the women who spoke at the event which took place at the Cape Town Stadium between September 12 and 14 were Xoliswa Daku, CEO and Founder of Daku Group of Companies, and Tanya van Lill, CEO of Southern African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (SAVCA).

Others who spoke included University of Cape Town Vice Chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, former First Lady and activist for the rights of women and children Graça Machel, Head of Public Policy at Uber South Africa Yolisa Kani, Executive Director at CSIR Biosciences Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, and founder of Intelligent Impact Aunnie Paton Power.

“These women have already achieved so much and their passion for the work they do is apparent. Despite working in male dominated environments they have succeeded in the highest echelons of the business world. They are well placed to help other women do the same,” said Audrey Verhaeghe, Chairperson of the SAIS.

Speaking about inclusivity of women in the workplace, van Lill says: “Globally only 13% of private equity investment professionals are women. In SAVCA’s latest survey of the private equity industry we found that we have a 20% representation of women in South Africa. We are ahead of the international average, but it is still a male-dominated industry.”

She shared her dismay at how often women abdicate wonderful speaking opportunities, passing them on to their male counterparts. Aware of the male-dominated space she works in, van Lill helps to practically empower female fund managers and professionals working in private equity through SAVCA events held exclusively for them.

Globally, only 12% of CEOs are women and that in South Africa this figure is even less.“We have to struggle against the long-established stereotypes about what women can do and what industries we can work in,” says van Lill.

The challenge for women in the workplace is not solely external, though. Both Daku and van Lill mention the self-inflicted pressure they have felt to be “perfect” in all spheres of life. “My work-life balance suffered a blow a few years ago because I wanted to achieve everything at the same time,” says Daku.

Van Lill chips in: “I have learnt that you just can’t be a top achiever at work and also make it to every single sports match your child plays; you can’t study an MBA and run with all the biggest projects at work. As women we need to be okay with not being excellent at everything all the time, and find a balance that works for us in the different stages of our lives.”

Daku and van Lill are living examples of hope for other women with great aspirations to make a difference and achieve success in their careers.

Daku is the winner of the Top Performing Entrepreneur prize at the 2017 National Business Awards and the 2018 Gauteng Business Achiever of the Year award. As CEO and Founder of property company Daku Group, she has a passion to “lift others up while you climb” and is mentoring 20 young business women, sharing from her wealth of experience.

According to Daku, the biggest challenge to women’s success is “believing in themselves. In most cases their self-esteem is very low, but it need not be so.”

Van Lill rose from working in a temporary position at a bank with no tertiary qualification to being headhunted for the position of CEO at SAVCA. She shares the same sentiments as Daku: “I think as women we are often our own worst critics, we criticise ourselves far more than we should and are more risk averse than men. We need to look at why this is the case and find solutions to these challenges.”

Her advice to young women looking to enter the business world is to accept every challenge that will take you beyond what you know you are capable of and help you to learn on the job. “I didn’t have the funds to study and only started studying after working for a few years, so I had to find ways to upskill myself. I just said ‘yes’ to every opportunity and learnt a lot,” she says.

Verhaeghe, who was awarded the Women in Leadership Award at the Women in Excellence Awards 2018, believes that women should find their own, authentic way to lead. “Emulating men will not bring balance or authenticity to the workplace. We need step up as women and bring powerful, uniquely feminine flavoured leadership to bear at work in issues such as work and life balance, better communication, better connectedness and better co-creation,” she concludes. 

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