Colleen Larsen Bio

Colleen Larsen, CE of Business Engage, has a career spanning 28 years within the financial services market. She is best known, however, for her work in gender mainstreaming, having won recognition as one of the leading voices for the sustainable advancement of women in the corporate and entrepreneurial space in South Africa today. 

Col, as most people know her, was the first chairperson of the South African Women Entrepreneurs Network Ltd. (SAWEN), an initiative of the Department of Trade & Industry to support women-owned SMMEs, and was instrumental in the establishment of the SAWEN national strategy, organisation and the constitution. 

She founded Business Engage ( in 2005, an exciting and inventive organisation at the forefront of strategic thinking on gender mainstreaming in the private sector. 

In 2013, she started the Gender Mainstreaming Awards (, currently in its eleventh year, to encourage the private sector to buy-in to achieving more meaningful representation of women in the mainstream of business. In September 2021, 8000 attended the event virtually. In 2022, apart from streaming online from East and West Africa with 6800 people, the Gender Mainstreaming Awards hosted 500 people in Johannesburg, 300 in Nairobi and 100 in Accra 

Colleen is President of the 30% Club Southern and East Africa and drives the vision of 30% Club Southern and East Africa. The 30% Club is a global organisation of chairpersons and other senior business leaders publicly committed to achieving a more representation of women on boards, because it makes business sense. 

As a gender mainstreaming expert, Colleen has represented BUSA at Nedlac in negotiating the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, and was a representative on the steering committee for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) programme on gender. She is also one of only two private sector representatives accredited by the ILO to carry out gender audits and one of eleven persons accredited by the ILO as experts in women entrepreneurship in South Africa. 

Colleen is 

  • a finalist in SA’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government Awards 2016 
  • a Fellow of the Institute of Directors. 
  • winner of the Director's Award in the Woman of Stature Awards 2018, 
  • Top 10 Finalist in the Conscious Companies Awards 2019 and 
  • a Top 3 Finalist in the Conscious Companies Awards 2020. 
  • a member of the IWFSA. 
  • Author of the Board Masterclass Series book, Guidelines for Mastering Effective Corporate Decision-Making, Compliance and Strategy at Board level 
  • Author of Gender Matters, a Practical Response to the Slippery Ladder - a practical book for all those who want to make it to the top or at least want to go far in the business world. It is also for those who want to be their own boss within their own company. 

Above all, Colleen is a prolific networker, organiser and creative visionary in the world of business.