Youth Month 2022: Lonwabo Makapela

Youth Month 2022: Lonwabo Makapela

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the youth of the NRF who are working towards achieving the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the young NRF-affiliated researchers who are helping to ensure a sustainable planet for all.

Lonwabo Makapela is a PhD student in Human Resource Management at the University of Pretoria. She received funding from the NRF for her Honours studies (Human Resource Management: North-West University) and is currently funded by the NRF for her PhD studies. She is also the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship as a Visiting Student Researcher at Vanderbilt University (2022/2023).

This is her story…

I grew up in the rural town of Sterkspruit, Eastern Cape, in a very close-knit family. Both my parents are/were school headmasters (my dad is now retired). I grew up in an environment where my parents placed great emphasis on education. My dad often says that “education is the inheritance we wish to leave you with”. My parents are my greatest support system and I am inspired by how hardworking and fearless they are. I am the middle child of three children (I have an older sister and younger brother who are both highly educated and they inspire me deeply). I am also a proud aunt to my almost three-year old nephew.

My study journey began at the University of the Free State where I had aspirations to become a medical doctor during my time as a competing student and provincial sprint athlete. During that time, I was enrolled for a BSc in Medical Microbiology. I struggled to balance life as a student who was active in academics, sports, culture and leadership. After careful consultation with my parents, I made the move to BCom Human Resource Management. And so my journey in the field began.

I retired my spikes and moved to the North-West University, Potchefstroom, where I completed my BCom, BCom Hons, and MCom in Human Resource Management. In 2020, after reading some of Professor Stella Nkomo’s work within the field of diversity in organisations, I applied to the PhD Human Resource Management Programme at the University of Pretoria. I then began my PhD journey in 2021.

Growing up, I aspired to be well-educated and exceptional at whatever I do.

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

I would say my first obstacle was the challenges I faced on the road to obtaining my first qualification – changing from BSc to BCom; confusion about what I wanted to study; and the number of years it took me to get an undergraduate degree.

The second obstacle I faced was in 2019. I got accepted to the London School of Economics for a Master’s in Human Resource Management after a very rigorous application process. I struggled to obtain funding and had challenges with my student visa. I ended up having to forfeit my spot in the programme.

What both situations taught me was to relentlessly go after my dreams, regardless of “timeframes”. It also taught me what my parents always preach: “There is no substitute for hard work”.

What is your research focus/area of expertise?

My area of expertise is Gender and Diversity in Organisations. My interest is in the experiences, perceptions and true realities of Africans within the context of diversity, gender, leadership and management. Specifically, I am focusing on hair bias and identity work among black women in organisations.

The United Nations identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure “…a better and more sustainable future for all…” by 2030. Which of these goals are you addressing through your research, or in your personal life?

Goal 5: Gender Equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

My research was inspired by the 2020 Clicks/Tresemmé advertisement, thus it is on hair bias and the identity work of black women in organisations.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

What are your career aspirations for the future?

To become an NRF A-rated researcher and a global expert in my field.

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