There Is Absolutely Great Talent In Women

Judith Atieno Oketch is the Human Resource and Administration Manager at Kenya Utalii College. She believes that women have unique traits, which they can use to make right decisions amid difficulties.

How did you start off your career, and who inspired you? I started off as a Personal/Executive Assistant after a 3-year intensive Diploma course in secretarial Studies at the Kenya Polytechnic.  My roles then included Secretarial, administration, communication/PR and human resource activities.  I have since changed careers and moved through a long but interesting and challenging career path. I have over 15 years’ experience in both Human Resources Management and Administration; having worked in dynamic organizations in both commercial and service sectors of the Public Service. 

In my initial engagements, I worked closely with two very resourceful managers and both trained me on practical management and leadership acumen.  Hardly two years into service, one of them spotted my potential and talent in people management and guided me into a career choice which changed my career path.  My interactions, interpersonal relations with people, conflict management, public relations and negotiation skills stood out.   I had a choice to go into Communication/PR or Human Resource Management (HRM).  However, he guided me into making a choice for HRM, a decision I have no regrets to date. 

Throughout my career path, I have worked with many inspirational managers and leaders who have mentored me within and beyond my occupation. A number of them have been my immediate bosses, while others, more senior including CEOs; giving me daily inspiration and knowledge to sharpen and shape my career.

My mother has also been the push in my development throughout life.  She is a true fighter for the girl-child and is a firm believer in doing good to others, “as good returns good”.  I have proven this as true from my experiences in life. “Doing good to others” has been my motto in life, hence my inspiration to work with people.  Just being there for others, be they at the workplace or home, makes me whole.

As a female leader, what has been the biggest barrier to growth in your career? I have faced no serious barriers to growth in my career, though slow progression at the beginning may have been a minor barrier.  However, with the right experience, qualifications, mentorship, and determination, one can attain their highest achievement.

This has worked well for me especially after attaining the necessary experience and qualifications in addition to the right skills and competencies. I am yet to achieve my highest achievement and self-actualization though but am already on my way there. 

Challenges are there, particularly in our patriarchal society with male dominance in leadership positions due to the pre-existing and systemic barriers to women’s involvement at the top. However, affirmative action policies are lessening this challenge by the day, and clearly, women have begun to seriously take up their roles as expected within the male-dominated arena.  The male gender is also beginning to realize the talent in women and a number of them are currently supporting women in top leadership. The future, therefore, continues to be bright for women in leadership and I have hope especially now that the world is putting in place systems, laws, and regulations to address gender parity in all spheres.

Do women in your profession have a hard time getting jobs or promotions during the Covid-19 era? Covid-19 has impacted the workplace in various ways.  With several organisations closing shop, many women have lost jobs and sources of employment.  A number of employers are not able to sustain employment costs hence majority have undertaken layoffs, downsizing, and/or rightsizing to sustain their costs.  Some have even undertaken forced leave or unpaid leave on employees to cut costs in the short term. 

Due to decreased revenues, employee costs have essentially been reduced and activities such as recruitment and promotions have therefore been suspended by a majority of employers in the short and medium-term.  Women have particularly been affected and primarily those who are pregnant, on maternity leave, breastfeeding, and more so, those on seasonal/casual employment terms; as opposed to men who are ever readily available.  This is particularly so, in the hospitality industry and the informal sector. Women continue to bear the brunt of unpaid work as mothers and have to balance between full-time employment, childcare, and schooling responsibilities; during the Covid-19 era.

Firms That Give Women Opportunities Excel

How can women achieve an equal future in a Covid-19 World?Affirmative action provides for non-discrimination on gender and provides equal opportunities for either gender, with increased employment opportunities for women and minority communities.

These opportunities include participation in making policies and decisions on matters Covid-19; at local, national, and global levels.  Women’s rights and pandemic preparedness should be upheld in policy decisions, coupled with aggressive awareness and sensitization campaigns, to avoid neglect and discrimination.

A lot more should be done by institutions through corporate social responsibility activities to women at the grassroots levels; For instance, provision of sanitary towels, clean water, face masks, soap/detergents, screening facilities, PPEs, toilets, education on mask usage, and disposal, provision of visual posters and SMS alerts on Covid-19 information. These will give women equal opportunities, knowledge, and the ability to run their daily activities without interruptions.

Further, it is necessary that women-led businesses receive financial support for this will translate into direct family support thus reducing the gender-based-violence, which studies indicate has recently increased. 

Cash transfers especially for old women (aged 70 and above) can help sustain their livelihood.  The Government should also ensure that these funds reach the relevant recipients in good time and that medical care and projects such as “Linda Mama”, and the free primary and secondary education are fully embraced.

Work environment improvement is also key, especially provision of equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities for either gender, friendly childcare facilities for lactating mothers, involvement and engagement of women in policy and decision making at the workplace, and embracing women leaders, among others.  Policies on diversity, national cohesion, gender mainstreaming, alcohol and drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, disability, and other government rules and regulations should be enforced and embraced

Any career opportunities for women post Covid-19? Covid-19 has opened career opportunities for women in various fields.  These include the internet arena which has made the entire world a global market where all can buy and sell wares.  Women with enough sensitization and education are beginning to embrace this market and are now able to market, advertise, sell and buy services and products online.  They are further able to access every single market, interact with mentors and mentees, enroll for online classes in various fields, seek medical care, talk to counselors, and receive enough knowledge to chart their future. 

A lot more women are also using social media to exchange and share knowledge and do business in various professions in the formal and informal sectors. However, a lot more needs to be done in the online arena for positive usage as these tools have also negatively affected family setups with a spiral effect to women who are the primary caregivers. 

Informal businesses have also grown particularly in the areas of PPEs with women able to stitch and supply masks, sell vegetables and fruits from the comfort of their cars along the roadsides. This has created businesses and side hustles even for those already in employment. 

Women have taken advantage of the Government-sponsored loans through the Women Fund(s) including loans from Non-Governmental Organizations and many of them are now able to enroll in informal education on business-related programmes to manage and grow their businesses. 

Career advice to young women entering your profession during the Covid-19 world? The workplace has undergone a paradigm shift.  The management of human resources has taken a different turn to a new normal from recruitment, maintaining, retention, and separation of employees.  A number of staff are now working from home and remote environments. Employers are now more keen on short-term contracts as opposed to permanent employment. ICT is playing a central role in HR functionalities such as recruitment, training, and separation. There has been an increase of HR costs as a result of increased awareness creation efforts, medical costs and expansion of working facilities to accommodate workers. Employers are putting in place flexi-time work schedules; vibrant e-communication through social media and online meetings, training, seminars and interviews, as well as other employee support programs.

Young women entering the profession must therefore embrace ICT and knowledge management to wade through this era. It will be necessary to redesign work in conformity with the new normal, for ease in employee engagement and evaluation.  This may therefore call for human resource policy reviews, to establish policies that are more flexible and open to diversity and inclusivity. 

It may further be necessary to embrace entrepreneurial thinking in the work environment, thus requiring employees to be more strategically creative and innovative. This will help institutions to remain afloat, be sustainable, and survive the adverse effects which have seen many businesses close shop.

Constant knowledge of emerging issues on HR management, continuous professional education, and interactions with peers from various industries are a must in managing the workforce. 

One recommendation for HR leaders to help promote women in the Covid-19 era at the workplace. Leverage on ICT programs to become relevant and productive whether working from home, remotely or at the workplace. The working location may soon become irrelevant. It is therefore important to invest in developing both professional as well as general ICT skills.

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