The phone rang.“Hi Beatrice” the caller greeted.
“Hi Catherine, how are you doing?” I answered. Catherine is our site Human Resource Manager and works closely with me in my diversity and inclusion initiatives across the company.
“I am well.” Catherine replied and inquired, “is it only permanent employees coming for today’s Women High-Tea in Eka Hotel or have you also invited casuals?” “The invite is for all women employees, whether permanent or casual. Is there a problem?” I asked.
“Yes. Some employees are complaining. They wish that you would keep the high tea meetings as we have always done in the past without casual workers.” she said.
I was stunned. This was 8th March 2016, International Women’s Day, the day we celebrate women’s advancement in social, economic and political circles. The high tea was organised as part of the celebration. In the past I only invited permanent employees, but this year, I had opened up the meeting to all female employees. Why would I discriminate against any woman just because she cleans the floor and I seat in the boardroom?
It was only hours to the event. The hotel had been booked. Speakers invited.
“Please repeat this message; all women are invited!” I shouted down the mouthpiece to Catherine.
My mind flashed back to a conversation I once had with a colleague who observed that men were no longer blocking women’s advancement into leadership. They had come to appreciate their contribution in the courtrooms, ballroom, newsroom, classroom, staffroom to the boardroom. The new enemy of women advancement were their fellow women. Was it a myth?
The main reason given by some female employees who did not come to the event was that the casual workers have “strange” manners. They don’t speak proper English and love freebies i.e. carrying leftover snacks home in serviettes. This made the higher ranking women uncomfortable.
Women looking down on other women is the reality we are living with for Women Leadership. It is happening in Church Committees, Government and in Corporate circles. I refer to it as the ‘Uncomfortable Leadership Crisis’. Historically, this ranking never existed. Women were all in one big hole trying to get out. The obstacles were many and women stuck together then and fought together. The situation has since changed.
To thrive in leadership, we have to support each other. Women who went ahead of us paid the price. There was a generation of women leaders who experienced discomfort and loss, just because they followed a cause. The current generation of women leaders are the beneficiaries and are having it all. Good homes, good jobs and good marriages. We need to pay the price for the next generation. We need to get uncomfortable.
According to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, there are approximately 1 million households in Nairobi. Assume only 30% of these homes have a house-girl, that is 300,000 house-girls in Nairobi alone. Let’s make one more assumption, that these house-girls report to a female boss .
Now, using the corporate culture of leadership, the role of a leader is to train, coach, mentor, discipline and guide. We admire leaders who coach and mentor their direct reports so they acquire the skills and attitudes required to accomplish the change they need both in their professional and personal life. We are good leaders in the office and in our businesses. Why do we put aside the leadership hat when we get home? Is it possible that we can mentor our house-girls, such that by the time a house-girl leaves our homes, their lives are never the same?
But you ask – please give a practical example. I will. How about making NSSF and NHIF contributions on their behalf? How about taking them to college to learn a skill? How about providing them with job relevant skills that employers can actually demand or that they can use to launch their own business? How about teaching them a money saving culture? How about showing them how to trade in stocks and shares.
Award winning Kenyan musicians like Betty Mbayo, Gloria Muliro and Nyota Ndogo were once house-girls. With a boss like you, house girls don’t have to be failures. Imagine the ripple effect that would happen if every house-girl employer took up this challenge. Yes, the reality is, the house-girl will leave your home after a few months, but the change will happen and impact will last forever.
About the Author
Beatrice is passionate about Women in Leadership. She believes that achieving an equal female leadership voice is vitally important to serving clients, community and to the growth of the company. As a senior manager in one of the leading multinationals in manufacturing sector, she leads the efforts in retaining, motivating and developing women across the various sites in her company. She loves helping women make their current roles fit their unique needs – whether it is transferring to a different geographical area, focusing on an industry or utilizing work opportunities to truly shape the career that is right for them with the flexibility to change it as their needs evolve over time.