Women worldwide have enjoyed all kinds of advancement in the field of business, becoming more and more visible at leadership levels in various sectors; however, they continue to be shut out of most managerial positions. In Rwanda, the glass ceiling that prevents women from reaching greater heights is forever changing. ElleAfrique caught up with Joan Mazimhaka, strategic development specialist and creative industries enthusiast, to talk about the barriers continuing to affect women’s leadership opportunities in Rwanda and throughout Africa.

ElleAfrique: Thank you so much for joining us today. Let’s start with the basics: Who is Joan Mazimhaka?

Joan: I’m a producer, a creator, and a traveler. I have a background in strategy development and marketing and I am the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Illume Creative Studio. I am a Rwandan woman, passionate about participating in, and helping to grow, the creative industries on this continent. I am a huge believer in creating the change you want to see.

ElleAfrique: What is Illume Creative Studio?

Joan: Illlume is a communications agency and creative studio. The agency focuses on content and content creation through design, photography, film, and copywriting and content marketing through social media and PR. We work with each client to bring their vision to life in a way that is unique, fresh and dynamic. We create the tools and strategies to help them tell their story.

The studio is where we develop our own projects. These range from photography exhibitions to mini-documentary series. Through developing quality content, we hope to one day change what the world sees when they Google Rwanda and the region.

ElleAfrique: Not many business women in Rwanda reach the status of Board Member in their companies. What’s your experience been like at this level and how do other people respond to you holding a high position in the company?

Joan: We are in a country where women leaders are the norm and on a continent where entrepreneurship is redefining how we view our future and our capabilities. Forming this company with my partners has been one of the most challenging and exciting things I have ever done. In the five years since starting Illume, we have seen a growing number of women entrepreneurs in a wide variety of industries. To join the growing number of Rwandan and African women entrepreneurs has been a true learning experience for me, and with the exception of very few incidents, the response to my position has been positive and encouraging.

ElleAfrique: It is the opinion of many that women in managerial roles have to work much harder than their male counterparts. Is this true in your case?

Joan: Misconceptions and limited thinking from those around you – men and women – means that, yes

as a woman you have to work harder. You have to work harder to get certain opportunities and to be taken seriously. If we do not seek out opportunities, pursue them aggressively, work twice as hard as our male counterparts, ensure our voices are heard, and mentor and collaborate with other women, we will be stuck in a cycle. I have learned how important it is for us as women to create our own opportunities and most importantly to support other women, not only in managerial roles, so that this cycle can be broken. Our successes must speak for us.

ElleAfrique: What is it like living and working in today’s Rwanda?

Joan: We are living and working in an innovative, challenging, constantly changing country and it has birthed a wonderfully creative environment. I’m incredibly excited about where Rwanda is and where we are going. The fast pace of change and growth in this country means that one has to be constantly ready to adapt, and that is an asset both personally and professionally. I am in awe of the creativity and innovation that has gone into building this country over the last 21 years and it inspires my work and life, daily.

ElleAfrique: What 3 things are most important to you as a woman and why?

Joan: Seeking joy in life through connecting with what makes me happy and with those closest to me; constantly learning and growing; and continuously opening myself up to new experiences and adventures.

ElleAfrique: Who are your female role models?

Joan: My female role models are those who have directly impacted my life in a positive way—my mother, Dr. Jolly Rwanyonga Mazimhaka, my grandmother, Maria Joanna Kayumbu, my most influential boss, Rosette Chantal Rugamba, and my mentor, Sonu Ratra. These women have each shown me the importance and responsibility associated with leadership; they have shown me how to create opportunities and prioritise what really matters in life including family, drive and success in your career; and how to make the best out of any situation.

ElleAfrique: What would you say to encourage other females from Rwanda and Africa?

Joan: Do not allow others to define you – as a business woman, as a mother, as a friend, as a girl, as a woman. We are all blessed with our own talents, experiences, and ideas because we are designed to bring something unique to this world. So do just that.

Elleafrique: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Joan: In five years I see myself, along with my partners, managing the expansion of our company beyond Rwanda; I see myself as one of the leaders in the push towards the sustainable growth of the creative industries on the African continent; I see travel, I see adventure, I see joy.