'The world is brutal, you must put in the work'

Irene Nayera is an organisational and human resources director at Hima Cement. Photo/Isaac Kasamani 

What you need to know:

You will not get sympathy from people around you because you are a woman. Some women love pity parties. They are always playing the victim card. They always want sympathy. Unfortunately, the world is brutal. Nobody cares. You have to put in the work to earn.

Irene Nayera is an organisational and human resources director at Hima Cement, where she also doubles as the sustainability champion for the organisation. We had a conversation with her to seek her views on the dynamics and trends in the  job market and how human resource management proffesionals can navigate the terrain. 

Briefly take us through your childhood, education, and work experience
I attended Lake Victoria Primary School, in Entebbe, Wakiso District, did Senior Four exams at Stella Maris College Nsube, located in Mukono and sat for Senior Six exams at Bweranyangi Girls’ Secondary School, located in Bushenyi District. I then enrolled for a diploma in Human Resource Management Makerere University Business School (Mubs) and proceeded to do a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management. Currently, I am completing a master’s degree in Business Psychology at Makerere University Business School (Mubs).

I was lucky to get a job even before graduating. I worked at a human resource consulting firm for eight months in 2009. Then I got another opportunity with Nile Breweries Limited, where I joined as a graduate trainee within the HR department and quickly grew through the ranks within the HR function. 

My last position there was head of talent development before I left to join the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI), where I worked as talent development and organisational development manager. I later joined Lafarge – Hima cement as a human resources manager – corporate, a role I performed at excellently for three years before getting promoted to the role of organisational human resources and sustainability director.    

What has your leadership experience been like?

Our country chief executive officer, who is my line manager, has been very supportive. Despite the support, the role comes with its share of challenges including staff who think that there is not much that HR managers do. It is only after seeing the different programmes that the HR function develops and implements that enable the business to achieve its results, that they appreciate the overall contribution of the department. You also have to continuously lead by example and constantly avail practical solutions when staff are faced with challenges. The lesson these experiences have taught me is not only to be present on the job, but to be on the field, in the game and with the ability to score on the score card of the business. Be available to support staff. 
What has helped you to become the leader you are today?

Accepting responsibility and taking on challenges. Whenever there is extra work to be done, people naturally shy away from it. I am the kind of person, who will pick up the entire basket. Even when I was a child, I would wake up early in the morning and do all the chores before others. I do not leave work until it is done. If it is an HR project, I will burn the midnight oil until it is done.
What are some of the things you have seen women do that propel them to success in leadership?

Resilience, hard work, and honesty. Do not just show up as a woman and think that things are just going to happen for you. It does not work that way. You must get into the game to play and score. 

And the mistakes you have seen women make in their leadership positions?

Thinking that you will have sympathy from people around you because you are a woman. Some women love pity parties. They are always playing the victim card. They always want sympathy. Unfortunately, the world is brutal. Nobody cares. You have to put in the work just like everybody else. Some women tend to think that they must be 100 percent ready before applying for an opportunity. Even at 50 percent, nothing should stop you from applying. 

 Does Hima Cement have a gender policy or any other initiative that is gender inclusive for women to grow into leadership?

Oh yes, we do. The organisation is gender-inclusive with opportunities open to everyone. So that means that even when you are a woman and you apply for a position, you go through the same application process as men. We have an interesting programme called Women on Wheels (WOW), where we have recruited qualified women drivers. This contributes 63 percent of the total driver population. They are in charge of those huge trucks that deliver cement to our customers across the country. We do not discriminate and have equal pay policies across the organisation regardless of one’s gender. 

From an HR perspective, what are some of the challenges you have seen women face in the workplace and how can they deal with them?

Failure to balance their personal and career life. If one, for example, is having personal challenges, they want the organisation to be so understanding yet this is not its problem. Others assume that they will be promoted with minimum effort. Yet it takes the right career guidance, mentorship, hardwork and furthering education to get there. Some women relax because they are banking on their partner’s support and see no reason to advance in their careers. Show up, challenge yourself, progress, excel, and show the results.

 Be resilient. Sometimes you have to learn the tactic of knowing when to lose and win. You cannot walk into a workplace bearing the attitude that you are going to win every day. You will be doomed. Take some wins and losses too. When a line manager shouts at you for a mistake, will you close your laptop and go home? Will you shout back?  No, you are going to sit down and do an amazing job because your why and purpose are clear. Always focus on doing your work and excelling at it. 

What are the current trends in HR that people need to know?
Artificial Intelligence (AI). For instance, here at Hima, we have a technology called HILDA, a digital assistant to help clients answer inquiries. 
Other trends include having a performance management system that enables you to have continuous conversations and not the old bi-annual conversations. 
Creating meaningful employee experiences through innovative employee engagement and well-being initiatives is the other X factor that is trendy and will have a positive impact in the organisation.

What’s your advice to women interested in becoming leaders?
Excel in your current role before you are considered for another one. Also, continue developing yourself, stop self-guessing yourself, and do not forget to pray and trust God.