Celebrating six BAME businesswomen and trailblazers making their mark in Wales

In light of Women’s History Month, hear from the female leaders using their power, creativity and influence as a force for positive change

The list of influential women in history is infinite and ever-growing. Wales, being no exception, is home to a great host of extraordinary female founders who are using their power as a force for good.

It is impossible, however, to commemorate the contribution of women in Wales without first highlighting the importance of inclusivity and equal representation in every industry and sphere – including leadership and business. 

So, in light of Women’s History Month and in the spirit of celebration, here are six businesswomen, leaders and trailblazers actively making their mark in Wales.

1. Professor Meena Upadhyaya OBE

Meena Upadhyaya moved to the UK when she was 19 years old. She has since developed pioneering tests to aid in the diagnosis of more than 20 genetic diseases, and in 2016, received an OBE for her services to medical genetics and the Welsh Asian community. Credit: Cardiff University

Professor Meena Upadhyaya is an internationally renowned medical geneticist and the first female British Indian professor in medical genetics in the UK. 

Born in India and living in Cardiff, Meena is a distinguished professor at Cardiff University. 

Alongside her research career, Meena is also an avid advocate for women of ethnic minorities and is the founder of the Welsh Asian Women Achievement Awards (WAWAA) and Ethnic Minority Women in Welsh Healthcare (EMWWH).

I was given opportunities to develop myself in my work, so it’s my privilege to give back

Speaking of WAWAA, Meena said, “Our aim is to empower Black and Minority Ethnic women, identify role models for them and facilitate community cohesion and integration.” 

Since the charity was established in 2010, Meena noted WAWAA has grown from strength to strength, awarding 16 winners and 90 finalists in counting.

“The project is close to my heart and our family is growing – it’s definitely inspired me,” she added.

Discussing Ethnic Minority Women in Welsh Healthcare, Meena explained the network was created to address the underrepresentation in leadership positions and policymaking in the healthcare sector. 

By learning from each other’s experiences, we can form a supportive network and promote equality and diversity, she affirmed. 

Meena humbly concluded, “I was given opportunities to develop myself in my work, so it’s my privilege to be able to give something back.”

Q: If you could meet any woman in history, who would it be and why?
A: I’ve been inspired by Mother Teresa. Growing up, I used to hear about her work, and I had the opportunity of visiting her house in Calcutta. Despite all of the challenges, she’s selflessly carried out amazing work. 

2. Dr Youmna Mouhamad 

In October 2020, Youmna received the Woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) Award from Womenspire which is run by Wales’ leading gender equality charity, Chwarae Teg. Credit: Twitter

Dr Youmna Mouhamad is a multi-talented engineer and business owner.

Originally from Mayotte, Youmna, 35, first moved to the UK from France to study a master’s degree in physics. She then went on to obtain a doctorate in polymer physics from Sheffield University.

Previously working in the field of printed electronics as a technology fellow at Swansea University, Youmna sat on the organising committee of the Soapbox Science Swansea, an initiative inspiring young women to pursue studies in STEM subjects. She was also the leader of the BAME Students in Engineering Network, which aims to increase racial equality at the university.

Youmna’s enterprise, Myana Naurals, uses innovative technology to enhance the haircare experience of women with afro-textured hair. The product was created to empower women to look after their hair in a way that celebrates and embraces identity.

My hairstyle is a huge part of my identity because hair is very often used to set us aside

Tracing the heart of the business back to fond memories from her childhood, Youmna said Myana Naturals is very much rooted in her personal experience.

“Growing up, my mum, sisters and I would get together every Sunday to do each other’s hair,” she recalled.

Youmna explained, “My hairstyle is a huge part of my identity because hair is very often used to set us aside.”

The beauty of research is that the field encourages creative problem solving and invention, she added. Incorporating her research in the field of engineering, Youmna hopes her product will bring joy to women’s hair care experience and help to build their confidence.

Q: If you could meet any woman in history, who would it be and why?
A: I find inspiration in the women around me. I bring it back to them because their generosity has guided me in my own journey. One person I will always admire is my mum – she gives so much to the community and anything she put her mind to, she did!

3. Martha Musonza Holman  

Martha has been recognised as one of Women Equality Network’s 100 Welsh Women, which highlights women, past and present, who have made outstanding contributions to national life. Credit: Martha Musonza Holman

Born in Zimbabwe and based in Abergavenny, Martha Musonza Holman, is the founder of community interest companies Love Zimbabwe and Love Zimbabwe Fair Trade.

Supported by the Welsh Government and partnering with Fair Trade Wales, the organisations were created for the love of people, especially women and mothers of disabled children, Martha explained. 

It’s always been inside of me to support other women

Growing up in a village and becoming pregnant as a teenager, Martha understands the challenges faced by many women living in poverty in Zimbabwe.

“It was really hard for me,” Martha explained. “Because of our culture, we haven’t got a voice. So, it’s always been inside of me to support other women,” she added.

While empowering women in Africa, her work has a strong emphasis on the power of sustainability and fair trade. Focusing on food production, health, education and sanitation, the charities aim to engage communities in sustainable living and encourage practical changes to support fair trade. 

In 2017, Martha won an award in the social and humanitarian category of the Ethnic Minority Welsh Women Achievement Awards for her significant contribution to Welsh life.

Q: If you could meet any woman in history, who would it be?
A: There are several women I’m inspired by but Professor Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement, has to be one of my greatest inspirations

4. Melin Edomwonyi

Born and raised in Turkey, Melin moved to the UK to study graphic design before launching her business, MeDesign, in 2007. Credit: Sorbus Minima

Multi-hyphenate creative, Melin Edomwonyi is the founder of design studio, MeDesign and the host of Creative Mornings Cardiff.

Based in Cardiff, Melin describes MeDesign as a “no niche design agency,” specialising in branding, print and web design. 

Discussing Creative Mornings, Melin explained the monthly breakfast series connects creative communities around the world, inspiring change in local areas and cities. 

“We do a lot of storytelling of people from diverse backgrounds with diverse stories,” Melin said. For her, the community is all about inspiration and connection.

Female creators should be proud of themselves simply for sticking to it

Looking to the future of the creative industries, Melin hopes to see a consciously diverse workforce whereby more leadership positions are occupied by women from a variety of races, ethnicities and backgrounds. 

“There aren’t many people who look like me in leadership positions,” she noted. 

It’s difficult for women to make waves and move up in their careers, so female creators should be proud of themselves simply for sticking to it, Melin concluded.

Q: If you could meet any woman in history, who would it be and why?
A: Cindy Gallop. She’s constantly underlining female underrepresentation and campaigning for equal rights. Cindy works in the advertising industry and is absolutely brilliant.

5. Donna Ali

With a background in business, Donna is a committed advocate passionate about empowering the black community in South Wales. Credit: Richard Swingler, Wales Online

Donna Ali is the co-founder of the Campbell Network and the founder of the Black Owned Minority Business (B.O.M.B) directory.

Established in May 2020, The Campbell Network is a Cardiff-based community interest company named after Wales’ first black headteacher, Betty Campbell.

“Betty Campbell has always been someone I’ve admired,” Donna began. “In my school, we never talked about black culture or black history, so I would’ve loved to have been taught by her,” she recalled.

It’s so important that experiences and stories are seen and heard

In honour of the teacher who paved the way for black history education in Wales, the Campbell Network is all about telling black stories, Donna said.

“It’s so important that experiences and stories are seen and heard,” she added.

Focusing on local superheroes and changemakers, the organisation exists to inspire children and young people within the areas of education, law, politics, media, business and sport.

To help facilitate work experience placements for young people, Donna created the B.O.M.B in June 2020 to collate a directory of black and minority ethnic businesses in South Wales.  

Q: If you could meet any woman in history, who would it be and why?
A: Maya Angelou. She was calm, elegant and knew her purpose. I think having the wisdom to be patient and still in times of oppression is a powerful place to be. I’d love to sit with her and hear her story.

6. Meghan Gane

Cosmetic designer and researcher, Meghan Gane, focuses her sustainable beauty business, Sey Cosmetics, on catering for people with sensitive skin. Credit: Meghan Gane

Meghan Gane, 33, is the founder of plant based cosmetic company, Sey Cosmetics. 

Originally from the Seychelles, Meghan studied biological oceanography in China and now runs her business from The Sustainable Studio, Cardiff.

Established in 2018, Sey Cosmetics is not just about beauty products, Meghan explained. It’s about creating awareness of environmental issues and the current problems in the beauty industry, she added.

Combining her background in marine science with her passion for consciously made makeup, Meghan researches and designs her own products using eco-friendly and cruelty-free ingredients. 

It’s about creating awareness of environmental issues and the problems in the beauty industry

Sharing her personal experience of learning to love and care for her skin, Meghan spoke of the racial discrimination and damaging beauty ideals she witnessed while studying in China. 

“In China, how you look determines what kind of job you get, how many friends you have and whether you will get married or not,” she said. 

Struggling with acne and in a bid to remove her facial scars, Meghan began bleaching her skin. 

“In my head, I was saying ‘I’m removing my scars’, but really, I was doing it to make myself whiter,” she admitted.

In time, Meghan made an end to using bleaching creams and as a means of healing the damage incurred, she began experimenting with oils and waxes in her university dorm. This eventually led to her manufacturing and selling her own natural products. 

Today, as an accomplished founder and cosmetic designer, she describes her mission as empowering others through makeup and providing products that suit every complexion and skin type.

Q: If you could meet any woman in history, who would it be and why?
A: Michelle Obama. I find her amazing – not just as a woman but as a black woman. I’d love to know how she deals with all of the negativity.