Celebrating SA women in business as they take on male-dominated industries

DJ Zinhle. Picture: Instagram

DJ Zinhle. Picture: Instagram

Published Aug 7, 2022


Women’s Month presents an opportunity for all South Africans to pause and consider the strides that are being made towards gender equality in all spheres of society.

While we should have fewer male-dominated industries by now, it is important to celebrate the women who are thriving in industries that are traditionally “run” by men, with the view to motivate more women to get involved.

In celebration of female pioneers in business, this piece highlights three entrepreneurs who are challenging the status quo in their sectors and being recognised for their exceptional talents, skills and sheer determination.

Nneile Nkholise | Biotechnology entrepreneur

Nneile Nkholise is a biotechnology entrepreneur

The gender gap in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields in South Africa is well documented and has catalysed a number of state and private-sector level initiatives in an attempt to promote much-needed change and bring gender balance to the sector.

Introducing Nneile Nkholise. After completing her Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from Wits, she obtained her Master of Engineering degree specialising in Mechanical Engineering. That’s when her planned career trajectory took an interesting turn towards biotechnology.

In 2015, she co-founded iMED Tech, a company that designed and produced medical prostheses and bio-implants. Three years later she founded 3DIMO, a company that uses technology to manufacture intelligent tools used for livestock health and welfare management.

Nneile is one of the World Economic Forum’s top female innovators in Africa and in 2018, she earned her place on Forbes Africa’s 30 under 30 list of the brightest young entrepreneurial leaders.

Ntombezinhle Jiyane (DJ Zinhle) | Entertainment and luxury goods entrepreneur

Ntombezinhle Jiyane (DJ Zinhle) is an entertainment and luxury goods entrepreneur.

Several prominent female figures in the South African music industry are speaking up about the harsh realities that face women trying to break into the world of entertainment, including the lack of recognition of female composers and the gender pay gap that exists within royalty earnings. Female pioneers like Ntombezinhle Jiyane, more commonly known as DJ Zinhle, are turning the tide against this unfortunate reality.

While you may not know her full name, you will most likely be familiar with hits like “Umlilo” – a 2019 hip-hop single that was streamed over five million times in just three months. One year later, DJ Zinhle was awarded the Forbes Woman Africa Entertainer Award.

She is a multi-faceted creative known for her talents as a DJ and producer.

Over the years, however, she has shown South Africa and the world that she her talents expand far beyond the music industry.

Today, she is the founder and owner of Era – a brand launched in 2012, that designs and manufactures watches, jewellery, accessories and sunglasses. She is also the first South African artist to obtain equity in the ubiquitous Boulevard Nectar Rosè brand, which produces sparkling wine.

While DJ Zinhle’s career may seem all glitz and glamour, behind the scenes, she works tirelessly to pioneer her way through uncharted territory, radically challenging the status quo and proving that grit, perseverance and hard work can get you anywhere.

Celeste Le Roux | Construction and trade education entrepreneur

Celeste Le Roux is a construction and trade education entrepreneur.

Only a small portion of South African women work in the construction and civil engineering industry, with even fewer holding leadership roles in the sector. While we are a long way from realising gender equality in the sector, entrepreneurs like Celeste Le Roux are slowly but surely moving the industry forward as radical agents for change.

Celeste stands out as one of South Africa’s most ground-breaking entrepreneurs – both literally and figuratively – and someone who is opening doors for other South African women who are looking to enter the construction sector.

Her company, the React Group, provides a comprehensive suite of services in the built environment space, including plumbing, water extraction, waterproofing and roofing. React24, the first company in the group, was conceptualised around a kitchen table with a mission to drive transformation in the sector and build a company that encompassed all trades under one business banner.

In 2020, Celeste launched The React Training College, the country’s first black woman-owned CETA Accredited institution offering training in a range of artisanal disciplines. For her phenomenal work as a businessperson and mentor, Celeste was awarded the Top Entrepreneur Award at the 2020 Standard Bank Top Women Awards.

Ben Bierman is the managing director at Business Partners.