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The realities of mental health for women in the automotive workplace

The realities of mental health for women in the automotive workplace

InspectaCar, one of South Africa’s leading pre-owned vehicle sales companies, recently hosted a virtual discussion comprising a series of conversations with women in the company, giving them an opportunity to share their experiences of working through the Covid-19 pandemic in a traditionally male-dominated automotive industry.

Entitled the Queens Chat and hosted by InspectaCar CEO, Pertunia Sibanyoni, the forum provided a safe space of support and upliftment.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought the automotive world to an almost standstill, presenting it with immediate economic challenges and a large degree of disequilibrium. In a matter of moments, the automotive business had to adapt, and its ability to do so determined its performance and survival in a remote and somewhat isolated working reality.

“As business leaders we found ourselves in a position of needing to boost morale and at the same time not discredit the on-going effect the pandemic was having on everyone’s lives,” says Sibanyoni.

“What we thought was potentially the beginning of our undoing, unearthed a new way of conversing and engaging and holistic consideration for one’s mental health and wellbeing has become integrated into the daily discourse surrounding business’ operations”.

The Queen’s Chat explored multiple topics of conversation including work life balance, setting and respecting boundaries, physical well-being and mental health. Commenting on a question about how her management style had changed as a result of the pandemic, Sibanyoni stated that one of her most significant challenges was learning to be a resilient and agile leader. The start of lockdown brought with it lots of uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Decisions were required very quickly, based on very limited information at hand. She said that a lot was based on her own gut feel.

“This led to establishing an unwavering belief in my instincts, which guided me to holistically engage and serve my team. It was no longer only about day-to-day management. Instead, it became all about empathy, of touching base with everyone in the team, on an individual basis, including our dealership teams.

“I also found that the realities of remote working, especially for women in South Africa, meant that all the hats a woman wears when it comes to her life, were being worn in one space, in the confines of her home.”

One attendee shared the lessons she learned during the various stages of lockdown, stating that the pandemic had taught her to be sincerely honest with herself. In the initial stages of level 5 lockdown, she said that she felt the pressure to keep it all together, when in truth she was struggling to manage everything.

She saw herself simultaneously tutoring her children, chairing meetings, guiding her team, taking care of her husband, cleaning the house, attempting to exercise and maintaining the garden. All of this overwhelmed her and she needed to come to terms with this new reality and establish a means of managing everything without compromising her mental health.

The open dialogue led to attendees sharing and unpacking the challenges they identified and were determined to resolve within the InspectaCar business, and the broader automotive industry. The women also spoke about the realisation that they continuously experience in the workplace as women with their capabilities being underestimated. The general consensus was that they found themselves having to work harder to be noticed and taken seriously.

However, in the same breath as challenges were discussed, there was also a determination to advise and uplift each other. There was a collective understanding that a collaborative and transparent means of championing one another would be the way in which they can support each other while tracking their careers in the automotive industry.

“The nature of advice provided reiterated the notions of resilience and strength that women are commonly identified with. As well as words of encouragement to boost morale,” says Sibanyoni.

The Queen’s Chat reflected a true collaborative style of leadership and was importantly a safe space for much needed conversation and reflection. While October highlights mental health awareness in South Africa, it is important that conversations surrounding mental health issues are regularly explored, as they help destigmatise mental health while also providing communities with the opportunity to heal.

 

 

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