Vuyokazi Quphe is a woman in charge. As the current Corporate Communications lead for Nissan Africa Regional Business Unit & South Africa Communications lead, Vuyokazi is one of few women in the male-dominated auto industry. In light of Freedom Day, she is reflecting on her career, her role in the workplace, and what she brings to the table. She advocates for the creation of spaces that allow women to “feel free and liberated enough to show up as their most authentic selves.”
Here, she chats to Glamour SA about diversity, inclusivity, and women empowerment in the corporate realm
Freedom Day in South Africa is a celebration of our democracy, and progress towards diversity and inclusion (D&I). What does Freedom Day mean to you as a woman?
During my earlier career days, I had the honour of serving in various positions including being magazine editor of two women’s magazines. Although my younger self didn’t realise it then, the platforms were important to celebrating the lives of everyday women and individuals from diverse walks of life, who were doing extra-ordinary things.
Critically, the platforms, just like what Glamour does today, have been central to creating spaces where women feel free and liberated enough to show up as their most authentic selves. Freedom Day is a celebration of just that – the ability for us all to show up and be our authentic selves and exist in spaces that welcome and celebrate us as we are.
What has your experience been like as a woman in power in a male dominated industry? What are some of the highlights/challenges you face?
Although the manufacturing sector was previously male dominated, South Africa has made strides in the advocacy for gender equality across the automotive manufacturing value chain.
I’m proud to be part of an organisation such as Nissan where diversity and inclusion are a priority. For example, there has been a measurable increase in female management globally, from 6.7% in 2008, to 13.9% in 2020. Here in South Africa, Nissan invested more than R56 million in training and development of female employees over the last five years. What gives me more confidence are the steps being made towards the commitment of increasing representation of females at management and executive levels to 25% by 2025.
Furthermore, every day I celebrate how my and many others’ ‘differences’ are celebrated because of the realisation that through these colourful differences we bring interesting perspective, skills sets and leadership styles - all-important aspects of connecting with our diverse stakeholders.
In your view, what can be done to mitigate some of the challenges women face in the workplace?
One can certainly see the winds of change. This then also means that the working environment is one supportive of inclusion. Whilst we acknowledge challenges, I believe evaluating possible solutions will create the world we and our children need. With no former experience in the auto sector, I found I was able to quickly assimilate through the support of other women professionals and key, the active championing, mentoring and coaching by male counterparts and leaders who are just as committed to being part of the change.
You recently facilitated a panel discussion in which you discussed diversity, inclusion, and shifting boundaries for women in the auto sector. What were some of the main points that came out of that discussion?
The discussion was important in continuing to examine diversity and inclusion through its various lenses through unpacking unconscious bias. Many who joined the virtual session commended the fact that we touched on the tangible aspects of D&I – sexual orientation, abilities, and spiritual backgrounds and so on. We also celebrated how Nissan also has practical and all-encompassing policies, organisational values and is creating a culture conducive to creating positive and authentic experiences for not just our team members, stakeholders but our customers. It’s important that everyone who interacts with our organisation feels seen, respected and valued.
How far do you think South Africa has come - or still has to go - in terms of transformation in our country?
We’ve come a long way. Without our country’s constitution, progressive policies and supportive workspaces, many women professionals and individuals from often overlooked communities would not have a seat at the table. However, this doesn’t mean resting on our laurels. Let’s consider the ease of mobility that Nissan has provided all its customers, in particular the woman. Historically, we know that owing to socio-economical dynamics, the woman customer encountered several hurdles in the purchasing of a vehicle. This then resulted in her having a limited choice in terms of the purchasing consideration and access to financial resources. We’ve certainly come a long way from those days and Nissan recognises the diverse customer needs and therefore provides the customers freedom of mobility through a tailored customer-centric experience. That’s on the commercial front… in terms of enjoying our liberties, many more conversations with policymakers and decision makers must continue.
In my roles as Lead of Corporate Communications for the Nissan Africa Regional Business Unit, I value the benefits of education and awareness in order to create those free spaces where all individuals are free to show up as themselves and to have the discussions!
How do you enjoy celebrating Freedom Day?
I do so by consciously reflecting and celebrating the efforts made by those who came before us to ensure that we can live in a free and democratic country today - a state where human dignity and respect are enshrined into our Constitution. In terms of legacy, I find it important to make both my son and daughter aware and appreciative of our country’s historical past and the cost of freedom we enjoy today. I also impress it upon them to courageously, and consistently, show up as their truest selves. It’s the only way we can continue to ensure freedom, diversity and inclusion are part of our everyday lives.