The Annual Top Women Conference is Accelerating Africa’s Growth by Empowering Female Decision-Makers

(Left to right: Leanne Manas, South African Award winning Journalist and TV Presenter; Devi Sankaree Govender, Award-Winning Investigative Journalist and ​​Ille Potgieter, Managing Director, M&C SAATCHI ABEL)

Making a comeback for the seventh year, the biggest annual Standard Bank Top Women Conference gathered over 14 000 delegates to celebrate and empower African women in business. Under the theme ‘Rise Above the Noise’, the biggest virtual conference, hosted by Topco Media in partnership with Standard Bank, took place from 12 – 13 of October, topping social media charts for three days in a row.

Filled with progressive panel discussions, fireside chats and keynote addresses, the conference delved into topics affecting women such as Women and Finance: Enabling Women’s Economic Empowerment, The Role of Women in Social Cohesion and Peace-making, South Africa’s Secondary Pandemic: A Crisis of Gender-Based Violence and even Why Local Government Should Transform to enable Participation of Women in Leadership. Attendees had the pleasure of being addressed by influential women leaders such as the Honourable Speaker Lentheng Mekgwe, Gauteng Provincial Legislature, Miss SA 2022, Ndavi Nokeri, Former Miss SA and UN Ambassador, Zozibini Tunzi and even Senior VP of Business Development at Unstoppable Domains, USA & Former Vice President at Amazon Web Services Sandy Carter, to name a few.

(Left to right: Moderator: Shannon Esra, South African Actress; Zozibini Tunzi, Former Miss Universe, UN Women Ambassador; Terry Pheto, South African Actress)

Topco Media CEO, Ralf Fletcher said: “We believe that every organisation in the world should be gender empowered. We believe in diversity, equality, inclusion and sustainability. But most importantly, we are pro-progress. We create impact by identifying women-owned, gender-empowered companies and showcase their success stories to create networks of top women entrepreneurs.”

According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2022 by the World Economic Forum, Sub-Saharan Africa has the sixth-highest regional score and has bridged 68.7% of its gender gap1. This is in addition to the fact that women make up 58% of Africa’s self-employed population, however, they contribute only 13% of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 2 and 37% of the global GDP. It is for this reason that the conference was aimed at celebrating women in business and empowering them to continue being fearless.

The first panel discussion under the topic ‘Women and Finance: Enabling Women’s Economic Empowerment’ included Thandi Ngwane, Head of Investments, South Africa at Standard Bank and, Auditor-General of South Africa, Tsakani Maluleke. Commenting about the state of South Africa’s gender gap, Ngwane noted: “It will take 103 years to reach gender parity, things aren’t looking any better. Gender inequality remains high because gender parity is normally viewed through a single dimension. We’re either looking at it through an economic empowerment lens or an education lens, but we should be actually looking at it through a number of dimensions, and that’s the only way we can reach parity. We can take lessons from the World Economic Forum, which looks at four key dimensions when assessing the global gender gap: economic participation and opportunity, education, health and survival and political empowerment.”

A 2017 report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization showed that only 35% 3of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students in higher education, globally, are female. One solution to reducing the gender gap is reducing the gap in STEM education areas. By doing that, we help reduce the skills gap, increase employment and productivity of women and reduce occupational segregation4.  Elaborating more on the importance of breaking barriers for females and celebrating women in STEM, Global Executive Coach, Transformational Speaker and Master Facilitator Maiyo Febi led the conversation, together with Cipla South Africa’s Chief Digital Officer, Genevieve Mannel, Vice President: People, Yolande Chirwa and Vice President: Regulatory Affairs, Praba Thandrind.

Among the aspects highlighted was the need for more women to move up to the c-suite level and make a difference in the various organisations that they work in. However, a call was also made for the education department and society to shift their thinking when raising the girl child, and consider the introduction of robotics and not just dolls, and the positive language associated with girl children being strong and capable.

On the second day of the conference, Topco Media held an Empow(Her) Pitching Masterclass, to assist women in differentiating between a good idea and realising the ability to deliver the perfect pitch and position their business, and brand highlighting their unique selling proposition with the confidence and expertise that investors buy into. The Masterclass speakers included International Accredited Money Coach & Award-Winning International Bestselling Author, Busi Selesho, who focused on pitching for funding, and Verity Price, 2021 World Champion of Public Speaking, who focused on presenting with power. The audience was fully engaged throughout, and some were even brought on screen for the question-and-answer session where they were able to ask questions live. Masterclass participants are required to submit three-minute video pitches. From those, ten will be shortlisted to pitch in front of the judges. From the ten, five will be taken to the Standard Bank Top Women Awards live in Johannesburg on 10 November 2022, where one will be announced the winner and will walk away with a trophy and cash prize of R50 000.

Concluding, Chief Operating Officer, Standard Bank Group, Margaret Nienaber said: “We took the decision to partner with such a progressive platform because we understand the value that inclusivity and diversity have in an organisation’s future in relation to sustainability. This is why we have also taken the decision to nominate the first-ever female group chair, Nonkululeko Nyembezi. We look forward to uplifting even more women and ensuring that they are not excluded from economic activities of the country, to grow our GDP.”