Female leaders – female challenges – female hopes
I talked to an inspiring female leader in Kenya to understand the challenges she faces
For this year’s International Women’s Day, I wanted to find out how different it is to be a young, female leader on a different continent, worlds apart from little Denmark. So I reached out to Phyllis Wakiaga, who at the age of 38 is the president of Kenya’s Association of Manufacturers, a long-term partner of DI.
Our daily lives as bosses, wives and mothers play out more than 6,500 kilometres apart. Phyllis wakes up in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, and I start my day with a cup of coffee in a small commune in Copenhagen. But even though we work in different cultures and far apart, it turns out that we share a lot of opinions on what it takes for women to succeed in the business world.
For starters, we both see women as strong and powerful individuals. As Phyllis puts it: ‘Women have been able to overcome many obstacles in society over the years and have been able to break the glass ceiling across many different fields. When I think of women, I think of strength, resilience, power and the ability of women to use their soft power in certain communities where they might not totally be in control’.
Creating real change every day
In DI I am leading our team running development projects in more than twenty countries. I have worked with business organisations all over the world, and Phyllis is one of the only women I have met, who holds the top position in their organisation. And she aims high, when it comes to creating a sustainable future. That we have in common.
Currently, we are working together on creating a circular plastic economy inspired by the Danish model. Phyllis has managed to gather a very diverse group of stakeholders and create a clear action plan that will ensure that eight times more plastic is reused than is the case today. How cool is that?
Professionalism is a large part of the secret to her success:
“I have often been the youngest person in the room or the only woman in the room. But when you bring professionalism to the table, when you bring knowledge to the table, when you are able to turn out the value added, the issue of gender and age stay in the background,” she says.
Role models are essential to realize your potential
I have always known I wanted to be a leader, but I think the people we meet early in our careers have a huge impact on the trajectory of our lives. I am very thankful that my first boss (a visionary man of 50 at the time) gave me opportunities and showed me that men can be feminists too. That had a profound impact on me.
Phyllis tells a similar story about her former boss Betty Maina who profoundly inspired her in her journey as a leader. I think those experiences are the reason why we both try to strive to nurture young female talent, whenever we have the opportunity.
Phyllis mentors young women and always advises them to bring their A-game to the table:
“Apart from the attitude of society, I don’t think there is anything that predisposes women or men to better leadership skills. The only limitation that exists is in our minds. My mantra in life has been the leadership of influence, believe in what you do than what you see so that your behavior can influence others. “
No matter where we live in the world, women have to step up and be clear about their ambitions and their dreams. We have to show the world that we are just as competent as men. And I am so happy to see one of our great international partners being led by an amazing woman who share these values.
Slowly, we are changing the face of the business world and showing that female leaders can be sensitive, great moms and really kick ass leaders at the same time.
Happy International Women’s day!