“The King may rule the kingdom, but it’s the queen who moves the board.”-D.M. Timney
As we celebrate the Top 40 under 40 women, I could not be prouder. As someone who has close to four decades of experience in the corporate sector, I know the amount of courage and grit it takes to be the best in your industry, particularly as a woman.
It saddens me that the number of women rising is still painfully low, even after such a long time, but I remain optimistic. While I used to be the only woman in many boardrooms, I now find myself in the company of other women.
As women strive for success, or to break that proverbial glass ceiling, two factors are consistently important: skills. Here are some lessons I learned that can help women sustain their success momentum.
Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai said it best: the higher you go the fewer women there are. It can be quite lonely up the ladder, be it in the corporate, political, or NGO space. Many times we have to fall on our inner strength, our resolve, and our resilience.
2. Be of service to other women
Support other women in your network. I have opened doors for women, many without them knowing. The greatest satisfaction I have is sitting back and watching them thrive.
3. Learn to say No
When I started my professional life I struggled with boundaries. As women, we need to learn to put ourselves first and learn to say No, be it to a new role, project, or client.
4. Collaborate, don’t compete
In my early corporate life, we played by rules written by men for men. A lot of that was quite aggressive and resulted in us not being nice to each other. Women can write their own rules and be a lot more collaborative.
We must expand our tables to ensure there is more space and when the time comes, we must give up our seats for other women.
5. Expanding networks
Our networks need to be both men and women in diverse fields. We benefit more from varied perspectives. Our networks should not just be local but global.
6. Don’t play small
Women must always challenge the status quo because most times we are not it. One of the things I learned is to dream big, challenge assumptions, and inspire teams to be big-picture people.
7. Working with women
I have had largely women staff. I loved their flexibility and agility. If something was not working, they were quickly able to change direction and find a different approach.
8. Comfort zones
Every time I get comfortable in a role or project, I know it’s time to do something else. I have interviewed many women for jobs and it’s like they struggle to get out of second gear. Change the script. Try something new. Grow. See what else you are capable of doing.
I am an assertive rather than an aggressive leader and the higher up the ladder I went, I found that being clear about my vision was important to get my teams aligned.
I had much more cooperation when there was clarity in the direction we were taking. These days I am often asked if I have lost my edge. Absolutely not! My edges are just softer.
10. Be yourself
Oscar Wilde, an Irish poet and playwright, put it best: be yourself, everyone else is already taken. I am proud of having created an industry from scratch as opposed to a copy-and-paste situation.
I believe every entrepreneur has a defining moment and mine was in 1997 when I identified a void in the marketplace and started a communication company that went on to become Africa’s most awarded agency.
11. Leading a team
One of the reasons I was successful was that I knew my craft inside and out. I was able to get into the trenches with my staff if I needed to. People want leaders they can connect with, and who understand them.
12. Meticulous learning
Becoming a well-rounded corporate leader is not all bells and whistles. The climb to achieving a consistently reliable reputation is largely due to your willingness and ability to learn.
I put in years of learning in different industries from governments to banks to telcos and aviation before I was able to advise on global public relations issues and I am not done yet. I am still learning.
Gina Din Kariuki is the founder of Gina Din Group and the author of ‘Daughter of Africa’, a book that will soon be a digital platform highlighting inspirational daughters of Africa, telling their stories in their words.