Frustrated by gender-based inequalities and injustices in the South African petroleum sector, dynamic Durban businesswoman Dr Thandi Ngxongo delved into the ‘skewed situation’ doing research which secured her a Doctor of Business Administration degree from UKZN.
Women at the Top: Unlocking the Full Potential of Women in Leadership in the Petroleum Industry, was the title of her dissertation which was supervised by Professor Emmanuel Mutambara of the Graduate School of Business and Leadership.
Ngxongo’s doctoral thesis evolved from her Master of Business Administration dissertation which earned her cum laude success in 2018.
Her PhD study investigated the challenges faced by women in their endeavours to progress to managerial and leadership positions in the petroleum industry in South Africa. ‘I wanted to get lived experiences of women in leadership positions, understand the challenges they go through, and identify factors that affect their progress in the industry,’ she said. ‘I was also keen to correlate personal attributes, skills and experiences of women in relation to personal attributes, skills, and experiences in executive positions, and come up with a model of how women can unleash their full potential in leadership positions.’
The study compared women as mothers with those as leaders in executive managerial positions, and from findings found motherhood could be a wonderful training ground for the development of abilities that would be useful in their careers while they climb the corporate ladder. These include traits such as being supportive, transparency, participatory, multitasking, trustworthiness, fairness and being pacesetters. Indications from the research are that it is not necessary for women to develop a different set of traits but rather they can leverage from the traits of mothers in society. Mentoring and coaching were identified as key aspects in accelerating the full potential of women in leadership.
A work-family interface model to assist women unleash their full potential was created from the study.
Ngxongo was an ideal candidate to explore the topic having begun her working life as chemical engineer, later venturing into the restaurant industry. A church leader and philanthropist, she is now the proud owner of the BP Moore Road fuel station in Glenwood, Durban, while raising a family with her supportive husband, Mr Menzisi Ngxongo.
‘It is a reality that women representation in key leadership positions is still very low in the petroleum industry. The inspiration to explore the issue is really based on first-hand experience being a person who climbed the corporate ladder wearing many hats – as a woman, a wife, a mother, a leader in society and a businesswoman.’
In between her busy schedule, Ngxongo is the founder of uThandekile Foundation – an organisation she uses for community development projects aimed at uplifting and empowering women and the youth in South Africa.
Her life moto to never stop learning has seen her enrolling for an international business leadership programme. ‘I believe in empowering myself and contributing to the body of knowledge. If I am to remain relevant as a businesswoman I need to keep learning every day,’ she said.
On her academic achievement, Ngxongo said: ‘I have this overwhelming deep gratitude and a sense of accomplishment. I embarked on this journey for self-fulfillment and to contribute to a body of knowledge.’
Ngxongo acknowledged the critical role played by her supervisor Professor Mutambara: ‘The guidance and inspiration I got from him enabled me to complete my studies within the prescribed duration. His immense support in shaping this project helped me to build self-belief that it was possible to stay focused and complete this project despite the many challenges in our country and a project of this magnitude.’
Congratulating Ngxongo, Mutambara said: ‘You worked so hard from the onset to achieve this milestone – I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more. Mentoring you on this academic journey was interesting, and a lot easier because of your commitment. You set an amazing example for others, and in particular all women in business.’
Indebted to her supportive family she said: ‘My husband was my pillar of strength as I went through various emotions – he was my sounding board.’
She also recalled how her mother cried tears of joy after hearing the good news and also how her son, Siyaphila, told her he was inspired by her academic success.
Her plans include using her new qualification to make an impact through her uThandekile Foundation and assisting academia through guest lectureship and providing mentorship and coaching to postgraduate students.
Words: Hazel Langa
Photograph: Asante Solutions