Motor industry still untransformed, but there is hope

By Edwin Naidu Time of article published Aug 20, 2021

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Edwin Naidu

South Africa’s motoring industry remains largely dominated by pale males.

Nissan South Africa has announced that it intends to change the narrative by committing to an increase its female representation in leadership to 25% by 2025.

More than a decade ago, former Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe challenged the motoring industry to transform, help grow the economy and address poverty and inequalities in South Africa.

But the current statistics show that they appeared deaf to his pleas.

In 2019, Cabinet endorsed the South Africa Automotive Masterplan, the 2035 vision of which is the achievement of “a globally competitive and transformed industry that actively contributes to the sustainable development of South Africa’s productive economy, creating prosperity for industry stakeholders and broader society”.

It aims, by 2035, to increase local content sharply, from 39% to 60%, double annual car-production, expand employment to 220 000 people and create a large fund to support black industrialists and transformation in the sector. Whether that happens without the tail shaking the head remains to be seen as long as the pale males are in control?

The South African arm of the Japanese carmaker said it has spent more than R56 million in the past five years on training female employees.

As a global entity, the company said enabling women, particularly in management positions, are essential to providing diverse value to customers. As a result, the company has seen an increase in female management globally from 6.7% in 2008 to 13.9% in 2020, because of its career development support and training provided to women in all regions.The recruitment and empowerment of women at all levels, with a focus on the inclusion of women of colour, was prioritised.

These targets include an increase in female representation at top management or executive level to 25% and an increase overall female representation at both senior and middle management levels.

The new targets the company has set are simply to ensure an upwards trajectory of the current efforts and achievements by Nissan women. In recent times, the company has seen multiple female senior managers leading some of the carmaker’s most crucial projects

These include the upgrading of the Rosslyn Manufacturing Plant in Pretoria and the building of the Nissan Navara locally, led by Senior Manager Chantelle Nkosi.

“As a woman who has grown within the organisation, it has been encouraging to see Nissan’s continued commitment to the empowerment of female employees. I started as a contracted engineer more than a decade ago and have since worked in multiple roles across the business, leading up to management roles,” said Nkosi

The company has also seen head of customer experience, Digital & CRM, Nancy Moodley, spearheading the launch of what the brand calls an ‘intuitive digital application technology,’ an pre-finance tool designed to allow customers to check affordability through a pre-approval process.

In order to ensure the achievement of the new employment equity targets, the company has identified multiple programmes and activities, including focused talent development and robust succession planning that includes women in strategic positions.

They want to ensure better use of leadership programmes to attract females into technical trades historically reserved for males.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the automotive industry, especially the dealer space. Lizette Crause, NSA GM of customer quality and dealer network development, said “it has been a challenging 18 months since the start of the pandemic, but we continue to be inspired by our team, especially the women across the dealer network. These women have had to manage the delicate balancing act between work and home lives. We continue to ensure we’re supporting the teams in their development goals through these challenging times.”

Liz Gorbunov, Chief Marketing Manager for light-commercial vehicles has said she believes in the importance of mentorship to empower young women in the industry. “When a person rises to the level of executive, you have to realise that this comes with responsibility. We must work with the young women in our industry, to help them see the pitfalls and avoid them. We want them to feel like they can speak up, they can choose to challenge when they are mistreated. By making this the norm, we make it even easier for the next generation of young women,” said Gorbunov.

Nissan South Africa said it would encourage employees to continue challenging the pre-conceived notions about women in the industry and is committed to supporting them as they choose to challenge the status-quo.

But whether a woman makes it into its upper echelons remains to be seen – the country’s motoring industry in general is severely challenged by transformation.

Only Billy Tom, the managing director and CEO of Isuzu, Leslie Ramsoomar, the managing director of PCSA (Peugeot, Citroën South Africa), and Nissan South Africa country director Kabelo Rabotho currently add to the leadership diversity in a sector crying out for colour, particularly, at the top.

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