Daphine Atieno* remembers the day she got employment like it was yesterday.
“The year was 2005 and finding a job was hardest at the time,” she says, reminiscing with a wry smile. “Young ladies from the university like myself knew that competition was cut-throat.”
The scales of demand and supply for the job market were glaringly skewed. Daphine remembers young ladies going as far a distance as seducing their way into the employees list.
“This defines the moment books and papers fly through the window; despair demands for ‘practicality’,” she says.
She chose the long path and eventually got placement at an upcoming start-up as a junior secretary. This was despite graduating with a university degree with all the right anecdotes in the right places.
Two years later, in 2008, she felt stuck “in a dead end career with little hope of ever growing beyond what I had achieved.” She hunkered for better and was not ready to yield into sexual demands for a better job.
As such, she found herself with no choice but to go back to school. Three years later, armed with an MBA and seeking a better position, Daphine recalls not having much to write home about. She eventually joined a consultancy firm – which offered much reprieve. Could she have been seeing it all wrong?
So many women find themselves in the same trap as Daphine. They have all the right qualifications that should place them high on the demand list but somehow, they do not get their dream jobs or their careers do not progress as quickly as they would have wished. What mistakes could they have made along the way?
1. Education is not everything
In Kenya, everyone is brought up revering education. So much importance is hipped on going to school than developing one's sills. Like majority would find out later, there is so much to suitability for employment than science, art and arithmetic. According to Joanne Mwangi, the CEO of PMS Marketing, success in one's career "is not so much about papers." Being an employer herself, Joanne says that a candidate has to demonstrate that they can actually get the job done off the papers. At the end of it all, she adds, an employer wants a performer who can convert theory into output.
2. Dress and act professionally
"You want to occupy a senior position at your company; dress like one," says Joanne. In the public domain, so much has been said about the female dress code. Joanne advises that one has to prime her style of dressing: wear appropriately and for the occasion. Depict the expectations of the person who ought to occupy the position you want. This shouldn't be misconstrued for the unbecoming behavior of office seduction, calculatedly done in the hope that the big boss may offer the ladder upstairs in exchange for carnal benefits. According to Joanne, a professional dress speaks out about the person's ability to execute at that level. This, she says, should go hand in hand with mannerisms and behavior. "If there is one time the phrase 'fake it till you make it' applies in life then it's probably this one," says Joanne.
3. Be aggressive and prove your worth
Office space is sterile of lazy jokes. It is a place where performance is precedent to everything. It is also not a place to cause strife. This however, says Joanne, should not prevent one from owning their space. Cognizant of the fact that women are stared down upon at work than their male counterparts, Joanne admonishes that the fairer gender stays put and define their worth. "You have to blow your own trumpet," she says, "and don't play modesty. No one will do it for you if all you do is lean back on your seat. If you accomplished something magnanimous for the company – or at your previous place of work – communicate it to the relevant people. Who will know if you don't tell them?"
4. Have a unique CV
Plal Chemorei is a HR practitioner at Barclays in Nairobi. He believes that possessing an 'irresistible' CV positions one to stand out in a pool of interviewees. "Your CV has to indicate that you are better than the rest: does it demonstrate your professionalism? Does it bring out your strengths? Does it show where you have an edge over others?" he says. As one constructs the CV, it should be absolute and concise, adds Plal. Going to the lengths of nonsensical details works against an applicant. At most, the CV shouldn't be anything more than 2 pages – unless one is a professor who has accomplished extensive studies throughout their career.
5. Never play a victim of circumstances
While the disenfranchisement of womenfolk goes as far back as history itself, humanity has moved faster towards better civilization in recent times. In Chemorei's view, never bring to the table the gender card. Playing victim of circumstances is not always good to propel one forward. He says: "You ought to be objective and astute with your arguments. Any suggestion that you need 'favours' for past atrocities may portray the image of one who needs leniency to survive." In every space, a prospective employee has to cut out the figure of a self-dependent lass.
6. Never stoop low
It starts with sex for a grade. Then graduates to sex for a job – or a promotion. At that point there is a thin line between normal behavior and madness. Women, says Joyce Gathigi, the procurements Director at East African Breweries, have so many arrows in their quivers to get to where they would want to be in their careers. "Sex is however not one of them. Only the desperate resort to such primitive tactics. Once a woman relents in keeping her chastity, she relinquishes her power to argue her needs or speak authoritatively; even the man loses respect for her. How do you move forward when you already tell yourself that you are nothing more than a sexual object?"
7. Strive for excellence – no strings attached
Growing in one's career doesn't happen as an act of charity, says Magdalene Mwende, an accomplished environment engineer at Bamburi/Lafarge. "It takes the skills and wisdom of David to become a King," she quotes. "At any particular time in your career, you should practice excellence. This is regardless of the possibilities that you will get the promotion or not. Your focus should be on leaving a beautiful legacy." In her opinion, no good deed goes unnoticed. Excellence, she believes, will ultimately lead to better days.
8. Don't be desperate: you don't have to be employed
It may feel like life and death but it shouldn't, says Joanne. Hopelessness is not a virtue as she came to learn. Neither is the feeling of despair. Both, she says, contribute to degenerative tendencies that systematically renders one incompetent for a position. She says: "Widen your scope of thinking. Allow your mind to explore viable options. You may be jostling for an assistant secretary when you have within you the potential of a CEO. The small things may immediately look good – but they are only for a moment. Don't let them cloud your focus." Joanne says that great people are those who see the potential they possess. They are more than a career. They create jobs and don't just look for one.