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Friday, 14 August 2020

Leading to Serve

BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS: The Executive Director in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Driekie Hay-Swemmer had to break down the stereotyping of female leaders in senior positions and was always mindful that she must be a role model for all her female colleagues. BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS: The Executive Director in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Driekie Hay-Swemmer had to break down the stereotyping of female leaders in senior positions and was always mindful that she must be a role model for all her female colleagues.

The Executive Director in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Driekie Hay-Swemmer, distinguishes herself as a servant leader.

One of her biggest wishes is to assist colleagues in becoming the best they can be. “I want to plough back my knowledge and experiences and [I] want to see CPUT being a leading university of technology, known for excellence and ethical leadership,” Hay-Swemmer declares. The Cape Town-born academic studied at Stellenbosch University, after matriculating from Grabouw High School.

Both her parents left school when they were 16 years old.  Because of this, she grew up “poor” and had to work during school and university holidays.  “I was a first-generation student and the only one of my siblings to attend university,” she says.

“My parents were salt of the earth people and taught me the value of hard work, honesty, perseverance, loyalty and to never give up.”

The youngest of four girls, Hay-Swemmer’s first job was that of an isiXhosa teacher and she spent most of her career in Bloemfontein at the University of the Free State.  She joined CPUT in December 2019 from the BA ISAGO University in Gaborone Botswana where she was the Vice-Chancellor since July 2018. She adds that she has faced many challenges to get to where she is today. “It was certainly not easy.  I raised three children as a single mother, [while] on the other hand trying to build my career while being the best mother I could be,” she says.

“I hardly ever took holidays, worked over weekends and worked 18 hours per day.  Fortunately, I love my discipline and my job – work is easier if you are passionate about it.” 

Hay-Swemmer had to learn to be assertive in ‘a man’s world’ as she was often the only female or one of two females on an executive team.  “I had to break down the stereotyping of female leaders in senior positions and [I] was always mindful that I must be a role model for all my female colleagues – especially those younger than me.”

She says her love for knowledge and lifelong learning, to work on her weaknesses, to stand up when she falls, to turn a challenge into an opportunity and to have a sense of humour, keeps her going when things get tough and help her to see the bright side of life.

Obtaining a PhD was certainly a big highlight for her – especially being the first and only one to obtain a PhD in her family.  Becoming a full professor was another big milestone for her.  “All the hard work paid off, all the long and lonely nights doing my research and writing articles came to fruition.  I was proud when I was appointed a DVC Academic.”

However, she feels that women are still underrepresented in senior management positions in higher education.  “I believe more needs to be done to create growth opportunities for women.  They should be more supported and affirmed.  Successful female leaders in higher education should not underestimate their role to mentor upcoming leaders.  Sadly, everyone talks about mentorship but we do not see much of it in real life.”

In her position at CPUT, she supports the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Chris Nhlapo, in his very challenging role.  Apart from that, the following divisions report to her: Quality Assurance, Academic Planning and Institutional Research, Advancement, Marketing and Communication, Transformation and Internal Audit and Risk management.

The ‘very straightforward’ person who cares for people advises young women, “to be comfortable with yourself, who you are and never allow those titles and success to get to your head”. Hay-Swemmer believes that CPUT is playing a leading role in sensitising staff, students and the broader CPUT community on the important role of women in society. However, she says: “There is more to be done to empower women in higher education.  More mentorship programmes are necessary and maybe we should seriously consider an academy for female leaders in higher education.”

*For the duration of Women’s Month, we will be profiling several high profile CPUT women whose achievements and activities help us to become One SMART CPUT.

 

 

Written by Aphiwe Boyce