What You Need to Know About Being a Woman in Business 2021

11 Women in Business share their insights into understanding your strengths, leading for change & living a resilient life.
What You Need to Know About Being a Woman in Business 2021
Kyla Göbel

Why is it that in 2021 we’re still struggling with the concept that not only can a woman run a business, but that she can own one and be successful?

August is known for Women’s equality day and is celebrated on the 9th of August in South Africa and on 26th of August in USA. These days are commemorated to remind us of the violence and discrimination that have been overcome through the heroic women’s movement of the 1950s and beyond.

But, how far have we come in the business world?

The pandemic has caused a lot of setbacks for everyone — more so than ever for women.

Since the start of the pandemic 400,000 more women than men had to leave the workforce.

Has this changed in 2021? No.

275,000 women left the labour force in January 2021, which means nearly 80% of all employees over 20 years old left the workforce that month.

Since the onset of the pandemic in February 2020, more than 2.3 million women have left the labour force, compared to only 1.8 million men who left in the same timeframe.

Photo taken by Ellen Feldman

Let’s look at the Positive

Many women have been thriving and helping other women succeed in the business world! Woman-led companies have seen great growth in the last couple of decades. In the US alone, women-owned businesses generate about $1.8 trillion per year.

62% of women entrepreneurs say that their business is their primary source of income.

We’re supporting Women-Owned Businesses by offering Hi5 at a 50% discount for 1 year with unlimited users. Learn more here.

We reached out to 11 influential women in small, medium and large businesses and asked them what advice they’d like to share with other women in the business world. Here’s what they had to say 👇

1. Sue Morris, Founder at METAVIEW

Sue is a businessperson, a coach, and a collector of insights about human behaviour. In her coaching and consulting practice she empowers you to create psychologically safe spaces that ignite high performance. She started METAVIEW with the vision to make workplaces more human and more joyful. She writes and speaks about how businesses can transition from a machine-age paradigm of work and unleash the potential we all possess.

My advice for women in business

  1. Understand your strengths (not just your capabilities)
  2. Use these to construct your life to fulfil a purpose that is meaningful to you
  3. Engage in a meditative practise so that you can become aware of your thoughts and create emotional agility
  4. Make gratitude a habit
  5. Learn to ask for help: from your team, mentors or a coach
Be inspired to be the kind of leader you can be proud of.

2. Maya Liepaz, Head of Growth-Marketing and Brand at Truevo Payments

Maya is Head of Growth-Marketing and Brand at Truevo Payments. This is the third fintech company she has been involved in and the fifth startup (one was her own). Building exceptional teams is her forte when she isn’t building compelling strategy and innovating. She comes from a rather diverse background — she has run an extreme water sports centre, been to the army, and even owned a bar. She comes from a graphic design background — design thinking is in her veins.

The advice I would love to share

Female empowerment. Hmmm. Are you sure you want that? I grew up in an environment where men and women were pretty much each other’s equals.

When my career started, I always chose a seat at the big table, because I didn’t “know my place” — it never occurred to me to view life as a woman.

Then, in my early 30s, I was recommended to read “Lean In” and noticed the differences for the first time. Oh, Sheryl! I wish I could unread your book.

Suddenly I noticed women denigrating themselves to the b-seats, becoming evidence of a partially self-fulfilling prophesy. Let me tell you, no-one was stopping these women on their own paths to getting ahead.

My advice would be to know yourself as equal. Gender shouldn’t bias your interactions or the choices you make at work. Behave and live as an equal to be treated as one.

Don’t chase the correction; see yourself as the full person you are.

Every leader gets called names behind their back. Your behaviour won’t change that. The advice you always got, “be yourself”? That’s the one to live by. You aren’t a chameleon, you are an inspiring leader of people.

3. Carin-Isabel Knoop, Executive Director Case Research & Writing Group at Harvard Business School

Carin-Isabel Knoop is happy that you are reading this. I am a contrarian and pragmatic idealist. I write about managers worldwide as the leader of the Case Research & Writing Group at Harvard Business School. Personally, I have been writing about mental health at work before it was in fashion. In 2018 I co-authored Compassionate Management of Mental Health in the Modern Workplace (Springer).

1) Harness the power of realising that you are not extraordinary

We are often reassured about our potential, and are told too often that we can have it all; that if we think positively, good things will happen. That is all good, but not always good preparation for a resilient life.

Enter life with humility and a sense of your limitations. This does not mean accepting them — it means developing mechanisms to manage and overcome them. It means seeking out complementary life & professional partners.

2) Meet your brain

Most schools teach us about sex, but not about our most important organ. Read the instruction manual.

Learn what emotions are and how you might be triggered. Think of what your equivalent of the “twisties” is — when gymnasts suddenly feel lost in mid-air — and what to do when you feel suddenly lost or unmoored. What or who will be your safety net?

Most schools teach us about sex, but not about our most important organ.

3) Speak up

When you feel uncomfortable, it’s probably not just you. Be transparent. It has been done before and will be again if you suck it up.

Speak up on behalf of your ideas because if you don’t, someone will say it, and you wish you had said it first.

4) Hold the door open for other women

Let them talk, too. Don’t compete with other women for looks, or refrain from complimenting them on their appearance.

Praise effort, courage, and taste.

Do not ask, “Mirror Mirror on the wall! Who is the fairest/thinnest/fittest/sexiest of them all?”

5) Health trumps all

You can defer maintenance, but if you do, sooner or later, you will need to get towed from the side of the road.

4. Azaria Beukes, Head of People at OfferZen

Azaria is the Head of People at OfferZen. She is a registered Organisational Psychologist and has an insatiable curiosity about what makes people tick, particularly as it relates to their behaviour at work. This curiosity got her into the the People (~~HR~~) space within tech startups, where she has the opportunity to build new things and help shape truly people centric cultures. She is passionate about solving complex people challenges, building great experiences and ultimately enabling individuals and businesses to thrive.

Advice I would like to give to other women leaders in business, especially those starting out

Know your Why, align your goals with it and stay curious. Building a career does not always play out as you pictured it in your head.

Nobody sufficiently prepares you for the fact that your career growth is probably not going to be linear.

Sometimes there are a few curves and thorns in the road you did not expect. That’s normal, I promise! The flowers or whatever you were actually expecting is probably around the corner.

Regularly take stock of your beliefs. Being affected by gender bias (or any other kind of bias) could alter you belief systems in a way that does not serve you.

Early in my career, after a few negative experiences, I started believing that I would never be taken seriously as a woman in business.

This was not true but it knocked my confidence and got me stuck. It is important to take stock of your own beliefs and question whether they are 1) True and 2) Serving you.

Be aware of confirmation bias and look for data that does not only prove your story to be right but also proves it to be wrong.

That said, if the environment is the problem and you can’t change it, seek a culture that aligns with your values. You deserve the best! Know your own worth and don’t make yourself small.

We all go through peaks and troughs in our careers. More often than not the troughs impact us more. It can leave us feeling unsafe and vulnerable (and even worthless). It is easy to go into the protective mode of making ourselves small or retreating into our comfort zones.

Know the signs and take action to push yourself outside your comfort zone. Discomfort means you’re growing.

Support other women. I have seen competitiveness come in the way of great potential. If you want to feel empowered, you need to also do your part and ensure those around you are empowered.

Don’t feel like you need to solve things in isolation. Find support (i.e. mentors, coaches, friends) and also provide support. Help other women grow. That is where the magic happens.

5. Ellen Feldman (PhD), Fine Art Photographer

Ellen is a former writer and project manager/director in education and high technology fields. She is also an exhibiting photographer and photo book artist; her latest book is We Who March: Photographs and Reflections on the Women’s March, January 21, 2017, with images by 30 photographers. Ellen plays the flute in the Concord Band (Concord, MA).

As a woman who worked in corporate America (high tech and education sectors) as a contributing member, manager, and director, my most important piece of advice to women leaders in business concerns working relationships with people who report to you.

To demonstrate your respect and trust in them and their work, you must first respect their knowledge, experience, and ideas. Give others the freedom and responsibility to develop their projects with appropriate guidance. What does that mean?

Give clear instructions — pertinent information about audience, goals, and objectives — but do not be a “helicopter manager.”

Other pieces of advice

  • Never criticise a direct report in front of other people, and never blame others for your own mistakes.
  • Develop good relationships with your business peers. While you don’t need to be friends, you need to respect each other and offer support when requested or during challenging times.
  • To foster diversity, hire people who are different from you, considering cultural, gender, ethnic, and racial differences.
  • No matter how much you love your job, it should never consume your life. Pursue other passions (and not only during vacations).

6. Nicole Rollings, Managing Director at EnOv8

Nicole started EnOv8 in 2009 with only one conference client. Twelve years later they are an event experience and employee engagement agency, serving top blue chip corporate clients who are listed as some of the best employers in South Africa. They’ve worked on events as large as the Cape Town Carnival that host over 50,000 people and have engaged thousands of employees across South Africa using various interventions .

Since lock down we have pivoted to offer a full range of online events and employee experiences as well as now offering fully curated and customised gift box offerings for employee rewards, long service awards and any other corporate gifting occasion.

  • Communication

I would say the secret to success is communication. Owning a business is rewarding and challenging, as the saying goes, nothing that is worth it is easy. Even in the most challenging of times, within our team and in our clients’ organisations, we have seen that communication is the skill that brings everyone together.

It’s ok if you don’t know the answers, or exactly what you’re going to say, as long as you’re honest with your teams. When you make the effort to start the conversation, you will be amazed as to where it takes you when you listen to your team’s feedback.

  • Work with compassion

Working with compassion means that you will listen to your people — this is the second part to communication and you need both to make it work. Listen to understand, not to respond.

No matter how urgent the deadline, always remember that your people come first.

If your team do not feel appreciated, you won’t get the best out of them. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but if you know in your heart that you’ve done the best that you know how for your people, your integrity remains intact and you can be proud of the work that you do.

  • Remain Flexible

Even before the pandemic, being flexible in business meant being able to provide a range of services to our clients, keeping us top of mind and that ‘go-to’ agency for a range of services that support their goals. During the pandemic we all started working from home immediately and we came up with new ways to support our clients.

  • Keep your promises

My personal slogan is “Consider it done!”. If clients can rely on you, they will come back to you, and even refer you to other people.

  • Look after yourself

You are also one of the people! Our bodies and minds take us through this amazing life and without the balance of work, family, love, spirituality and health, you may start to battle.

Make sure that you are getting fulfilment from many areas of your life, and don’t make your life about your work.

7. Sarah Rice, Chief People Officer at Skynamo

Sarah has over 20 years’ experience in the technology and startup space — creating them and helping them emerge into the world as successful and purpose-driven products. She has built a strong career as public relations and communications specialist but has now shifted her focus to people and culture, with her full-time role as Chief People Officer at Skynamo.

There is a lot of advice out there about how women need to be more visible at work. We need to speak up and stand up and not just let our work speak for itself, we need to speak for the work. This is all very legitimate, but it often takes more than one voice.

The advice I wish I had been able to give myself in my early 20s is: find a squad and speak up for each other’s work.

(With the caveat that you only speak up for work and opinions you respect)

We need to support each other to be seen. By supporting each other we’ll also make it commonplace for women to be seen and heard, so we don’t have to fight so hard individually. If we are able to adopt a “we can all win” philosophy in our companies and promote each other, it will be so much easier for all women to succeed.

8. Evelien Griffioen — Head of Customer Insight & Experience at Yoco

Evelien is the Head of Customer Insight & Experience at Yoco. She’s an innovation strategist and researcher with 10+ years of global experience in customer-centric new product and service strategy. At the core of everything Evelien does is deep customer understanding and empathy: values, beliefs, behaviours, expectations, context, needs and so on.

Empathy has always been a key concept for me, and not just in the way we design products or even how we treat our colleagues, but also how we treat ourselves.

As a woman you may easily end up in situations where you don’t get space, your voice is denied or the way you are treated isn’t respectful. Whether intended or due to people’s unawareness of their biases, it has a negative impact on our ability to do our work or even be recognised for the work we already did. In the past this has led me to believe maybe I wasn’t adding value, or didn’t belong at a table.

But empathy has helped me dig deeper than that, really understanding where those feelings come from: my beliefs about myself.

What are the stories I tell myself? More specifically, what are the stories of others that I have internalised?

I’ve rewritten my stories, become more honest and compassionate with myself, and I strongly advise anyone to do the same.

Because once I took control over my own stories, I was able to comfortably and effectively make space for myself — even when people didn’t give it to me -, able to let my voice be heard and enjoy my work and life so much more! In addition it has made me a better leader, mentor and coach, and as much as I’ve enjoyed my own growth, it’s amazing to see other young women go through their own and become strong leaders themselves.

9. Gadija Kaprey Cozyn, Sarah Jacobs Kajee, Gadean Kaydee Brecht — Founders at The Beauty Network

The Beauty Network was established in March 2019. Founded by a small group of young, ambitious female entrepreneurs with a common goal to uplift and empower small female-owned businesses in and around South Africa, and to provide premium wellness & beauty products and services at affordable prices. The Beauty Network was founded around the idea of acting as a platform to network and grow clientele and business to our therapists and distributors, all of whom are females. Our aim is to bring exposure and opportunity to our team of beauty therapists and technicians, while ensuring we’re equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge of running a small business. The Beauty Network started with Zero Rands capital and we worked hard to get to where we are today. We now offer three wellness products on our e-commerce store with our very own organic skincare range on its way. The Beauty Network’s sister company, The Beauty Network Spa plays a vital role in executing our aim. The home based Spa in the Southern Suburbs consists of an amazing team of well-trained professional therapists who trust in our vision and business model.

Navigating through Covid-19 has been our toughest challenge yet and has taught us how to be flexible. We have a deeper understanding of what it means to “keep your finger on the pulse” and to continuously challenge and question our goals and objectives as a business.

Since our launch we’ve undergone a lot of change for the better. In order to be successful your business needs to be adaptable and you need to be comfortable with letting go of some of your ideas. Something that was successful a year ago may not be profitable today.

Our number one piece of advice to anyone wanting to start their own business is that there’s never a better time to start than right now.

Understanding your reason for starting your business therefore plays a pivotal role in your journey. Understanding your “why” is of utmost importance to give yourself and your business a sense of direction and purpose.

Creating a brand guide and business proposal based around your “why” becomes an important building block in your startup, as this will assist you in moments where you’re feeling lost. A brand guide will create a solid foundation to build onto when making any business, marketing and advertising decisions.

Lastly, never forget where you came from and the people you know.

Networking will be your greatest aid in creating a brand that is not only for your market but that is supported and informed by those around you. The people closest to you often have the best opportunities available for you to grow and are the ones who most often want to see you succeed. Making a few friends along the way never hurt anybody.

Never be afraid to learn something new and accept when an idea needs more work or just isn’t for you.


Women in society are essential - women in business are critical. Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, women’s participation in the workforce is at an all-time low. This is why we should support all women in business.

“I raise up my voice, not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard… We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”―Malala Yousafzai

More about the Author

Kyla Göbel: A new writer, from Cape Town, who has a passion for music, photography, and people. She is also currently finding her way into the digital marketing sphere at Hi5. In addition, Kyla fundamentally believes there is a creative solution to everything in life, and that with hard work anything is possible.

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