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With the glass ceiling broken, women should be drivers of leadership growth

Leadership honour requires that women should shift their focus from counting the numbers of those who have made it to the top, to making their presence count through the delivery of service. [iStockphoto]

Looking at the leadership and professional development arena –locally and on the global scene – it is clear that there is a new dawn for women in leadership.

As a woman and an associate at The Catalead Associates – a catalyst for high-impact leadership, it is a great time to be alive! This is the time the world is angling for expanded growth and career opportunities for women.

Women have come full circle in their quest for leadership roles in the national and global arena. The proverbial glass ceiling is indeed being broken. We are witnessing a revolution of sorts in gender equality that is breaking barriers and appreciating the contribution made by all genders in the marketplace.

Our society, which is primarily patriarchal, has increasingly seen laws enacted to facilitate women's representation in various institutions, with ‘many firsts’ in the recent past. Women have taken up key roles in both the corporate and government arenas and witnessed a non-partisan appreciation and acceptance of the value that women bring to the table.

At the local scene, the recently unveiled list of the 21 Cabinet nominees and four additional cabinet-level appointees, has 40 per cent women representation. The 2022 elections saw 29 women elected as members of the 13th parliament, six women as governors and three as senators.

Some counties had the entire suite of county leaders as women or a majority of the elective seats taken by women. At another level, there are many women serving as Board Chairs or as members. We also have seen an upsurge in women C-suite positions in the corporate sector.

Running mates

The year 2021 saw the appointment of the first woman Chief Justice, Martha Koome and the August elections had three women as presidential running mates, for the first time in Kenya.

On the international scene, Kenya recently received Meg Whitman, the first US female ambassador in more than two decades. Sanda Ojiambo of Kenya was also appointed Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Global Compact in April 2022. We also had the first woman President in East Africa – Honourable Samia Suluhu Hassan of the Republic of Tanzania. According to a BoardEx report on chief executive appointments in companies, 21 women gained chief executive status globally in just one month - July 2022.

So have women made progress? Yes, great inroads have been made in bringing women to the forefront locally and globally. The key question that now begs is: What happens beyond the open doors accorded to women?

Decision making

The truth of the matter is that there is a lot more expectation placed on women beyond occupying a seat at the decision-making table.

The bar is much higher for women, perhaps because of their natural ability to excel in a multiplicity of roles. Women have traditionally performed multiple roles seamlessly and excellently.

Their roles in nurturing, caring, and planning with grace, have kept society functioning like a well-oiled engine over the years. Having them on the driver’s seat or as key stakeholders in major roles of our society creates an unconscious spontaneous expectation that things should get better - be it in service delivery, policy making, fair treatment of all parties, customer experience etc. It becomes rather unfortunate, therefore, when the environment around women leaders is not conducive for them to thrive. Women build trust cultures and accountability circles around them that help them execute their duties.

This at times comes with its own set of challenges, tough choices, sacrifices, and trade-offs that will have to be made from time to time. And whereas there will be haters, and critics along the journey, women should remain strong and not be distracted by sideshows. For example, the late Professor Wangari Maathai understood her mandate and had the grit to pursue her passion for the protection of the environment even at the risk of her own life. The impact of her leadership won her global recognition, becoming the first woman in Africa and the only one in Kenya to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

What it takes

As we continue to advance the gains made in gender equality, women leaders are aware of the pressure on them to deliver and have to do all it takes to make it. Yet, leadership is not easy regardless of gender. That is why society needs to step out to support women leaders and facilitate them to deliver on their assignments.

It is encouraging that The Catalead Associates has taken initiative to bring together senior women leaders in government, corporate, and non-profit sectors, to discuss the opportunities and challenges for effective leadership in a fairly male-dominated environment. The forum to be held on October 28 at the Nairobi Serena Hotel, is designed to provide an opportunity for senior women leaders to share their lives and leadership experiences to catalyse and inspire other women leaders aspiring to break through the glass ceiling.

The keynote speaker, Her Excellency Zainab Hawa Bangura, Director-General of the United Nations Office in Nairobi. Coming with a vast experience in high-level leadership in various positions in her home country – especially in her current roles at the United Nations – Madam Bangura has great insights and lessons to share with other leaders (both women and men) in similar positions.

What is clear is that such leadership honour requires that women should shift their focus from counting the numbers of those who have made it to the top, to making their presence count through the delivery of service. This will be the differentiating factor that will open doors for many more women to take up additional roles due to the greater impact that society and the world at large witness by virtue of their leadership. Let the world do the talking, your track record will speak for you.

Caroline Wambugu. [Courtesy]

-The writer is Head of Finance Planning, Analysis, and Investor Relations at Safaricom