The continued gender gap in leadership roles in South Africa and around the globe is well-known and conspicuous. While the discussions linger on, rising Sponsorships Manager, Nqobile Gama, has tackled the topic head-on in her Master’s Degree in Business Management research.
In her dissertation, Gama uncovered a strong dominance of men in sports organisations. The highest seats at these organisations are not only predominantly occupied by men, but their structures and governing styles are also dictated by the values of masculinity. The glass ceiling is cited as one of the leading reasons why women are continuously being sidelined from pursuing sports leadership positions.
Through her extensive research, Gama, who is born and bred in Diepkloof, is eager to pave the way for the next generation by using the experience and knowledge that she has gained from current leaders Dr Pam Serra and Nomsa Mahlangu, to change the face of the game for women in sport in all spheres.
In this in-depth conversation, Gama takes us through her exceptional journey as she strikes a balance between education and sport.
A warm welcome to gsport! Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello! My name is Nqobile Gama, I was born and bred in Diepkloof (Soweto). I’ve recently completed my Master’s Degree in Business Management, and by profession I am a Sponsorships Manager. Now, a lot of people ask me, “What exactly is it that you do in sports?” Well, my role in sports is twofold, firstly, I am a servant of the game and secondly, I am a servant for the game, and what this means is that my role in sports is to impact people’s lives through this game that we love so much, which is sports, and secondly, it is to ensure that whatever spaces that I find myself in within the sports industry, to lead them in a better state to what I found them in and I have noticed that if I do not attach my role in sports to a specific profession then I one, keep honest to myself and two, that I stay true to the cause which is ultimately to take sports in SA to the level where we all know it should be.
2020 has taught me the importance of celebrating each one regardless of how small or how big that one may seem to be.
How does it feel to be a first-time nominee for the Momentum gsport Awards?
To be a first-time nominee for the 2020 edition of the Momentum gsport Awards is such a special and humbling feeling. I’m literally beaming with pride to know that the work that I have been putting in, the effort that I have been putting in over the years has not gone unnoticed, so I am truly grateful to that individual that nominated me and I hope that this is just the beginning of what is yet to follow for me in this space.
You have an incredible educational background, where did it all start for you?
I started university back in 2010 and I was initially doing a BCom Finance Degree at the University of Johannesburg and I remember sitting in an Accounting lecture and I had a light bulb moment and I thought to myself, “What are you doing here?” But, because one of my personality traits is that I absolutely hate giving up, I decided that I wasn’t going to give up and was going to soldier on with my BCom Finance Degree but as the semester progressed, I remember not being able to shake off this burning desire to pursue something that I really loved and something I was passionate about. At the end of the first semester I decided to sit my parents down and tell them my decision to change my qualification to a BCom Sports Management Degree and to my pleasant surprise they were very supportive of my decision and because I had literally scraped through the academic semester, I asked my mother to come with me to plead my case at the faculty and after a very lengthy session I was eventually given the thumbs up to change my qualifications.
“Initially it was because it was something I loved, it was because it was something that I was passionate about but as I went into second and third year, it grew into something way greater than love.” – Sponsorship Manager, Nqobile Gama.
A lot of people asked me, “Nqobile, why Sports Management?” Initially it was because it was something I loved, it was because it was something that I was passionate about but as I went into second and third year, it grew into something way greater than love. I started to piece together the intricacies and the science behind the professionalism of sports and because I wanted to elevate my understanding of the commercial aspect of sports and to delve deeper into it. I decided to then upon completion of my Undergraduate Degree to pursue an Honours Degree in BCom Sports Management, Dr Pam Serra holds a Doctorate in Sports Management and it was because of her expertise that the course was relevant, it was enjoyable, it was worthwhile and it was very beneficial not only to us but to the industry that we now work and serve in. She ignited the fire in me, fire in my soul for education and for sports.
At the beginning of my Honours Degree, I had set out a few goals for myself and one of the goals was to complete my degree with a distinction and at the end of my Honours year, I had achieved this goal but soon after the department then discovered that I was actually the first African student in the history of UJ to graduate cum laude with a BCom Honours Degree in Sports Management. For me that is one of the greatest wins and it is still one of those achievements that I hold so dear to my heart.
Fast forward a few years after, I then decided to enrol for my Master’s Degree still at UJ in Business Management. It has been a very, very lengthy journey! It took me five years to complete my Master’s Degree but upon reflection I have realized that there was a purpose for me to take that long and I think in the process I’ve learned so much about myself and it’s an experience that I would not change for anything. My Master’s dissertation is titled; the perceptions and the aspirations of female sports students towards sports leadership and this topic comes off the back of this ongoing underrepresentation of females in sports leadership.
In my dissertation, I included several reasons, but I will just highlight some. One, there is a very, very, strong dominance of males in sports organisations, secondly sports and sports organisations are structured or are governed by the values of masculinity. Thirdly, the glass ceiling is cited as one of the leading reasons why women are continuously being sidelined from pursuing sports leadership positions.
What were some of the findings you made as you delved further into these discussions in your dissertation?
“I think over the years we have truly gotten to understand the importance and the value of mentorship and truly it’s by rising and pulling up others, as we rise that we will really start to close this gap.” – Gama highlights the importance of mentorship in closing the gender gap in the sport industry.
The findings is that women tend to impose self-limiting behaviours on themselves and I guess this is the way that the system has just been structured but my dissertation also gives strategies as to how we can start to challenge the status quo and one of these strategies include mentorship. I think over the years we have truly gotten to understand the importance and the value of mentorship and truly it’s by rising and pulling up others, as we rise that we will really start to close this gap. We all have an important part to play for us to change the situation going forward and I believe that change starts with us. It’s not a you problem or a their problem, it’s a us problem.
What part does Nqobile Gama play in changing the status quo?
The way I plan on changing the situation going forward is to always be conscious of the fact that according to the fact that these issues exist, it’s my role and it’s my responsibility to call out those people who perpetuate the situation and this perpetuation happens in the circles that we exist in and it exists in the words that we use, the languages that we use, the terms that we use and the behaviours that we project or that we take on, for example – I think this this kind of links up to the challenges that I face or we face as women in the industry.
What would you pin-point as some of the challenges that you and/or other women in sport come across in the industry?
When we walk into sports spaces males tend to see our femininity before they see our professionalism and this is also one of those reasons why females would tend to shy away from challenging the status quo because at times it can be very uncomfortable.
Another challenge that I have experienced in this space is not being able to navigate my way around the sports industry. A lot of the things I have been winging yes, but I can also attribute my growth in the space to two ladies that I look up to so much.
Who are these inspirational women?
One, Dr Serra, who has been a major influence in my approach the sports base and she is a dynamite. She has also taught me how I can marry education and sports. Secondly, Miss Nomsa Mahlangu, she is power! She takes herself seriously and there’s no other way for us not to take her seriously as well. She is one of the best sports administrators that I know, and I really look up to her fierceness.
Academically you have achieved much success, what else are you proud of accomplishing?
It would be serving on the NEC of the University of Sports South Africa federation and just my overall growth in the sports space. I mean it’s not where I would want it to be, but I understand, and I know that it’s where I should be. If I can continue along this path, I believe that my peers and I are going to achieve a lot of things. Our leaders have paved the way ahead for us.
What message of encouragement would you share to our young girls to inspire them to make their dreams a reality?
Education is important, so ensure that you take you take charge of your future through education. When it comes to choosing a career or choosing a qualification to study make sure that you study something that you love! Do not study something that is popular or do not study something that your parents or your teachers want you to study. Study something that you are passionate about and that you love because when you’re passionate and you love something everything else just falls into place after that. Then, understand what exactly it is that you want to do with that qualification and it could be that you want to be a billionaire from that qualification, it could be that you want to impact change but ensure that you know what it is that you want to do with your qualification.
Lastly, have confidence in yourself, back yourself up because when you back yourself up it’s easy for you to convince others to have confidence in you. Believe in your dreams, dream big and be relentless in your chase for your dreams. We are the leaders of tomorrow as cliché as that may sound but we need to ensure that we equip ourselves with enough information, enough skills, enough expertise to be the leaders that we know that we can be.
Your star continues to rise, what else is on your list of ambitions?
My greatest ambition within the sports base is to really see change materialise. To see women getting the same opportunities that the males are getting, to see female sports athletes getting the same opportunities, the same payment, the same respect that males get. To also see the narratives changing for women in sports, to see us getting and securing big sponsorship deals, to see the shift in the way our stories are told in the media. My greatest ambition really, to summarize it, is to see tangible change.