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Pioneer women CEOs leading the way in Kenya's banking sector

  Some of the pioneer women CEOs spoke about their inspiring career journeys, challenges they’ve overcome, achieving work-life balance and shattering the glass ceiling. [Courtesy]

On Friday, Kenya and the rest of the world celebrated International Women’s Day. This global event honours women’s societal achievements – in culture, politics, economics, and beyond. While it’s a day of recognition, International Women’s Day also has a rich history, rooted in the fight for labour and voting rights. This year, Senior Economy Reporter BRIAN NGUGI spoke to four pioneer women CEOs on their inspiring career journeys, challenges they’ve overcome, and achieving work-life balance and shattering the glass ceiling. Below are excerpts from the interviews: 

Nasim Devji, CEO, Diamond Trust Bank

What drives you?

My passion for financial inclusion and women’s economic empowerment fuels my drive to create tangible change. I’m motivated by the belief that everyone, regardless of gender, deserves equal opportunities to thrive. My legacy is one of empowerment and transformation. I aspire to leave behind a banking sector where women are not only present but also empowered to lead and succeed. By fostering a culture of inclusivity and innovation, I aim to inspire future generations to break barriers and embrace their potential.

What are the barriers to women’s rise in finance?

Despite notable progress, arguably structural inequalities and gender bias have limited women’s access to education, employment opportunities, and leadership positions. Cultural norms and societal expectations often reinforce traditional gender roles, further perpetuating disparities in financial inclusion and economic empowerment. Despite these factors, throughout my personal and professional development journeys, I have always carried the firm conviction that hard work, underpinned by meritocracy and a continuing quest for excellence, are solid pathways through which women can, and have, self-empowered themselves or found the empowerment needed for success.

What are the gains so far?

Throughout my tenure at DTB, I have steadfastly committed to advancing gender equality and financial inclusion in the banking sector. As the first female CEO of a bank in Kenya, I had a responsibility to pave the way for future generations of female leaders. Our efforts have led to the adoption of gender-balanced hiring practices, achieving a 50:50 male-to-female ratio across the entire DTB Group workforce. Furthermore, to expand financial inclusion, we’ve introduced specialised financial literacy and capacity-building programmes tailored to women-owned MSMEs.

 Betty Korir, CEO, Credit Bank Limited

What drives you?

I find my motivation in the delicate choreography between family and business. The intertwined realms of personal and professional fulfilment. My family forms the bedrock that nurtures my spirit. It instils in me a sense of purpose and responsibility, guiding my actions with a commitment to create a better future for those I hold dear.On the other hand, as the Chief Executive Officer at Credit Bank, my passion is ignited by the transformative power of finance to uplift lives and empower communities. The intricate balance between family values and the dynamic challenges of the financial world propels me forward.

What are the barriers to women’s empowerment? 

It is remarkable to see how far we have come and how much support there is for women now, a stark contrast from our early days. Even so, I feel we must have more candid discourses. Let us openly delve into the dialogue surrounding equitable compensation, the unhurried pace of women’s ascent in the professional realm, the constraining mould of traditional roles, unnecessary patriarchal systems, and the lamentable shadows of harassment and violence that linger in the dark corner. 

What contribution have you made to advancing women’s participation in the banking sector?

Beyond my role as the Chief Executive Officer at Credit Bank, I find fulfilment in various realms of contribution. I am honoured to stand as a cherished member of the Council at the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Additionally, my journey extends to the Governing Council and the Board of the Kenya Bankers Association, where I represent a tapestry of diverse socioeconomic interests. In this tender dance, I advocate for the progress of our industry, tirelessly striving to guide us towards the enchanting horizon that awaits in the realm of banking’s next chapter.

What is your legacy?

I would push back a bit against the word “legacy” because it suggests that I  make a conscious, daily effort to be remembered forever for simply doing my job, as best I can. Should I end up leaving a lasting legacy, however, let it be through my example in spreading the inspiring message of two, world-famous, living Kenyans: actor Lupita Nyong’o who has said “No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.” And athlete Eliud Kipchoge has encouraged all of us with the words: “No human is limited.”

 Annastacia Kimtai, Managing Director, KCB Bank Kenya

What drives you?

My driving force lies in staying true to my purpose, unwavering commitment to my responsibilities, and maintaining a consistent approach. These principles guide me to remain steadfast in pursuing the goals and objectives that align with my overarching mission and the Bank’s purpose - For People. For Better. The objective is to steer a Bank that not only generates optimal returns for shareholders but also serves our customers right and fosters an environment where employees are enthusiastic about their contributions to the institution and society. Simultaneously, I aim to make a substantial and positive impact in the community. Therefore, I am alive and passionate about our commitment to promoting sustainable business practices and social responsibility. That’s what drives me.

What does it take to be a banker at the top?

As a leader, your primary responsibility is to provide strategic direction for the business and ensure that the team is well-empowered and motivated to deliver their best every day.This involves not only steering the ship but also formulating and overseeing the execution of the business strategy that creates shared value. In the banking sector, there is a growing recognition of the need for a more inclusive culture to promote the well-being and career prospects of women.  As a leader, it is also important to recognise that the strength of any organisation lies in its people and the focus should be on developing a high-performing, motivated, and cross-cultural team. This team is envisioned to not only meet but exceed business targets, contributing significantly to the bank’s profitability and creating a positive impact in the community.

 Mary Wangari Wamae, Equity Group Executive Director

What drives you?

My passion for empowerment, inclusion and diversity drives me. I am a mentor for the Women on Boards Network to support and prepare those aspiring to join board membership.

What barriers remain?

Financial illiteracy is a significant barrier to women’s empowerment coupled with low access to finance to support start-up enterprises or grow existing ones. Financial literacy programmes and tailor-made financial products and services are addressing this though there is still huge ground to cover. In some instances some retrogressive cultural practices and norms hinder the development of women either in professional space or business enterprises…but this is being managed with awareness programmes and education.

What legacy do you want to leave?

My legacy is lifting others as I rise, through mentorship, community programmes, and being a thought leader in financial, estate, and succession planning. Winning the Angaza Award 2021 recognised me as the top woman to watch in banking and finance. I have used this award to encourage other women that they can rise to the top in the industry and other sectors. I have contributed to knowledge sharing through writing my autobiography, The Village Girl, which sets out useful lessons on building resilience and overcoming challenges as well as managing a successful career transition.

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