Queering business Pt 1: Q&A with Uber’s Nduduzo Nyanda


Out and proud: Nduduzo Nyanda is Country Manager of Uber in South Africa

Openly LGBTIQ business leaders are few and far between in South Africa. Not so at Uber which has sought to become a visibly queer-affirming company.

The US-based corporation is revolutionising the way many of us get around in our cities and also taking a stand when it comes to inclusion.

In South Africa, this is visible in Uber’s public support for LGBTIQ+ Pride but also through its belief that its employees should live proudly authentic lives.

As part of our commitment to highlighting influential LGBTIQ+ public figures, we spoke to Nduduzo Nyanda, Country Manager of Uber in South Africa, who has a Masters in Development Planning.

Identifying as a bisexual male, he addresses being out and proud in the workplace and how companies can be more inclusive and help make positive change.

Tell us about your coming out experience if you had one?

You are always coming out to people! The first time I came out though, I was outed by an acquaintance. They saw me out one morning with my now partner [author and broadcaster Eusebius McKaiser] and proceeded to ask my friends about my sexuality. Needless to say, I received calls the following week from my supportive friends. I later came out to my family who have also been very supportive. I am fully aware of how fortunate I am to have supportive friends, family and colleagues because a vast majority of the community do not. I also acknowledge that how I present also makes life easier for me because I’m not the heteronormative imagined stereotype of how LGBTIQ+ ought to.

While coming out is not right for everyone what role can this kind of everyday visibility play in creating change?`

Coming out is a personal choice and no one can be forced to do so. It is solely up to that individual to allow people into that part of their life. That being said, representation and visibility are very important. In the same way, we are challenging and dismantling western ideals of beauty and patriarchy, the visibility of the community in all its glorious forms are very necessary. Having members of the LGBTIQ+ community visible and represented in all spheres of everyday life (corporate, political and social) is the only way we can ‘normalise’ the acceptance of difference. And that is as equally important to that little brown skin girl who dreams of being President as it is to that non-binary child dreaming of running a fortune 500 company.

What does Pride mean to you, personally? Do you remember your first Pride?

Pride means many things. It means the ability to be who I am all the time without any fear. It means the freedom of being my full self while experiencing others in their full selves. It means constantly learning and being more aware of others. It means constantly checking myself and the ‘isms’ I may still need to deal with. My first pride was in 2013, at Zoo Lake. It was amazing. The few hours I was there will always be etched in my mind.

Is Pride still relevant today?

Pride is still very relevant today. Similarly to how race and gender issues (especially in South Africa with GBV) are very relevant today. Look, we have to remember that someone’s sexual orientation is only one part of who they are. You can be African and non-binary, transgender and Asian or bisexual and Caucasian. In the mix, you’re mother, a brother an engineer, an artist etc. Pride aims to highlight all of this. Violence, intolerance and ignorance around who someone chooses to love is not just unjust, it makes no sense!

In what ways does Uber promote LGBTIQ+ inclusivity and diversity?

Pride at Uber works at celebrating all employees irrespective of sexual orientation not just by highlighting the need for inclusivity but actively backing that orientations must be heard, understood and supported. The company employs a wide variety of individuals that represent all walks of life, while it released internal guidelines for transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming employees planning or going through a gender transition. For four years, Uber has consistently earned a top score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI). We’ve set an audacious goal: to make Uber the most diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace on the planet. And we’re not just setting high expectations for our own good. We’re aiming sky-high because we know from experience that reducing and eliminating inequity is hard to do if all you shoot for is incremental change.

“We need to keep flying our flags high and being visible.”

What are the challenges of ensuring that Uber’s LGBTIQ+ affirming policies and values filter down to its drivers?

Getting communities to talk about and educate themselves on what is the LGBTIQ+ community is an ongoing effort that we are committed towards. We’ve launched our first-ever Gender Transition Guidelines for employees globally. We’ve also worked toward higher inclusion for our transgender driver-partners, delivery partners, and employees by expanding our efforts to provide earning opportunities for transgender partners.

There are very few openly LGBTIQ+ senior business leaders in South Africa. Do you think it is important to have these kinds of figures?

It’s important to have more figures out in public because it helps breakdown stereotypes about who is allowed to occupy certain spaces or how they should present. For organisations, it is especially important to recruit more diversely and encourage diversity because it’s fundamentally good for business. Diversity in an organisation helps it to grow

What made you decide to be open about your LGBTIQ+ identity in the business world?

As much as I am private about most things in my life, I kinda didn’t have a choice in the matter. My partner is out and a public figure. That helped most in helping to role model that I should be my true self in all aspects of my life, especially at work.

Compared to, for example, the US, brands and multinationals in South Africa rarely spend money directly in local LGBTIQ+ media platforms. Why do you think that is?

Ironically we have to remember that both the US and South Africa are still a very conservative societies, despite having liberal Constitutions. For the most part, this conservatism is still reflected in boardrooms and the C-suite. However, I do think this is slowly changing. More corporations have employee resource groups which help to drive the change internally. This has resulted in these same organisations being more visibly supportive of the LGBTIQ+ community during pride seasons (even if commercially and symbolically).

How can multinational companies with affirming LGBTIQ+ values and policies navigate operating in countries where LGBTIQ+ identities are taboo or even illegal?

This is a very sensitive and tricky issue and I can only speak from my experience. What we have managed to do (particularly the employee resource group – Pride at Uber) is to lobby the Global Executive Committee to be vocal around creating a safe space for all employees through allyship. This has had the positive trickle-down effect to all employees to be each other’s ally regardless of gender and sexuality. Now our region EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), is one of the most diverse regions. It has some of the most liberal as well some of the most conservative countries globally and Uber operates in both these spaces. So over and above the creation of allies, we’ve also worked with our People team in creating safe and anonymous support channels for employees who need advice or an ear. Coupled with visible internal Pride communication and cross collaborations with other resource groups (noticeably Women at Uber and Black at Uber) the supporting narrative is sustained throughout.

What role can and should business play in creating LGBTIQ-affirming change in society?

As the old adage says “change starts at home”. If an organisation can create safe and supportive spaces and structures for its people, that has a tremendous ripple effect. From providing a sanctuary for the LGBTIQ+ employee who is allowed to be their full self at work to learning opportunities for those who have been taught intolerance. The building of organisational allyship means these employees go home and teach their families and children to love instead of hate, and little by little societies change.

What do you think the business world in South Africa needs to improve on when it comes to LGBTIQ+ issues?

There are a lot, but I also think this is global and is not just limited to South Africa. For the sake of time, I’ll focus on hiring practices. Understandably, corporates and organisations want to recruit the best, but what usually happens is that they end up recruiting the same or similar candidate, either from a specific school, line of business or profession. Although the recruits may be ethnically and gender diverse, they all tend to think similarly because they’ve all had similar life experiences. Now because most marginalised groups (black queer women – trans especially) are not afforded the same opportunities that ‘top recruits’ are, and because they don’t present or have the same shared experiences, they are usually overlooked as not being a “cultural fit” for the organisation. This then has the adverse effect of not driving change for the organisation, let alone growing its bottom line. Because the organisations are using formulas and ticking boxes, real change is not affected. The same status quos remain and the organisation remains unchanged. To the point (more often than not) that attrition of other marginalised groups is experienced in higher managerial levels.

Any final thoughts?

With Pride in South Africa done and dusted we need to remember that lockdown for some has been extremely difficult. Home for some is not a safe space which is why Pride is so important. We need to keep flying our flags high and being visible. It’s also great that 16-days of Activism against Women and Child Abuse follows Pride season in SA because it again provides the opportunity for the community (especially men) to be visible and to do its part in advocating for the protection of women and children.

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