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Empowering women starts with education

If we want to see more women in leadership positions across South Africa, we have to start with a focus on good education. This is the sentiment shared by Oxbridge Academy's group of exemplary female managers, including Siphokazi Vamva, who currently runs Oxbridge Academy's new Pretoria office.
Empowering women starts with education
Siphokazi – or Shorty, as her friends like to call her – first met Oxbridge Academy’s MD, Barend van den Berg, at a local restaurant in Stellenbosch. She wasn’t one of the college’s top managers back then — she was just another waiter taking food and drink orders.

“I wanted to do something else,” Siphokazi says when asked about her career shift. “I wanted to do something bigger.”

It wasn’t long after first getting to know Barend van den Berg that Siphokazi secured a job in Oxbridge Academy’s Helpdesk Department. And in no time at all, she had worked her way up to a team leader position in the Student Advisory Department. Soon Siphokazi was leading Oxbridge Academy’s corporate training initiative, with no end to her ambitions in sight.

At Oxbridge Academy, a company where well over 80% of the top management is female, Siphokazi’s gender was never a hindrance to her ambition and eventual success. But for many South Africans, the glass ceiling is still very much a reality. In the 15th Annual Report from the Commission of Employment Equity, the Department of Labour found that only 20.9% of top management positions in South Africa are occupied by women. So we decided to ask the advice of Oxbridge Academy’s female leaders on how women can empower themselves despite the obstacles they might face. Here’s what they had to say:

On why self-empowerment is important in addressing inequality:

You have to believe in yourself if no one else is going to. Oxbridge Academy’s Marketing Manager, Sanet Nel, says, “Women have a lot to offer in terms of management skills, and the more we realise that we’re not only qualified to fill these positions but also capable of doing so, the more we’ll see strong women leading this country.”

Sanet adds that self-empowerment isn’t only about believing in yourself, but also about acting on that belief. “My professional path started with formal education, but I soon learnt that you cannot be stagnant and expect growth if you don’t put in the effort yourself. I had to take risks and leave my comfort zone in order to go forward in life.”

On why women should aim for leadership positions:

Marilie de Reuck, who despite her young age has managed more than one department at Oxbridge Academy, says that “it’s about who you are and what your capabilities are.”

This is also the recruitment philosophy that Oxbridge Academy follows, according to Elbie Liebenberg, the principal of the college. “We don’t source people by saying, ‘We are looking for a woman for this position.’ We simply look for the best candidate.”

Elbie adds that “it’s not about whether women can be leaders. It’s that women are leaders. And if you are a leader you naturally gravitate toward leadership positions. It’s no different than men.”

On why it’s important for companies to promote female leadership:

“Women and men are completely different types of managers,” says Christelle Fürstenburg, who manages Oxbridge Academy’s new online platform. She believes that there are certain qualities that women possess that make them perfect for management positions. “I think when it comes to working with people, women can be much more successful leaders.” Being a woman should not be seen as a disadvantage, but as a unique advantage when it comes to leadership."

Karen Oosthuizen, Oxbridge Academy’s Registrations Manager, concurs that South African companies shouldn’t just look at women as strong leaders, but as leaders who can make invaluable contributions to a company’s management. “I think it’s obvious that a company that has something of everything is much more successful than a company that only has one type of person in a leadership position.”

Where does empowerment start?

Education, according to all of the managers at Oxbridge Academy, is at the heart of self-empowerment. “The more educated you are, the more empowered you are, the better decisions you can make, and the further you can go in life,” says Christelle.

Danette Heyns, Oxbridge Academy’s Vice-Principal and head of academics, gives the following advice to women: “Start getting qualified as soon as possible after high school. Make sure to look at the demand in the labour market when choosing your qualification.”

The importance of education according to Siphokazi

Empowering women starts with education
Currently studying a part-time course in Public Sector Accounting, Siphokazi’s advice to women across South Africa is something she practices herself: “If women want to succeed in life, they need to get themselves educated. They need to empower themselves.” Education, according to her, is the cornerstone of empowerment.

This year — four years since she first started working at Oxbridge Academy — Siphokazi has been entrusted with the task of managing Oxbridge Academy’s entire corporate training office in Pretoria. Siphokazi, who had to make time for us to interview her amidst a very busy schedule, says that the “something big” she wanted to accomplish with her life is to give more and more people the chance to empower themselves through education. “We need to empower our women and we need to empower our young girls and our young people through education.”

To find out more about self-empowerment through education at Oxbridge Academy, visit: www.oxbridgeacademy.edu.za.

26 Apr 2016 10:42

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