The topic of millennials is ‘popular’…to put it mildly, but there is a subset of this much talked about group, a fierce legion of rising stars who are increasingly taking centre stage in fashion, music, film, politics, business and popular culture, who deserve a special shout out. While the boys have stolen most of the show for the past few years when it comes to talking about what’s coming out of Africa, the spotlight is finally beginning to shift with millennial women standing up and making sure their voices are heard in no uncertain terms.
It’s no secret that young African women are finally getting their moment in the spotlight. Perhaps this is due to the rise, acceptance and ultimate mainstream fame of thought leaders like Lupita Nyong’o, (award winning Kenyan actress) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Novelist and activist)? Perhaps it’s due to social media and global connectivity making the world feel smaller by the day that is allowing more people to have a platform and a voice? Most likely it’s a combination of external factors, inspiring role models to channel individual will and determination that is catapulting young African women onto the proverbial front pages of the world. One thing is sure – the world is taking notice, and this is why…
Burning Stereotypes to the Ground
The image of an African housewife washing clothes and spreading margarine on toast every morning is a stereotype that is quickly being burned to the ground. Gen Y African women are proving themselves in technology, business, politics, film and more. Currently Africa has the highest rate of female entrepreneurs across the world, launching enterprises in multiple sectors. The stereotype of men being the breadwinners continues to dwindle as women break into new sectors and create jobs for others as well.
“When it comes to the female millennial, we really are talking about a new era of talent. Female millennials are more highly educated and are entering the workforce in larger numbers than any of their previous generations. But this is not the only thing that has changed. They also enter the workforce with a different career mindset.” -Nana Madikane, PwC Diversity & Inclusion Leader for South Africa,
Refusing to be tied down
With that, we are starting to see that working wirelessly, embracing more of a nomadic lifestyle and opting for alternative positions in business – including building their own – are becoming increasingly popular avenues to success. African millennials do not differ from those abroad when it comes to relying on the online world whilst not wanting to be tied down. More than 30% of millennials in Africa view work/life flexibility as essential to being engaged at work, according to a recent study by the IBM Institute of Business Values. 
Louisa Kinoshi was recently named one of Forbes’ women to watch. Having launched Beauty Rev NG when she became frustrated with the lack of African Makeup artists and models, Kinoshi now makes it easier for women to access local and international brands through e-commerce.
Louisa Kinoshi’s Beauty Rev NG focuses on Ethernet and the increasing connectedness of her consumers
Staying true to their roots
A noticeable theme with successful African Gen Y women is their capitalisation and apparent pride of cultures and backgrounds. Whether it’s tapping into traditional design elements, telling stories of their childhoods and communities or finding ways to give back, that sense of who they are is not lost. Swazi-born entrepreneur Ntombenhle Khathwane, 32, is the founder of AfroBotanics, a Johannesburg-based company that manufactures premium haircare products using African botanical oils and other natural products for hair care. Reliance on African ingredients and catering to African hair has set her aside from the competition and kept her offering aligned with her consumers’ needs.
Giving Back Remains Paramount
Following that sentiment, a really wonderful, common theme that we see with millennial entrepreneurs and trend-setters is their commitment to social change and economic reform by extending a helping hand. She Leads Africa is a great example. Founded by management consultants Yasmin Belo-Osagie and Afua Osei, She Leads Africa was created due to the frustrations with the lack of attention given to female entrepreneurs. She Leads Africa now focuses on female entrepreneurs who pitch their businesses to business leaders and can win money, media attention and mentorship to help them achieve their goals.
The recognition of women in Africa is only growing and it’s something as marketers we must continue to watch. Just this week the BBC released a video on social media championing women on the continent and recognising some of the struggles and pressures they have to endure. “I admire African women,” Angelina Jolie Pitt stated. “I think your voices must be heard stronger”. We hope to see continued recognition of women who are killing it in the fashion world or stealing centre stage on Broadway, but also hearing the voices of those who don’t have the same soap box. What we know with certainty is that African women are on the rise, are making their mark and at this point can’t and won’t be stopped.
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By Clarissa Hillen, Senior Consultant