WOMAN’S MONTH: Why more woman should enter the motoring space
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JOHANNESBURG - Being a woman in an industry dominated by men isn’t always easy but hard work and dedication has earned Siyanga Madikizela respect and admiration from her peers and colleagues alike.
The bubbly Public Relations Manager for Volkswagen South Africa has had to get to grips with torque, Kilowatts, gear ratios and all manner of technical aspects associated with cars in order to keep the media industry informed and updated on all aspects ranging from the entry level Polo Vivo through to the top of the range Touareg and everything in between.
No small feat for a woman born in Mthatha and educated in King Williams Town while sharing a house with three brothers.
“I’ve always been interested in language and history so journalism was my first attraction and public relations a second option.
“I wanted to be a hard news reporter, running around Iraq reporting on political events but after finishing my journalism qualification at the Nelson Mandela University in 2011 I was hit with the harsh reality of being an unemployed graduate.
“After applying unsuccessfully for various positions for six months one of my lecturers called to say that VW in Uitenhage were looking for unemployed graduates. My first thoughts were that I hadn’t studied anything related to cars like engineering or design but it turns out they wanted to beef up the communications division.”
Madikizela edited VW’s in-house Fanfare Magazine, which is aimed at employees on the shop floor who don’t always have access to the internet. “We also received an award for CommunicationHubs which are screens we placed on the shopfloor to keep employees informed and I was also part of the team that developed the “Mobi” app to share information with all VW employees.”
After six years she was ready for a new challenge and met with Matt Gennrich the General manager Group Communications, who was set to retire and replaced by Andile Dlamini.
“So in 2017 it was a full circle moment when I was appointed PR Manager.”
From there it was into the belly of the beast as it were.
“Initially it was very challenging, you have to have the know-how and understand the technical nuances of every product as well as a deep understanding of each model.”
It’s not uncommon these days to see women in the industry, but Madikizela says it can still be challenging.
“I grew up with three brothers so I was used to being in male-dominated spaces but it can still be daunting especially from a technical aspect. But more women are entering the industry and you see them in senior positions in legal, management and finance to name a few.
“I would encourage women to enter the industry, it can only be richer for it. We bring a different dynamic to the team, women see and experience things differently and because the automotive industry is a large part of the country’s GDP it’s important that we have those views.”
Like many new jobs it can be a bit overwhelming initially.
“In the beginning it wasn’t always easy being taken seriously and for a woman's voice to be heard especially on technical aspects.You have to be on top of your game and not be overwhelmed, but I’ve grown and thoroughly enjoy what I do.”
As part of her after-hours portfolio Madikizela mentors and helps young women keen to enter the motoring space. “I can’t stress how much Matt (Gennrich) mentored and groomed me so it’s important for me to pass on that knowledge.
Not satisfied with that only, Madikizela is in the process of enrolling for an advanced diploma in communication management before studying for a degree in strategic communications.
“The average length of service for VW employees is 19 years and there’s a lot of scope for advancement, so going forward I’d love to have an international assignment to broaden my horizons and continue to be able to contribute to the company.”
And you can’t work for a company like Volkswagen and not have a favourite car.
“Definitely the Touareg,” she says without hesitation, although it’s a bit like having to choose a favourite child.
“I love performance SUVs and every time I climb into one I’m still amazed by its size, comfortable interior and advanced technology.
“I’m also excited by the electric generation of cars and what that holds for the future.”
And a final word of advice for women and the industry?
“We need more women in the automotive industry. Don’t be intimidated and undermined by the technical aspects, learn and speak from a place of understanding.”