You Need To Know About These Three Bad-Ass Career Women

Because they're blazing a trail for you to follow.


Juliet McGuire |

As a female motoring journalist, I know all too well what it’s like to be one of a handful of women in an industry dominated by men. Fortunately, times are slowly changing for the better, but it’s been a tough road for those trying to pave their way through this predominantly masculine landscape. Here, three incredibly inspiring career women who are blazing the trail for those to follow…

The dealer principal: Marcia Mayaba

Hailed as one of the most influential and inspirational innovators in the local retail motor industry, Marcia Mayaba is a force with which to be reckoned and she’s one of the most powerful women I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Born in Orlando East in Soweto, Marcia lost her mom to breast cancer when she was 21 years old. She had to drop out of varsity in order to take care of her two younger sisters, but nothing was going to get in the way of this rising star. In 1997, with absolutely no employment history or experience, Marcia was appointed as a trainee at Barmot Truck Hire in Cleveland (now known as Avis Truck Rental Barloworld). Here, Marcia worked her way up to management level and obtained her qualification in Road Transport from the University of Johannesburg.

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Fast forward a few years of hard work to 2009 and Marcia was headhunted to become dealer principal for one of Volkswagen’s branches – a huge break. But she declined the offer. Because she had no experience in the retail space and failure was not an option, Marcia requested to be trained first before assuming the role. A first for Imperial Auto Lindsay Saker, Marcia was employed as a trainee dealer principal.

From there, Marcia’s career has been defined by history-making moments again and again: she became the first black female dealer principal in the country at Volkswagen/Audi SA, Imperial Auto and Lindsay Saker and then became the first black female to win the Club of Excellence Award at the Grand Prix Awards in 2013 and 2014.

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What makes Marcia even more special is that she’s not doing this alone. She’s passionate about the advancement of women in the motoring industry and, being at the top of her game, is taking other women along with her. As she said a few years ago, “When people talk about the motor industry, it’s limited to sales. But there are so many more operational elements in a dealership where women can make a positive contribution and be successful. There is a huge need for female technicians and service and parts managers… My focus is to attract, train and develop women to ensure a pipeline of talent in the motor industry.”

Marcia has recently added another history-making moment to her long list of achievements by becoming the first black female to be a dealer principal of two dealerships in South Africa – for Barloworld Isuzu Johannesburg and Barloworld Isuzu Zambezi. With women like Marcia, we can certainly hope for a better future for women in the motoring industry.

The industrial engineering manager: Keabetswe Molebaloa

It’s becoming less and less of a surprise to see women working in manufacturing plants. But, having visited several of them around the country, I can tell you that most of the women are doing the mundane jobs, like sorting plastics and screws.

In 2011, Keabetswe Molebaloa was accepted into a two-year graduate programme at Ford Motor Company South Africa (FMSA) after completing her B.Tech in Industrial Engineering. Keabetswe rapidly rose through the ranks and is now the plant industrial engineering (IE) manager at the global automaker’s Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria.

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As Keabetswe points out, Ford has a culture to support, develop and groom its employees for career advancement. But as a woman in a male-dominated manufacturing industry, she still feels pressure to prove herself. “You need to be willing to listen, you need to have patience to understand. You need to have the heart to care and you need to get your work done on time, as expected, and deliver beyond expectation.”

The chief engineer: Chika Kako

Chika Kako made history when she became the first female chief engineer at Lexus. Her expertise ranges from engineering to strategic planning and human interface design. In the early 2000s, Chika focused on enhancing the product appeal of Lexus vehicle interiors, analysing differences between European and Japanese values from an emotional engineering perspective. It was here that she developed her own philosophy around what the Japanese call Kansei engineering, which aims to meet the emotional and psychological needs of a customer with the way the product is designed. The studies Chika conducted led to reimagined vehicle interiors which enhanced the appeal of European-produced cars.

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Chika is currently the executive vice president of Lexus International and the chief engineer for the Lexus UX – a brand-new car which launched internationally in Sweden in July last year. It was at this launch that I met this remarkable woman. Unfortunately, women in this industry are still exceptions and not the rule; Chika and her counterparts are still part of an elite group – it was only in 2013 that a woman was made the CEO of a manufacturer for the first time in history. This was Mary Barra who took on the role at General Motors.

As much as Chika acknowledges her role as a trailblazer, she doesn’t see things in terms of gender. She told Business Insider Australia, “Male chief engineers never think ‘what should I do as a man?’. It’s the same thing for me.” And she says her philosophy on career success is simple, “If you have hope or a vision, if you believe it is good, if you believe it is your destiny, then you should try [whatever role you’re offered].”

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