Global research studies have shown empirical evidence that companies which put women in key leadership roles experience improved business performance. It’s a pattern borne out by the impressive achievements of some of South Africa’s top women leaders, who were honoured at last night’s glittering 14th Standard Bank Top Women Awards, hosted by Topco Media and Standard Bank at Emperors Palace, Johannesburg.

Take Lynette Magasa, for example – CEO of Boniswa Corporate Solutions and winner of the Top Female Entrepreneur of 2017 Award, presented by WDB. In just 13 years, Magasa has become a giant in an industry dominated by men, launching fast-growth Boniswa into several other African countries. Looking ahead, she has her sights set on a public listing and the creation of thousands more jobs by Boniswa. Attesting to the rapid increase in South African women entrepreneurs, Magasa contested the award against 17 other finalists.

In property, presented by Dormehl, visionary developer Xoliswa Daku took the trophy. She heads up a portfolio worth R600 million. Then there’s Precious Hawadi, named as ‘Top Woman in Science’ (presented by SANBI). As NTP Radio-isotopes’ Group Finance Executive, she has played a prominent role in driving the rapid growth of this specialist concern, to the point where it today supplies up to a third of the world’s Mo-99; a widely used medical isotope.

The ultimate accolade within the 10 individual award categories – Top Businesswoman of the Year, presented by Standard Bank – went to Dr Nombasa Tsengwa, executive head of coal operations for Exxaro Resources. Dr Tsengwa – born at the height of apartheid in the rural Eastern Cape – today oversees a concern with a market capitalisation of R30 billion+. There are 6700 people under her leadership.

16 Further categories also showcased organisations, in both the private and public sector, which had evidenced strong gender parity in the last year and arguably a contiguous level of performance. . Among the winners Dimension Data, with 30% of its workforce being women, was feted as Top Gender-empowered company in the ICT sector (presented by ICT-Works), while the Cancer Association took top honours in Public Service (Transnet) and Wesbank, where more than half of all managerial roles are manned by women, was congratulated for ‘Diversity in the Workplace’ by award sponsor Stanlib.

Taking pole position among the organisational winners, as Standard Bank’s Gender-empowered Business of the Year, was Microsoft SA. Microsoft is intensively involved in efforts to bring more women into the under-represented ‘STEAM’ fields: science, technology, engineering, art & design and mathematics. In these fields, South African women make up less than 20% of the workforce.

The evening, expertly MC’d by Ursula Chikane, was not all business. An emotional highlight was the awarding of the honorary Lifetime Achiever Award, held since last year by former Public Prosecutor Advocate Thuli Madonsela, to the “Princess of Africa”, Yvonne Chaka Chaka. The embodiment of a “woman in full”, Chaka Chaka is a singer and songwriter; entrepreneur; humanitarian; teacher and icon in the fight against TB, HIV and malaria. The 800-strong audience on hand for her standing ovation included notable government leaders, CEOs, a host of media houses and other celeb VIPs including Boity Thulo, Nomzamo Mbatha and Minnie Dlamini.

Commenting on the awards’ gender agenda, Top Women Director Karla Fletcher explained that, in tandem with the preceding annual conference and the coffee table publication Top Women Leaders, the awards were created to encourage more women to pursue their ambitions, and more organisations to join the ‘she-conomy’. While a thriving economy, it also needs many more stakeholders. According to a recent Grant Thornton international business report, just 28% of senior management roles in SA businesses are held by women. Fletcher, and all involved in the Top Women journey, are determined to raise that figure 22% by the year ‘22.

What do you think, women of South Africa. Where do you see yourself in five years?

To view the full list of award winners from last night, plus photo and video highlights, click here.

Topco Media, the organiser of the Standard Bank Top Women Awards, would like to thank our platinum sponsor, Standard Bank, our category sponsors and event partners, our MC and VIP speakers, Emperors Palace and, most especially, our award finalists and winners.