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Thandeka Ngoma joined Bridgestone Southern Africa in 2017 as Marketing Manager – and has worked her way up to Consumer Sales Director, responsible for looking after a mega sales operation that includes all retail customers, fleet operators and original equipment manufacturers requiring specially designed tyres.

This powerhouse woman is making a mark in an industry considered, for the most part, a “man’s world”. She tells GH about the journey…

Proud to be paving the way for women

“I am deeply proud to contribute towards the advancement and representation of women in my organisation, as well as in the tyre industry through my areas of influence,” says Thandeka. “While I may not have had a traditional tyre industry background when I started here, a universal principle in modern business is to create a truly customer-centric business.”

A passion for teaching and mentoring

Thandeka feels strongly about mentoring rising professionals and contributing towards the welfare of communities. “I’m an active member and a director of the non-profit organisation, The Character Company, which focuses on working with and mentoring boys who come from single female-headed households, who don’t have present fathers or positive male role models.

“The long-term mentorship programme focuses on providing male mentors to the boys, thus helping to raise good men with strong values, positively impacting families and society at large,” she says.

Through her mentorship work, Thandeka has mentored as many as 15 people, with six of those relationships enduring until today – including two at Bridgestone. “In these relationships, I have supported younger colleagues to gain personal and professional excellence,” she says.

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It’s a male-dominated industry… but women have a strong role to play

While manufacturing in South Africa is still a male-dominated field, says Thandeka, the big job is to encourage women in the beginning stages of their studies and careers to get into manufacturing and the tyre industry – or the automotive industry in general.

“Most of these companies have graduate programmes, which provide young graduates with an opportunity to get a feel for the industry, while getting some good corporate experience early on. The message that I often communicate to women entering the job market is not to be afraid of being in an environment that is dominated by males. We have to actively drive transformation,” says Thandeka.

The opportunities are there. You just need to grab them!

“I would encourage all young women to be brave and put themselves out there. For me, being the first female leader in the Bridgestone sales organisation is a major step. Even though you haven’t seen something being done, always believe that it can start with you, so you can be the change. More people will see that it is possible and more change can happen,” says Thandeka.

And Bridgestone Southern Africa is making it easier to get your foot in the door. It participates in the YES4Youth Development Programme, which takes in youth with degrees and diplomas in a variety of functions, such as sales, information technology, finance, procurement and engineering.

The YES4Youth 12-month quality work experience gives unemployed youth a high-impact first chance at work, equipping them with a toolkit to launch them into the industry of their choice.

“I believe this initiative is a good start for graduates to get into our industry and a great opportunity to proactively build a talent pipeline that would enable participating young future leaders space to nurture their smart, innovative ideas relevant and necessary for an evolving industry,” she says.

The key is finding work that sets your heart on fire

“My first job was just about getting into the corporate environment,” says Thandeka. “I was doing 8-5pm and not loving what I was doing. I did pick up lessons along the way, of course, but there was no passion. It took a few years to discover the kind of work that set my heart on fire. It took some bravery to take a chance on something that turned out to be a passion for me,” she says.

Most careers are not linear, and you’re bound to make a few turns (some wrong!) along the way. But even with a wrong turn in her own career, Thandeka walked away with lessons learnt. She was brave enough to call it a mistake quickly and make a decision to do something about it. You always have time, she says – always.

So, how do you strike a work-life balance?

“Work-life balance has been a challenge – not only at the beginning or my career, but honestly throughout [it],” admits Thandeka. “I’ve learnt that it’s about integration more than balance, really. I’ve learnt to ask for help because I can’t do everything – delegating to a team and colleagues at work and delegating at home as well, since I’m fortunate enough to have a helper.”

She’s learnt to show up for her family for the things that matter, and to focus on quality over quantity. “I’ve learnt that I have to take care of myself before I can give more to others – because the fuel does run out.”

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Navigating an untransformed industry as a woman and person of colour

“For a long time, it’s been easy to accept the status quo, put my head down and just focus on doing well on the job. And this has largely served me well,” says Thandeka. “But I have learnt that sometimes the situation calls for bravery to challenge the bias and to be the first one to break the glass ceiling. It’s not easy, of course – focus, bravery and thick skin is what it took for me. But mostly, being in an environment where diversity is seen as a strength, with leaders that are intentional about it, has been very enabling.”

A must-read book for every woman

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a great read for both men and women, actually, giving a deeper insight into gender inequality,” says Thandeka.

The art of self-care

“The truth is you cannot give what you don’t have, so refuelling is critical to showing up as your best self. Self-care is personal – we all need to figure out what it looks like for ourselves,” says Thandeka.

Here’s how she shows herself love and care:

1. Sleep. “Catching up on extra sleep over the weekend is a form of self-care.”

2. Doing something unproductive – and not feeling guilty about it. “This I usually do on Friday night. [It] could be a movie or catching up on a series I like on Netflix. It’s about taking a break from having responsibility or being needed,” says Thandeka.

3. Taking real time away twice a year – without working while  you’re there. “Spending a few hours with my girlfriends always refuels me,” says Thandeka.

4. Exercise. “[I do] 5am walks at least three times a week before starting my day,” she says.

Connect with Thandeka

“I love connecting with other women. Mentorship is always a reciprocal relationship where we learn from each other. I can be reached on LinkedIn.”

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