Closing off Women’s month, Vodacom and Olwethu Leshabane co-hosted a discussion on Twitter Spaces with trailblazers across different industries on the idea of belonging boldly, in male-dominated industries. 

If I constantly knew I had what it takes, I would spend time and effort honing my craft instead of worrying about what people thought of my hairstyle”

Julia Stuart is a force to be reckoned with, in the broadcasting industry. She works as a football studio anchor and pitch-side reporter at SuperSport. 

Julia started by acknowledging that it is common to have an imposter syndrome in such a male-dominated industry and that one thing she wishes she knew before entering the space, was that she was good enough and belonged. She also pointed out that there are a lot more women in the sports industry, on and off-the-pitch, and are becoming more prominent than when she first got into the industry 7 years ago, which is fantastic to see. She maintains, however, that it is still difficult for women to successfully navigate the South African sports industry, particularly in broadcasting, due to unreasonably onerous standards (weight, age, marital status, physical appearance, etc.), women are judged more compared to men, amongst many other issues. 

“People feel entitled to make comments and ask questions such as ‘‘Have you picked up weight? Why are you wearing that dress? Why are you showing so much cleavage? Men do not experience this. They are purely judged on the content they present”. She expressed that if she knew that she had what it took, she would have spent more time honing her craft instead of worrying about what people thought of her. She added that women tend to be boxed as the best ‘female’ presenter because it’s impossible to believe that a woman could be best in a male-dominated field.

In closing, she emphasised that women’s inclusion should be championed from within organisations and with women leading decision-making structures. 

“When we do step into leadership positions, we need to intentionally break down patriarchal ideologies and agenda”.

Writer and Activist,  Rosie Motene said she wished she believed in her identity as an African woman without conforming to Western standards of beauty, before entering the industry and that women needed to be a little bolder about who they are and stop trying to make the people that are in the room comfortable.

“My acting career came to an abrupt end because I spoke out against sexual harassment and yes, it broke me in the process, however, it created another platform for me to open up a practice to help others”. She highlighted that women need to break cycles of abuse by creating spaces and platforms so that others don’t ride the same train. 

Responding to a question from the audience about what the biggest risk she took was, she said it was giving up her acting career, knowing that South Africa can be limited when it comes to working opportunities. 

“I packed up everything, moved to Uganda, and perused one of my passions, heading up two television networks – production and programming. Delving into a different territory in Africa which is still incredibly male-dominated was a big challenge for her and now looking back, she understands why she needed to go through that journey. 

She said women in leadership positions need to push down the patriarchal ideologies and agendas.

Rosie said the biggest journey we all need to go on is unlearning in order to break down these shackles.

There is so much pressure on women not to display weakness or fragility. We are expected to be strong – and because of that strength, we crack”

Mining Attorney and Entrepreneur, Khanyi Zungu is currently the Chief Advisor Legal at Eskom and emphasised on listening to your inner voice when deciding to change careers. At some point, she outgrew practicing as an attorney and decided to go into corporate. She advised women not to be scared to figure out their career path and take a leap of faith if they feel strongly about taking a career change. She warned that this may not be for everyone and highlighted the importance of putting in the hard work.

Khanyi addressed the pressure that women face when it comes to their family life and the expectation not to display weakness or fragility but to rather “be strong” – and because of that strength, they crack. She hammered on the importance of maintaining boundaries by advising that you should not be seen to be accepting of things you know to not be your portion. 

The hierarchy of treatment when it comes to gender equality needs to be interrogated. The LGBTIQ+ community need not be left out.

Fine artist Zandile Tshabalala’s rebelliousness has landed her in her first solo exhibition at ADA Contemporary Art Gallery in Accra. Zandile’s art brings invisible and silenced women forward, showing that black women can be sensual and beautiful. She pointed out that there is a hierarchy of treatment when it comes to gender equality and that the LGBTIQ+ community tends to be left out. She explained how imagery can play a role in influencing how one sees and thinks of themselves. 

 Answering the question about why society still segregates women from men by referring to them as “female artists”, Zandile said this way of addressing women exists because of how participating in a male-dominated field is seen as special. “I feel like we need to drop the terms, especially ones that introduce an artist as a ‘female artist’. It’s tiring now and unnecessary”. 

The ladies wrapped up by reflecting on the Vodacom 404 blackout campaign that they participated in, taking a step back on August the 9th, asking the question, “could you imagine a world without the power of women?”

Olwethu concluded by reminding women that they matter, “We are bold. We are fierce. We need each other”.