The World Is Ready for Women Leadership
As a quiet soft-spoken, smiley and bubbly person, she wouldn’t strike you as someone who holds an authoritative position in the corporate world. But for nearly a decade, Lillian Ngala has been the Head of Human Resource at Diamond Trust Bank.
Her experience and contribution, especially in mentoring and propelling more women to leadership positions along her career path, a testament of her ability, has set her way above the rest. It hasn’t been an easy ride for Ms Ngala, just as is the case with many women who have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts.
“As women, we always encounter a sense of subconscious gender bias at all levels, where at times your voice doesn’t count. I had to deal with it by adopting a collaborative approach that appreciates gender diversity and inclusion. My boss, Ms Nasim Devji has been champion of gender-mainstreaming at the bank.
As a HR leader, she didn’t let the challenges shift her focus from the main goal of not just rising to the top, but also in the process, ensuring the success door remained open for other women.
She has played a major role in ensuring gender inclusivity in her organisation, helping raise the ratio of women to men in the workforce close to half.
“Currently, 46 per cent of our workforce are women and 54 per cent are men, which is quite an improvement. We aim at reaching 50:50 in the shortest time possible, a milestone we have already achieved in top leadership levels at the group. In the countries that we are present, our CEO representation is 50:50,” she adds.
At this time when the world is still trying to rise from the effects of Covid 19, she has been at the frontline to ensure the workplace environment is safe and conducive, especially for women who are the hardest hit by the pandemic.
“For instance, we have put in measures that are specifically targeting the women in the Bank. Apart from that, during this period we also launched the DTB Queens, a unique platform that aims at giving women a safe space to openly share their challenges and find solutions amongst themselves,” she adds.
She is, however, quick to point out that this pandemic period hasn’t been easy for HR practitioners.
“We have had the challenge of keeping employees engaged due to uncertainty, dealing with ambiguity brought about by the pandemic, as well as being concerned about the health and well-being of the employees, among many other hurdles.”
Despite the negative impact resulting from the pandemic, which has affected nearly every sector, she says, as a leader, she has had to learn and adapt.
“For example, I check in more frequently with my team; we have the hangouts where we discuss anything and everything, just to spread hope and assurance that we are in this together, and that has become a very powerful tool for staff to connect and interact without feeling lonely even though they are apart. We have also had to adopt the role of a coach to ensure people skills become key and critical at all levels. Also, I ‘feed forward’ as opposed to giving feedback.”
As one of the women who are at the top of the corporate ladder in the country, Ms Ngala insists that it is possible to juggle between career and family.
“I have always said as women, we can have a career and family running concurrently without sacrificing the other. Being a mother of four, I’ve had to make a deliberate effort to strike a balance between work and family.”
But to attain this, she says, institutions, as well as men, have to be involved.
“One of the ways the corporates can support women is by embracing flexibility, especially for women returning from maternity leave, by granting them flexi-hours as they adjust to motherhood and work. HR practitioners have a role to play in ensuring life becomes bearable for the female employees. If that doesn’t happen, then there’s a mismatch and probably you’re in a wrong career,” she adds.
According to Ms Ngala, the world is ready for women leadership.
“The world is becoming more receptive and ready for women leadership. We just witnessed the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first woman from Africa, as the Director-General of World Trade Organisation WTO. Prior to that, we had Kamala Harris as the Vice President in US history, and back home we’ve seen women like Wangari Mathai smashing the glass ceiling.”
According to research by the World Economic Forum, she reiterates, countries and organisations that are women-led are far much better in governance and productivity. This is why it is important to have qualified women in all areas of leadership in the public and private sectors.
However, she insists this must come with merit. “Women have to earn it. It shouldn’t be given on a silver platter, because if that happens, then it takes away the pride. We should have women with the right skills and competencies, who can make a difference in any industry or sector,” she adds.
Level Playing Ground
But even so, she says more has to be done to have more women on board leadership levels. “When saying this, I’m talking about a level playing ground where women and men can compete fairly if they are presented with the same opportunities” she adds.
As far as the two-third gender law issue is concerned, she says, there has been notable progress, compared to 20 years back, though there is room for improvement.”
Though she terms lack of execution of the law as the major impediment, she says the government is more deliberate now than ever.
“We have seen more women being appointed to various boards and ministries, which is great, but we can do better.”