In an era marked by an increasing demand for diversity, equality, and inclusivity, women have emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the global finance industry. Beyond financial gains, women are now leading the charge for meaningful change, leaving an indelible impact that transcends balance sheets and profit margins.

This shift is particularly significant in the context of South Africa, a nation with a complex history that makes the quest for gender parity even more essential.  UN estimates suggest it will take 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace, far from the 2030 target set out by the UN SDG on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

There are signs of positive change in business and finance - incremental increases  in the number of women occupying leadership roles in financial services such as investment firms, banks, fintech start-ups, and regulatory bodies. Aside from just representation, the business world recognises the value and importance women leaders bring.

So, where does South Africa place in this race?

In South Africa, the narrative is evolving. Women are at the forefront of change and innovation.

I explored this topic at an event I recently hosted in Johannesburg to coincide with South Africa’s National Women’s Day – a public holiday observed annually on the 9 August, which seeks to draw attention to critical gender equality issues women in the region continue to face. The audience shared clear, resounding themes: Women are competent, resilient, and can drive change in the finance industry.

Designed exclusively for women, the panel of women leaders drew in a crowd of more than 80 participants, comprising mostly of senior leaders and professionals from the financial services industry and entrepreneurs. We listened and shared thought-provoking and inspirational insights about our career journeys, the knowledge we’ve gained along the way, and our perspectives on gender-focussed investing and strategies that can support women’s empowerment now and in the future.

I spoke about my experiences as a thought leader on women’s financial inclusion and my work to empower the upcoming generation. As the Jersey Finance lead in South Africa, I regularly meet with professionals who work in Jersey firms (there are more than 40 Jersey-based firms focussed on Africa. These firms have expertise to support African clients), so I took the opportunity to share examples of the positive work being done via Jersey to support impact investing strategies.

Impact investing, which means that investments are directed towards generating positive environmental and social benefits alongside financial returns, holds significant weight in South Africa where there is huge unemployment and increasing levels of poverty.

On the positive side, the opportunities for Africa are tremendous; it is the second largest continent in the world in terms of size and population after Asia, and 60% of the population is under 25 years old. We should seek to empower this population to make meaningful changes.

Interestingly, South Africa is the highest-ranking entrepreneurial African country and here lies another opportunity.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have emerged as noteworthy contributors to the nation’s gross value-added (GVA) figures,  cited by an OECD report, highlighting an impressive surge in GVA contributions from 18% in 2010 to an outstanding 40% in 2020. SMEs contribute towards a stable environment for capital-raising, which goes a long way towards fostering entrepreneurship on the continent.

So, how do women entrepreneurs and women-owned SMEs impact the future of finance in South Africa?

The influence of women in boardrooms goes beyond their inspirational stories. Seeing women breaking barriers today gives the next generation of women in finance the courage to overcome their own challenges in future. It is not just about equality in numbers but diversity of views. Also, most financial services organisations have a diverse client base, so having women in the boardroom represents and reflects this diversity. Having the viewpoints of women in decision-making positions can bring richness to business strategies and positively contribute to an organisation’s reputation.

The question has shifted from ‘Can women do well in finance?’ to ‘How can women participate in changing the game in finance?’. There are some clear examples of how African women in the financial sector are already transforming and addressing the diversity and impact agenda – the speakers at our recent event in Johannesburg are a case in point.

Moushmi Patel is an Executive Director and Partner at Sanari Capital – a private equity firm headquartered in South Africa – with an investment focus in tech, education, health and agriculture in Africa. Sanari Capital stands out because it is women-led; majority black and women-owned.

Sindi Mabaso-Koyana is the Executive Chairperson of African Women Chartered Accountants (AWCA) Investment Holdings and a co-founder of the AWCA, a women-only organisation. The organisation aims to change and facilitate young women aspiring to get into accounting careers by supporting their journey through school and work.

Tshepiso Kobile, the skills she has acquired through working in both the public and private sectors have become handy as the CEO of SAVCA, a membership body at the heart of supporting aspiring entrepreneurs.

Simone Cooper, Head of Business & Commercial Banking at Standard Bank has been involved in various initiatives promoting the development of SMEs over the years.

As more and more women leaders focus on initiatives and projects with a meaningful purpose and go beyond just making money, the more it will encourage future generations to take up the same path. This is especially important in South Africa, where a history of inequality requires deliberate strategies to avoid marginalised groups or communities being left behind.

Here, women in finance have a unique opportunity to help. As I saw from the all-women audience (and similar discussions I’ve had with leading women in finance), women are achieving this by offering assistance and encouragement to one another, collaborating closely, sitting on boards and actively pursuing roles that break gender bias.

We spoke of mentorship and its importance because it keeps a steady flow of inspired and talented women leaders coming forward. The industry will change by teaming up to action mentorship and knowledge-sharing programmes such as these, creating a future where everyone is included. It was clear that women leaders are committed to lifting others as they rise.

So, where does Jersey fit in?

My recent Women’s Day event formed part of Jersey Finance’s broader Africa strategy to contribute towards the economic development of the continent and be part to shaping the financial landscape for women in Africa and develop new opportunities for Jersey firms in Africa and South African firms in Jersey’s international finance centre (IFC).  We continue to collaborate and work with women across Africa based on shared interests.

By attending, sponsoring, or hosting multiple events throughout the continent for Africa-focussed firms based in Jersey, our IFC continually fosters new and existing relationships which lead to sustainable partnerships. One example of this symbiotic relationship can be seen in Standard Bank’s decision to launch a foundation in Jersey – the African Women Impact Fund (AWIF).

By nurturing its symbiotic relationship with African entrepreneurs and businesses, built over decades through providing support to business owners, corporates and families in Africa, helping them to grow and protect their wealth, Jersey's IFC provides the environment and platform to leverage women's leadership to affect positive change on the continent, now and in the future.

This article was first published by Forbes Africa.