What it takes to be in a top position

Saturday August 10 2019

Naome Lumutenga believes that with proper

Naome Lumutenga believes that with proper mentorship, clear goals and support, women are capable of excelling in all fields. courtesy photo 

By Stephen Otage

Who is Naome Lumutenga?
I grew up in modern-day Bulambuli District. I went to Nabongo Primary School, Tororo Girls School and later joined Makerere University where I trained in teaching. I worked in Uganda Commercial Bank, National Water and Sewerage Corporation and later went to the United Kingdom for my post graduate training.
I have always believed in community engagement and I have done this wherever I have worked. I set up global links between colleges in South Africa and China. I also served in the general Synod of Church of England as a representative of Canterbury Diocese. After 23 years, I felt I needed to do something different for my country. Together, with my friends working as full time professors in the USA, we founded Higher Education Resources Services East Africa (HERS).

What is your personal experience on the journey to the top?
I will use the word habitus. I am not the only successful one in my family. My elder sister is the deputy Inspector General of Government (IGG). Another is the acting dean, School of Public Health. I knew at a very young age that nothing would stand in my way to success.
My mother always talked to me about a female prime minister. She talked about female pilots and it is only until recently, that this made sense to me. I was even lucky that my husband supports whatever I do. Whenever I sit for interviews, one of the stupid questions they ask` is if my husband would allow me to travel or to undertake challenging tasks.
What are some of the obstacles that prevent women from rising to the top?
Two categories-low self esteem, arising from years of subtle and explicit emotional and physical abuse, low expectations by teachers and some parents, social and cultural expectations, economic dependency and lack of skills. Systemic barriers. Another category includes hostile educational environment, lack of access to education due to early marriage or pregnancy and lack of menstrual hygiene facilities, sexism and sexual harassment, hostile work environments, discrimination during job interviews-women are asked about family, not capabilities, lack of mentors and role models.
A woman is expected to cook and clean the house. When the child is sick, the woman must stay home to nurse the child. When a woman attempts to climb to a leadership position, sexism with explicit comments come in. Working hours are not friendly. There are also institutional barriers. That’s why there are only two women vice chancellors in Uganda- Professor Mary Okwakol and Professor Christine Dranzoa.
Women at the top are ‘a mixed bag’; some are excellent role models and others are known for bickering.
What advice do you give women who yearn for top leadership positions?
There is no success story without failure. Mohammad Ali said, when you are punched and you fall on the ground, focus on how to get up. Many women lose confidence whenever they meet obstacles. Define your own success. When you fail, rise up. Do not focus on why it is happening but focus on the lessons learned.
Every institution has politics characterised by cliques and favouritism. How can women navigate these murky waters?
I do not know about steering clear, but manage the situation. Find out what is going on. Do not be a remote leader, who gets out of the car in the morning and heads to the top floor. Engage every clique in your organisation. For example, for a counsellor to resolve a marital issue, he/she must listen to each camp. Listen to cleaners. In most cases, they know what is happening in an organisation. Engage the security guards and celebrate success. Try to defuse camps, identify the polarising agents and engage them. If you ignore these, the institution will crumble. It is even worse when you decide to side with one clique.

How can women make it to top management positions in corporate organisations?
Learn to manage time. Women have many things to attend to. Offload and delegate some except the mothering role. Attend professional networking events and continuous professional training programmes and conferences. Most institutions are led by men and they know the privileges they enjoy. They will do everything to protect these positions. When they see a potential woman leader coming up, they suffocate her efforts indirectly.
For example, whenever there are big or influential meetings, a woman is asked to record minutes because they know it will take her two or more days to write the minutes. Naturally, it is bruising for women and it comes with a lot of stigmatisation. Therefore, men should engage with their women as equal partners. A happy wife makes a happy husband. It does not matter who brings the food from the kitchen to the table.
Would you advise married professional women to own their own property?
The property you obtain before marriage should be registered in your names. Women must register their property. In the event that the spouse had children before the union, it is better that you define the share of those children from the outset. It is also critical that on day one when you marry, you have a will because this will define issues instead of leaving a grey area.
In a country like ours where the husband can have many children, when a wife brings property to the marriage, the man may feel entitled to use it any way he pleases. But because the husband and wife may not always be in harmony, women need legal protection. When an issue on property arises, men usually ask why women don’t trust them. Always remind your husband that he may not be singing from the same hymn sheet 10 years later.
Are women in influential positions performing and lifting up other women?
Getting into the board room on affirmative action is easy but your performance there matters. Be knowledgeable and read extensively about your organisation, other similar organisations, how other women are performing or failing organisations.
A woman in the boardroom should be equipped with knowledge and skills so that each time you stand up to speak, you speak with authority.
Networking among professional women is often underlooked. What are you doing to foster this?
Since we live in a digital era, let us make it work for us. It is important to start professional women’s groups to foster ideas about job opportunities, study scholarships as well as share experiences and challenges.
You hinted on career mapping and development for personal skills. What did you mean?
Everyone should have a short term, mid-term and long term roadmap for their career life. The moment you put these on paper, they become work plans. When doing career mapping, you determine where you want to be in the next five to 10 years.
This also helps you to see the possible impediments and how to counter them. For instance if you want to become the head of department in the next three years, you need more academic qualifications. This will require you to sign up for a course.

Debate on Women Vice Chancellors
“If appointed, women can unquestionably lead higher institutions of learning. Uganda has well- learned, well-travelled and skilled women. More women in top leadership roles in universities means we will have more role models for female students. Policy issues too would change. We would see more investment in childcare, more toilets for women at campus, flexible feeding hours and changes in interview processes. All these are challenges only a woman can see. A woman’s emotional intelligence is now being recognised as a top leadership quality. However, the barrier for women to join university top positions is their inability to publish papers. That is why we need boot camps to build their confidence and research writing skills.”
Can women leverage numbers to bring about the much needed change?
Women have numbers but they do not have the power. Women do unregistered and unrecognised work in this country. They are the family washing machine, vacuum cleaner, she tills the land, brings firewood and nobody converts the input of such women into monetary terms. That is why women leaders in Parliament need to be nurtured to become society’s role models.

Parting shot
We must appreciate women, nurture women Members of Parliament into role models so that they can deliver.

Rosemary Mutyabule
Deputy ED, Enterprise Uganda
I have worked in professional institutions for many years and I have risen through the ranks. Women face a lot of challenges. Most of them are left to do only administrative jobs which stagnates women’s career paths. In my attempt to obtain the executive director job, outside Enterprise Uganda, many times, I have been frustrated. In one instance, I was asked whether I had a political godfather.

Charity Mugumya-Communications Director- Bank of Uganda
I joined Bank of Uganda in 1991 as a banking officer and I have undertaken many other roles. I worked in the banking office, accounts department and got acclimatised with banking operations. I also networked with banking professionals in central banks in New York, Washington and other regional central banks.

Joyce Okello- Personal Assistant to Governor BOU
I joined Bank of Uganda 20 years ago but getting to where I am today was through hardwork. I joined as a banking officer and signed up for extensive trainings. My first degree was in finance. I later enrolled for a degree in finance and accounting. My master’s degree was in certified information systems audit. The internal audit department gave me good exposure.

Gertrude W. Karugaba-Partner- Sebalu and Lule Advocates
Hard work and diligence have made me the expert you see in me today, in my field. I had to master my craft because no one can promote you when you are mediocre. Professional relationships are key as well as networking. I have been lucky to know credible referees who have done a great job promoting me and my work.

Josephine Mukumbye- CEO -Abi Trust
I have acquired a wealth of experience with good training and I am lucky to have had good supervisors who have given me opportunities to prepare me for leadership. The journey has never been smooth but with mentorship in leadership and integrity, women can soar. You must be committed to timeliness and delivery. Strong family support is also very crucial.

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