What the Women in Red — Vodafone Award means to me
On a normal Thursday mid-morning , I would most likely be on my desk catching up on the day’s work on what health and safety risks need to be mitigated. But for Thursday, 4th March,2020 I wasn’t on my desk, neither was I at work. I had undergone a tooth surgery two days ago and was recuperating from home. I had obviously not checked any emails since then, but on that day I had a little more strength, and having less pain I decided to check my email. For a moment I froze, the pain disappeared — as if to usher me into the mood of what this would mean. It was a bag of mixed emotions as I sent messages to my colleagues and friends — since I couldn’t be able to talk over the phone with my swollen and painful jaw.
Five days later, on 9th March, 2020, I was seated at the Michael Joseph Centre at the Safaricom PLC Headquarters for the celebrations of the International Women’s Day. As part of the celebrations, they had organized to award the nominees and the winners of the Women In Red- Vodafone awards and also their own internal awards dubbed — Women in Green. The celebrations included having a keynote address, an all — women panel discussion , awarding the top 3 divisions within the company that have achieved gender parity in its composition and finally the women in red nominees and winners awards.
Women in Red awards is a programme that aims to celebrate the achievements of 100 inspiring women at Vodafone( in all its different countries). The programme also aims to recognize the initiatives of these women that have helped build a culture of inclusion for all.
I was very honoured to be awarded a winner alongside these two other women — both of whom work in various departments in Safaricom:
- Nelly Mungai
- Elizabeth Nguli
It has been 3 weeks since I received the award, the beautiful trophy sitting on my desk (before we closed work because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and I have had a chance to reflect on what the award means to me — as a woman in a workplace , an occupational health and safety practitioner, a young scientist and advocate for diversity.
Motivation to keep supporting women at the workplace
I have the understanding that women have double roles of caregiving work and productive work. With this understanding in mind, one of the initiatives I led was doing a benchmarking exercise to operationalize a creche for our workplace. Creches are very useful in supporting women who have just resumed work from maternity leave , are still breastfeeding therefore need to periodically express their milk and require a hygienic and private place to do so. Additionally, one may not have a nanny and therefore if they have no one to leave the child at home with, a creche would be very useful since it will prevent the mother from missing work as they have to remain behind to mind their child. It is such thoughts on how the caregiving roles can in overall have an impact on women’s productivity at work that spur my drive to lead and support initiatives that will make women be their best in both roles.
Improving health and safety is not just about risk assessments
When one mentions workplace health and safety , the most common thing that comes to mind is hazards and risks. But when I consider the definition of health as stated by the World Health Organization — “ health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”; I am inclined to believe that my initiatives are aiming towards ensuring women are in good health. Consider that being distressed about missing work days because of nanny issues, or having a full painful breast in the course of the work day will certainly cause one to be anxious — therefore their mental wellbeing jeopardized. This award was a reminder to me that to be impactful, one has to strive to be multidisciplinary, to incorporate various disciplines in order to achieve a better outcome. For me this was appreciating what the gender scholars have highlighted about women’s challenges at work and incorporating the goals of employee health and safety.
I stand on the shoulders of others
As I prepared myself for the award ceremony, I drafted a small speech — in anticipation- just in case I was required to say something. What was on my mind is that I have stood on the shoulders of those who came before me and those who continue to ensure that women , persons with disabilities, gender minorities are able to be the best they can be in whatever field they choose. For my current role and the initiatives I pursued, I would like to single out two senior colleagues , Rhoda Murwa and Peres Owiti whose support in sound boarding my ideas were very key. When I arrived back at the office after the award ceremony, I was warmly received by Gloria Ireri, Veronica Sein, Fridah Nduku, Miriam Nyokabi and Ann Ndungu with song and dance. It is such celebrations that give me momentum to keep going. I received numerous text messages and phone calls to congratulate me and one from a former colleague, Elishiba Msengeti, really touched me — as she remembered that I have always advocated for diversity in the workplace and made women feel seen. At that point it couldn’t escape my mind what Maya Angelou once said, “ I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” All the women colleagues, whom I am constantly seeking feedback from about various initiatives have been supportive in this journey — and this award is mine as much as it is theirs.
The journey of 1000 miles begins with one step
About 15 years ago, while in high school I encountered a woman in history called Mary Ward. She was the founder of Loreto Schools. One of the things that Mary Ward said that I always had in my mind is “ women in time to come will do much more.” The environment in which Mary Ward started the schools was very hostile, but she was determined and believed that girls too deserve a chance in formal education. A century later, I am here, alongside many others still working to ensure that we do much more. I am grateful for the opportunity I got in high school to encounter the history of Mary Ward at a formative age — this among many other stories have shaped my worldview in incredible ways. I cannot forget the interaction and support of an amazing teacher , Binti (Ms) Karuga (may her soul rest in peace). She believed in me and my capabilities and would constantly challenge me to take up public speaking roles. Thinking about the trophy inscription “ Thank you for being an inspiring role model” — it has been a journey of 1000 miles that began many years ago with one step! Onwards!