by MarkLives (@marklives) Hear Her Voice SSA, a newly released research report by iProspect, sheds light on the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs within emerging markets in Africa. Hear Her Voice is the research aspect of Female Foundry, an initiative developed by iProspect and powered by Dentsu Aegis Network to drive diversity and inclusion in business. Here is an extract from the African report’s introduction.

Dawn Rowlands

Dawn RowlandsDawn Rowlands (@dawnrow) is the CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network Sub-Saharan Africa, which has owned offices in South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and has affiliate partnerships in another 32 markets across sub-Saharan Africa.

by Dawn Rowlands (@dawnrow) I am so fortunate to have had the support of my father growing up. He left an incredible mark on my attitude to life as a woman. The majority of women do not, and will not, receive this support from their families and friends. I believe that I am here to take what my father taught me and pay it forward. My parents, whilst supportive, made me finance my studies. They just could not afford it and I had a job at Spur, calling on and off burgers. My studies completed, I started my career, like most young rebellious women, in a field of my own choice. I believe having the opportunity to choose is critical for career success.

How did I choose?

How did I choose advertising and media? I scanned the Sunday Times and career sites religiously. I read the job descriptions, the skills required and the remuneration packages on offer. I liked the commercial and creative combination that this industry could offer me — it was forward thinking, innovative and brave. I fell in love. I was teased a great deal by my family in the beginning, “Hmm, sounds like fun but when are you going to get a real career?” After I sold my shares in my first company at 28, they stopped teasing me.

To be perfectly honest, I have never seen my gender as a disadvantage. I always looked past the fact that men overlooked me at first. All the bosses were men; that was just how it was. As soon as I thoroughly proved myself, it was difficult to ignore my achievements. Good men and women supported me because I would deliver. I did, however, get a great deal of negative feedback from other young women. “You are too ambitious.” “Oh, it is easy for you; you are pretty.”

Did they believe I was sleeping my way to the top? Or that my achievements were based on limited effort? I removed myself from the lives of these negative people and surrounded myself with people who inspired, motivated and supported me. I sought them out, invested in the relationships and over-delivered at every opportunity. So what if it was easier for men?

So damn what!

So damn what! It just made my victories all the more satisfying. Over time I forgot about the limitations and saw the potential. “It is all about power,” a very wise woman once told me.

Many women hand their power over to their fathers, husbands, boyfriends, bosses and their so-called friends. They hand the responsibility of their own happiness over to others so easily, needlessly. Along with this responsibility goes their ability to create a balanced life filled with self-respect. Sometimes it is just easier to complain.

In Africa there are so many women who have not had access to people who can nurture and mentor them. My heart goes out to them. My son asked me a few years ago, “Mom, the world is so messed up. Why do people suffer? How can you stand to watch it happen?”

More needs to be done

Besides congratulating myself for bringing up an amazing young man, it stopped me in my tracks. I realised encouraging other women, being honest about the hard work and dedication required for success, and setting a good example were not enough. More needs to be done.

See also


Hear Her Voice SSA coverHear Her Voice SSA takes an in-depth look at how women in sub-Saharan Africa are leveraging technological advancements to enhance their businesses. It was conducted in Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria and South Africa to further understand female entrepreneurship across the region. The primary approach consisted of a qualitative convenience sampling method over a one-month period, where 2 903 female respondents from multiple sectors (finance, banking, media, FMCG, etc) were interviewed via online business radio station The research discovered that the overarching motivational driver for female entrepreneurs to start their own businesses is born out of necessity, not opportunity. In this paper, the key findings are unpacked extensively regarding the lack of mentorship, shortage of personal and business skills, and deficit of networking and business expansion opportunities among female entrepreneurs across SSA. Download the full report here (registration required).

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