15 African Women Excelling In Male Dominated Fields

On 28 October the BBC will host a day of events focusing on the power of women – those who have changed the world around them and inspired others to do the same. Women are constantly being shunned in the business world because of negative stereotypes that have been perpetuated by cultural and societal norms and traditions. However there are pioneers who have decided to shatter them and excel in fields which they were told they do not belong in. We decided to compile a list of 15 exemplary women who have excelled and made a name for themselves in male dominated fields.


1. THERESA CUPIDO (South Africa)Road Marking and Civil Engineering


Theresa Cupido
Theresa Cupido

Inspired by a radio debate on the absence of black South African female entrepreneurs and the need for upgraded infrastructure in SA in the days before the 2010 World Cup, Theresa Cupido started the ATN Group. Established in August 2006, The ATN Group is a service provider in the road marking and civil engineering field. Just a year after its launch, The ATN Group was selected by Martin & East, a top civil engineering construction firm, to form part of their Enterprise Development Programme for emerging contractors. Ever since then, Theresa’s company has been on a meteoric rise, undertaking several different projects for the City of Cape Town, the Department of Transport and a number of various municipalities.

Theresa has been faced with several challenges simply because of her presence in a male dominated industry. Because of the competitive nature of the industry she had to sacrifice her maternity leave with both her children. However she believes that despite the challenges women face in entrepreneurship, they should stop limiting themselves and empower one another, as they are born entrepreneurs and leaders.

Cupido won this years Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year’s Job Creator of the Year, an award she received for her business model, which employs a large number of unskilled workers who would otherwise have been unemployed.

2. WILHEMINA MANASO (South Africa)Mining


Wilhemina Manaso
Wilhemina Manaso

Wilhemina Manaso works as Mine Manager in Rehabilitation for BHP Billiton in South Africa. Wilhemina was the first female at her mine to receive her Mine Manager’s certificate back in 2010. When Wilhemina started off as a graduate in Mining Engineering in 2005, she was one of the few women working in the mines. She faced a lot of resistance from men, including threats, but she stood firm and continued to progress in her career. She constantly had to reassert herself as a capable worker during her climb to the top and cites juggling work and family roles as one of her biggest challenges.

“There are a lot of barriers caused by my gender; as a woman, if you’re doing well in a male-dominated industry they think you’re having an affair with one of the senior managers. Every time I was promoted, they would say, ‘how come you promoted her? Is she having a relationship with you?’”

Mining as an industry was not designed with women in mind. Up until the 1990s, legislation meant that women were not permitted to work underground in South Africa. This all changed, and in 2002 the South African Mining Charter introduced quotas urging mining companies to change their 2% female staff quota to 10%. This may be a move in the right direction, but there is still room for improvement in the mining field. It does not have an encouraging atmosphere; some of the mines up till now do not have toilets. However the conditions are slowly improving. Despite the relatively small number of women in the industry, the ones present are paving the way for the others, and their continued presence will be beneficial to other women in future. Wilhemina encourages the women who are interested in pursuing a Mining career to be strong in the face of male criticism and find a support network in the industry.

3. CORETTA AKINYI (Kenya)Professional Cooking

Coretta Akinyi
Coretta Akinyi

Despite the household role of cooking being assigned to women, professional cooking is still a male dominated field. The hotel kitchen is dominated by male chefs, however women are breaking through this field. Last year during the inaugural Maggi Junior Chef Competition, Coretta Akinyi, Chef de Partie (station chef) from Ole Sereni, emerged the overall winner. She did not win simply because of her gender but because she fulfilled the judge’s criteria. Their criterion was an all-round assessment of the chef’s skills, from novelty and innovation, taste, presentation, work speed and overall work organization and cleanliness.

Coretta beat 9 other finalists in the competition to win a 3 day trip to Italy, where she would visit the Electrolux factory and also get to tour Venice. (Electrolux is a multinational appliance manufacturer that is consistently ranked the world’s second-largest appliance maker by units sold. )

4. LEILA MAYANJA (Uganda)Rally Driving

Leila Mayanja
Leila Mayanja (inset) and her car

Leila Mayanja was the first female driver to compete in the Uganda National Rally. She was up against 20 other male drivers.

Since she was young, Leila has been involved in motorsports as a supporter. Her father, brother and husband have all been drivers and eventually she decided to take it up herself. With their support, she joined motorsport in 2004, initially as a navigator for her husband but took up the driver’s seat later on.

According to Leila money is the biggest challenge. “In 2009 I completely gave up. Its extremely expensive. I parked my car because I’d break down and spend millions to fix it, just to go and drive the next day for a trophy. It wasn’t worth it.” However after a slight hiatus she returned to the world of motorsport and continued to slay her competitors in several rallies and tournaments. In the Uganda Rally she won the 2WD class and also took home a trophy for Best Female Driver. Leila was also one of the participants in the KCB Kenya Safari Rally in Nairobi in July of 2013.

Despite being a male dominated sport, the presence of women like Leila in motorsports may pave the way for more women to join the world of racing.

5. MONICA MATIRI (Kenya)Trucking

Monica Matiri
Monica Matiri

In Kenya approximately 75% of the import-export market uses the road transport system. Monica Matiri is the founder and director of Workmanship Production Limited, a Kenyan company involved in transporting goods in the East African region. Monica left her formal employment as the station manager of Hope FM to start her transport business. Founded in April 2008, Workmanship Production Limited supplies long distance transport for both loose, liquid and containerized cargo both within Kenya and in the COMESA and SADC regions.

When starting out, Monica initially faced some hostility from banks and a lot of them closed the door in their faces, however she remained determined and finally managed to get financed. A truck costs roughly around 7 million shillings. One of the difficulties she faces is the lack of control of external factors, such as the road conditions and the ever fluctuating price of fuel. On top of all of this, Monica still had to prove herself in her field by working twice as hard, since the trucking business is dominated by men, as well as the businesses that require their services. However she continues to prove herself from the strategic deals she has continued to make. The company’s clients span across territorial boundaries, sectors and industries; they include Nakumatt, Bamburi Cement, Unilever, Athi River Mining, Hotpoint among others.

The company hopes to grow into Africa’s leading freight solution. Monica would like to have a fleet of 50 trucks and develop a clearing and forwarding firm to increase their competitive edge.

6. RACHEL TLADI (South Africa)Construction

Rachel Tladi
Rachel Tladi

Rachel Tladi is the founder and CEO of Uvuko Civils Maintenance and Construction, a company which specialises in development, construction and maintenance works. The company maintains elevators, electrical infrastructure and roads. Rachel established the company in 2002 after a friend in the business saw her potential and encouraged her to start her own construction company. She participated in a government programme called Ten Women In Construction where they were given R200M to build houses and given 3 years to complete the project. Rachel completed the challenge in six months, using 80% of her budget to built 3000 houses. She then won her first award.

However it wasn’t a straight road to success. Rachel faced several challenges. It was initially very difficult for her to get funding from the banks. She had to put her house as collateral security. 2004 was a particularly difficult year for her as she was unable to pay her staff and had to cut back, remaining with only one. However when her business picked up all the former employees returned.

In 2008 Rachel was awarded the Govan Mbeki Best Woman Builder of the Year award at both the provincial and national level. The following year she received the Provincial Govan Mbeki Woman Contractor of the Year award and in 2010 she was the recipient of the Regional Business Woman Achievers Award in the entrepreneur category, and a finalist at the World Entrepreneur Awards 2010.Her company has worked with Mogale City Local Municipality, built RDP houses in KwaZulu-Natal, a hospital in Phalaborwa as well as schools in the Eastern Cape together with the Development Bank of South Africa.

Married with three children, Rachel manages to juggle her career, business, family and social life, but not without challenges. She also has to prove her business worth to men in the industry, who do not take her seriously simply because of her gender. However, Rachel feels that the constant challenge can be turned into an opportunity to instruct and mentor other women. She is a firm believer in the empowerment of women by other women and often gives motivational talks to aspiring business women. She attributes the success of her company to her committed team, which is mostly comprised of young and talented black women. Her dream is to have her company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

7. SOLANGE LUSIKU NSIMIRE (Democratic Republic of Congo)Investigative Journalism

Solange Lusiku Nsimire
Solange Lusiku Nsimire

The DRC is an extremely volatile country, where those who dare to expose crimes against humanity, sexual violence or corrupt governmental practices are susceptible to threats, attacks, arbitrary arrests and lengthy detentions. Government officials and other powerful people dissatisfied with press coverage publicly criticize journalists and accuse them of criminal defamation, insulting the head of state or the government, or spreading false information, all of which are against the law in the DRC. This creates a climate of fear that stifles free speech and discourages open and honest criticism of government policy and conduct.

Standing at the helm of one of the few independent media outlets in Eastern Congo, Solange Lusiku Nsimire has made many enemies. She is the editor in chief and publisher of Le Souverain, the only newspaper in the city of Bukavu.It is a small newspaper devoted to the promotion of democracy and women in a country where abuses against democracy and against women are normalised. Because of this, she has been subjected to threats and intimidation. One time in 2003 she was threatened by unknown aggressors after a report on the presence of guns in a university campus. Her home has been attacked numerous times and she had to lie about her identity to spare her life and the lives of her family. She then had to move her family in order to protect them. In Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire,she denounced sexual violence and corruption, which earned her threats and attacks. She faced death threats after publishing an editorial in 2012 that blamed Rwanda genocidiaries for fueling instability in Eastern Congo.

She took over the paper in 2007, after the death of the founder, Emmanuel Barhayiga and has faced several challenges. For instance, the paper was originally printed in Kinshasa, and then in Bujumbura, Burundi due to a lack of printing facilities. Articles were loaded onto a flashdisk, and given to travellers heading to Kinshasa, where a team would finish the layout and editing.

As a mother of 6 children, it is not easy to balance work and family, especially in the volatile position she is in. However her passion for journalism, democracy and women’s dignity makes her endure all the risks and hardships. Solange Lusiku Nsimire vows to remain an independent pen and will continue her struggle to promote democratic values.

In 2012, Lusiku Nsimire was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) for her exemplary work in journalism. The university also paid tribute to her courage as a journalist and women’s rights defender.

8. DIVINE NDHLUKULA (Zimbabwe)Security Services

Divine Ndhlukula
Divine Ndhlukula

Divine Ndhlukula, a Zimbabwean national, is the founder and Managing Director of SECURICO, one of Zimbabwe’s largest security companies.

She came up with the idea for Securico because of three main reasons. First she needed to create a decent livelihood for both herself and her family. Her parents were business people who worked hard and established a formidable business, so she knew she would follow in their footsteps. Secondly she had noticed the poor quality of service and professionalism in the private security sector, which inspired her to start a security company with a difference. The third and probably the most inspiring reason was that she wanted to make a difference to disadvantaged women who were unable to get formal employment.

With limited capital and no background in the security business, Divine converted her cottage into an office and started SECURICO with her 4 employees. She set up operations in December of 1998. Getting funded was difficult initially and they had to rely on loans from friends and family when the going got tough. Also her lack of knowledge about the security industry was a challenge as she had to start from scratch. Her biggest challenge was simply being a woman venturing into a male dominated industry that was not considered a suitable place for women. Some clients refused to be guarded by women and it took a lot of persuasion to change the negative perception they had. Another setback was the fact that she was a small fish entering a large pond. The big players in the business had a lot of influence with their brand and financial pull but Divine was sure she would beat them in service quality.

When the company started it primarily offered guarding services but ventured into cash and assets-in-transit services in 2002. Just three years later, an impressive piece of entrepreneurship resulted in the acquiring of established electronic security systems company Multi-Link (Pvt) Ltd, an phenomenal feat considering the Zimbabwe economic
crises was at its peak in 2008. The company survived the crisis because they constantly thought outside the box and implemented brilliant innovations, and the employment of women was an added competitive advantage as men were not interested in employment because of the hyperinflation. Since its inception, Divine’s company has grown exponentially and is now the market leader in the security service with a fleet of 80 armoured cars.

Divine Ndhlukula is very passionate about women empowerment with a focus on economic empowerment. he is a role model who has been encouraging women and young people to become entrepreneurs. Through her conscious and deliberate efforts, women are now accepted in the security sector with her company employing more than 900 women, arguably the largest employer of women in Zimbabwe outside the civil service.
She has won several awards including Empretec Entrepreneur of the Year 2001 and Empretec Entrepreneur of Decade (Services Sector) 2002; Manager of the year 2005 for Zim Institute of Management; Celebrate a Sister Business award 2006; Institute of Directors Zimbabwe Director of the Year (SMEs) 2008; Institute of Directors Overall Director of Year(Run Up) 2009; Zimbabwe Women Filmmakers/UNIFEM Business Award 2010. Her company has won several awards among other National Quality Awards Company of the Year 2011, Zimbabwe’s 7th Best Employers 2010 and won the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship 2011 Grand Prize run by Legatum and Omidyar.

9. GRACE CHIRUMANZU (Zimbabwe)Sports Journalism

Grace Chirumanzu
Grace Chirumanzu

There is an obvious disparity in the attitudes that society has towards male-oriented sports versus female-oriented sports. Women in sports tend to get swept under the rug in terms of coverage and prize money due to the stereotypes that have been perpetuated. Women’s sporting events are usually shunned by the media, either broadcast at odd hours or presented as a novelty item rather than a serious event. Zimbabwean national and senior sports journalist, Grace Chirumanzu decided to take matters into her own hands by setting a goal to establish a school for sports journalism in Africa. Earlier this year, global sports media giant, Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) donated $10,000 worth of equipment to her project that seeks to empower women and young girls through sports. The equipment included laptops, cameras and voice recorders, which Grace said would go a long way in making her dream to groom upcoming female sports journalists a reality.

With the help of a follow-on grant funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Grace mentors young Zimbabwean women and encourages them to practice sports journalism on a website she developed. Her initiative will also seek to drive the women to play the sports they wish to cover, in an effort to effectively write about them.

Sports media in Zimbabwe is a field that is male dominated with less than 10 senior female journalists, against over 50 experienced males.

10. ALICE KARIUKI (Kenya)Real Estate

Alice Kariuki
Alice Kariuki

Alice Kariuki, a professional accountant, teamed up with three other women entrepreneurs in 2009 to develop serviced apartments in Nairobi, that target professionals who don’t want to live in hotels.  “Our vision was to have furnished apartments to cater for business travellers who come to Kenya every year and stay for weeks at a time, giving them a home away from home.”

Serenita Apartments are located on Ngong Road two minutes drive from Upper Hill, Nairobi’s business district, and less than a minute from Nairobi Hospital, and are surrounded by numerous restaurants, malls and entertainment spots in the Hurlingham, Ngong Road area.

She was drawn to real estate during her time working as an investment manager where she was tasked with finding investment options for her employer that mostly included property, shares and treasury bills. While revaluing the properties every three years she noted that the value always increased significantly. Instead of sticking to the stereotypical ‘small businesses’ associated with women, Alice decided to take a risk and try her hand at real estate.

Her journey however was not easy. There was resistance from people who questioned what women were doing getting involved in the mortar and brick domain and whether they actually knew what they were doing. But Alice and her crew had decided from the get go to hire the best talent available and also learnt as the project went on. When seeking financial aid they were not taken seriously by banks, who gave all sorts of excuses and put them through procedures that men would not have had to go through. The banks did not believe they were capable of running a business on their own and eventually turned the team away. Eventually they decided to settle for private equity.

Since the beginning of the project Alice and her team have faced numerous uphill struggles, including court battles, government bureaucracy and ever changing regulations. However as Alice observes, entrepreneurship is about resilience and persistence. “If you go into business you will encounter numerous challenges along the way, but I think giving up on the dream is the last thing someone should do. It is not easy but you have to persist. There is no learning if you chicken out. You learn more in difficult times. They make you better.”

Alice encourages women entrepreneurs to take risks in order to progress in business.


Tradition and equipment discouraged women from becoming divers. Navy divers were exclusively male for years. Dive gear, designed to fit men, was heavy and oversized for female divers. But Lieutenant Rosalid Wairimu Wanjohi has broken that barrier to scale the heights in a man-dominated career that promises bright future in her career as a naval officer.

Lieutenant Wanjohi is currently the only female combatant diver in East and Central Africa. She had to undergo several physical and mental challenges in order to prove herself in the male dominated field.  A prolific volleyball player, Wairimu was drafted in the military courtesy of her skilful sporting in 2002 and underwent the mandatory basic military training at the Eldoret Recruit Training School. Upon joining , she did the introductory course as a navy recruit that saw her polish her skills in swimming, among other fields. She then applied for a place in the Clearance Diving Unit (CDU). She failed the final test 2 times but was successful on the 3rd attempt. Out of the 20 she began the training session with only 8 graduated, which makes her feat even more admirable.

The 30 year old mother of two has now solidified her place in history, and is an inspiration to many young women who may be interested in joining the navy.

12. ESTHER MBABAZI (Rwanda)Aviation

Esther Mbabazi
Esther Mbabazi

Esther’s love affair began when she was a young girl on a flight to Santa Barbara, California. She was fascinated by the concept of aviation and this prompted her to follow through with the dream. Despite the tragic death of her father in a plane crash when she was 8, Esther was not deterred from pursuing a career in aviation. Most people assumed that she wanted to find out what had happened to her father but eventually realized that it was more than that. Ruth, Esther’s mother, is also a pioneer of sorts as she was the only woman in her class of Electrical Engineering. Her mother thus motivated her to pursue her goals.

Once she was done with high school, Esther took a chance and bought a one-way ticket to Uganda to attend the Soroti flight school. After a year, she was sponsored to continue her training as a pilot for RwandAir, the nation’s national carrier. She now flies the company’s CRJ-900 regional jets across Africa at only 24 years of age. She is also fluent in 5 languages.

As a female pilot Esther has experienced all sorts of sexism. She was the only woman in her class and one of two in the entire institution. When she qualified and began flying she once encountered a passenger who refused to get on the flight once he discovered that the pilot was a woman. Because of the inherent biases she does not make announcements during her flights as not everyone is comfortable with a woman in the cockpit. Despite all this she refuses to let her critics win and continues to be a role model to other women.

13. LYDIA NSEKERA (Burundi)Football Administration

Lydia Nsereka
Lydia Nsereka

She is the only head of a national football association and was recently elected as a member of FIFA’s executive committee. She becomes the first woman in history to occupy this position. The FIFA executive board consists of 24 members from across the world headed by president Sepp Blatter.

FIFA co-opted Nsekera into the executive committee in 2012, also a first. She has led the Burundi FA for about nine years and helped organize the soccer tournaments at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

Lydia played a key role in women’s football in her country even before she was approached to take over the national football association. She reluctantly took over the Burundian Federation of Football (BFF) in 2004 only on condition that slackers would not be tolerated. She joined the association amidst squabbling amongst officials and FIFA sanctions, but her no nonsense approach and firm leadership proved to be successful in restoring the once tarnished image of the federation. Now there is financial discipline, three league divisions, and she carried out an audit to establish the number of players in and outside the country.

Lydia Nsekera refuses to let her gender dictate her role and insists that she is a football administrator first. She did not get to her position by luck but simply because she is well versed in the trade. She believes that women’s football has to develop in the same way as male football in all sectors; refereeing, training, administration, governance, player status and marketing, as well as protected from corruption and cheating. She refuses to sign anything if there is no feminine sector in the proposal.

14. CAROLINE TAKON JABE a.k.a CIANA (Cameroon)Hip Hop


CIANA is a Cameroon based rap artist and singer in her early 20s who kicked off her music career as a songwriter. She sharpened her song writing skills by providing songs to her sister who was then a chorist as well as to her friends who were music artists. She started writing and rapping her own songs which enabled her to join an all male rap group known as “Big Boy Game.” Although this stint was short-lived it encouraged her to embark on a solo journey which sharpened her skills. Lauded as Cameroon’s first female rapper, she is currently signed under No Hitz No Recordz with an enormous talent and a unique style.

“I would like to show the world that a woman is capable of doing and achieving great things and at the same time, manage to keep her femininity. I would like to be perceived as one of the best.”

When she is not rapping, Ciana attends the University of Buea where she is studying Geology/Petrology.

15. ENGR. SANDRA AGUEBOR-EKPEROUH (Nigeria)Mechanics and Automotive Repair

Sandra Aguebor-Ekperouh
Sandra Aguebor-Ekperouh

A devout Christian, Sandra Aguebor believes that God spoke to her through a series of dreams as a child and told her that she should become a mechanic. A native of Benin, Sandra was determined to pursue her childhood passion but with no other mechanic in the family, her father scoffed at the idea at first. When he traveled to the US in the 1980s and saw women working in positions considered “for men only” in Nigeria, he returned with a changed attitude and began supporting her. However her mother was not as enthusiastic, as she was worried about the physical challenges that would come with the profession. Nevertheless, she forged ahead with her dream at the age of 14 years.

Her first ‘garage’ was a patch of land covered with cardboard for shade, and was demolished by the municipal authority. However this did not deter her. Now she is a garage owner and the founder of the Lady Mechanic Initiative, a non-governmental organisation that was established to empower vulnerable girls and women with mechanical and technical skills to enable them become competent and qualified professionals in the field of automotive repairs.

Sandra is also the CEO/MD of Sandex Car Care, (specialist in maintenance, servicing of mostly used cars and sales of spare parts for commonly used cars), she maintains and services fleet of cars for MTN Communications, KAKAWA Discount house, Transocean, Alandick, Zenith Bank, Ikoyi Club, CNN News, BCC News, Games Shopping Complex, AIICO Insurance and lots of notable individuals.

She has also received an award from the Edo State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development that marked the 2008 International Women’s Day celebration in Benin City, Edo State, with the theme Financing for Gender Equality and Women Change and was invited to take part in the 2008 Women’s Forum Global Meeting, held in Deauville, France, October 16th-18th, 2008. She was the only Nigerian lady mechanic representative amongst all world women entrepreneurs.

Facebook Comments