07 March 2016

The case for women in business leadership

An illustration of how women are still few in executive positions in Uganda. The main reason women have not advanced as rapidly as men to the top of management is because society still views women in the traditional domestic role as mother, care giver, nurturer, Lumonya points out.  

In Summary

In management, women are concentrated in certain roles and limited to specific functions in a way that is indicative of the “glass walls” phenomenon, which is occupational segregation by gender. Olive Lumonya, national director SOS Children’s Villages Uganda, spoke to Prosper magazine’s Dorothy Nakaweesi about why there are few female CEOs in Uganda.

Before joining SOS Children’s Villages Uganda as national director, you must have made your way through various ranks. What is your background on your employment history?
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications (MUK), a Chartered Marketer from the Chartered Institute of Marketing UK, and an MBA from ESAMI. I have had several post- graduate trainings including the London Business School 2012, among others.

I started out as a writer for one year and joined Nile Breweries Limited as Public Relations Officer and later as Brand and Media manager. After, I moved to National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and started out as Public Relations Executive, rose to brand and marketing manager and finally to the head of marketing and communications. I left NSSF in 2014 to join SOS Children’s Villages Uganda where I am the national director.

What is your opinion on why few women advance to the highest levels of management?
Historically, and especially in our African setting, women have been disadvantaged right from upbringing, to the quality of education. That affects the kind of employment they get. So it is mainly a societal problem where a lot more focus and value was put on the male child at the expense of the girl child and this is a tradition that carried through even to corporate organisations in terms of hiring and remuneration of females. There are many examples of women and men in the same position earning different salaries with women earning significantly lower than their male counterparts.

The main reason women have not advanced as rapidly as men to the top of management is not that women lack the ambition that their male counterparts have, but that society still views women in the traditional domestic role as mother, care giver, nurturer. Society does not see that these are some of the qualities that would make her excel so much in any position if empowered to do so.

What qualities enabled you to assume the top position as national director SOS?
My induction into leadership began way back in 1991 while still at Makerere University, where I became Chairlady for Africa Hall from 1991 – 1992. Later on, I became the Vice and later chairperson of the Commonwealth Youth Programme Africa region where I gave direction to several youth in different countries and worked on policies to address youth issues.

In 1995, I was one of the very few women who attended the world women’s conference in Beijing, China representing the Uganda female youth on the recommendation of the ministry of Gender. This exposure gave me the foundation and soft landing into leadership and steered me into different career positions.
I have had tremendous exposure by serving on several boards of directors which include Uganda Women’s Effort to save Orphans (UWESO), Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG), PACE, Civil Aviation Authority and the dfcu Women Business Council. These opportunities prepared me for the top position at SOS children’s villages where I take charge of more than 300 members of staff and 8,000 children!

In terms of personal attributes, focus and total commitment on the job has given me an edge. When you choose to do a job, you must excel at it always. That is how you differentiate yourself. I have clearly differentiated myself on brand marketing; I also have great attention to detail and I am well organised. I always ensure that I am well-prepared and informed beforehand for meetings and presentations. This gives me the confidence to make constructive contribution to the task at hand.
Lastly, I read many books on leadership and almost never miss the news.

What are some of the challenges you have encountered in climbing to the top of such a prestigious organisation?
The biggest challenge career women face is the need to prove to others that they can perform exceptionally well and excel. At the beginning, this means that one has to work more and harder than their colleagues. The tacit question in the minds of many (both men and women) is how are you going to juggle child bearing, family and a career? Many, therefore, will need to prove to all that they could actually deliver better than anyone else and that entails a lot of sacrifices. I also know that some men actually compete when they meet the excelling women! I must say here though, that I haven’t had serious challenges in climbing the ladder. Onset, I have portrayed myself to fit exactly what the task called for.

What can be done to empower more women to join top executive positions in corporate and civil organisations?
Government, private sector and civil Society should continue with the deliberate effort to empower women at policy level. The issue is not that women are not good enough to make it on their own and need extra intervention, but it is the only way to recognise and correct the historical mismatch which created the current gap between men and women in career growth. Once this gap is reduced, many more women will excel academically, professionally and in leadership as is already an emerging trend today.

Women also need to take charge of their lives and careers and understand that any success will depend on how much effort they put into it. We must start to work on and empower ourselves with knowledge first, show commitment, be confident and strong willed. Women must position themselves and brand themselves appropriately if they are to stand out.
The women who have succeeded should continue to excel and maintain the image while at the same time taking on the mantle as drivers of change by encouraging and motivating more women in the leadership positions. We need the numbers right to change the world.


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