What you need to know:
- The Athena is the brainchild of the National Security Adviser, Amb Dr Monica Juma.
- On Saturday, The Athena marked three years of connecting, empowering and lifting women.
“Evidence shows that wherever there is a confident man who is not threatened by the achievements of women, women are more likely to succeed. The question then becomes: how do we get more confident men who are prepared to facilitate the success of women?”
This question was posed by William Alexander McDonald, the High Commissioner of Barbados to Kenya. He was speaking on the second panel of a glamorous event called The Athena, a mentorship programme for professional women.
The Athena is the brainchild of the National Security Adviser, Amb Dr Monica Juma. I have to say, it is heartwarming to see a woman of such influence and power use her access to build solid blocks for the next generation of women leaders.
On Saturday, The Athena marked three years of connecting, empowering and lifting women. This was my third time attending this event, and the first time to see a panel session with just men.
Other speakers on the panel were Lieutenant General Maina Mwangi, the Vice Chief of Kenya Defence Forces; William Asiko, International Development expert; and Simon Wall, a diplomat. It was moderated by media personality Jeff Koinange. All the session speakers emphasised that women empowerment is the business of all, especially those in leadership.
As each of the four men on the panel took turns to speak, and as the audience clapped in agreement, I couldn’t help but reflect on all the men in leadership who continue to believe in me, and give me opportunities to succeed.
Indeed, there can be no empowerment of women without men. While giving the last word at the forum, Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu asked a poignant and passionate question. Although the question was directed at the patron of The Athena, Dr Juma, it was a clarion call for all of us who got an invite to the event.
“How does a young woman in the village, who cannot afford to dress up in white and gold, access all the great learning we have received here today?”
Also read: Celebrating men as allies of equality
I thought about the learnings I had amassed, and all the connections I made on that day. I am still thinking about the challenge the DCJ gave all of us, to reach more young women who did not make it to the arena on Saturday, but who will greatly benefit from all the mentorship and the conversations we had.
And as I continue to think about the best ways to pay forward, I will start by using this platform to share a few of the key messages from Saturday. Major emphasis on A FEW because I learned a lot.
The third panel, which shared on “Tenacious - smooth skills do not make skilful sailors”, explored the journeys of the panellists towards breaking barriers. When the session moderator, Mindset Coach Mary M’Mukindia, MBS, asked them to share that one thing they believe defined their success, beyond their qualifications and skills, this is what they had to say: “Keep your promises” – whether this is in your personal or professional life.
If you can be relied on, if people can count on you, you stand better chances of attracting and retaining the right opportunities in your life.
“Personal courage” – Deliver quality results. Whatever task you are given, try to do it to the best of your ability. You grow professionally when you have value and people can see the value that you add to your team. Let’s face it, we all want people who add value in our lives. So that is a fair question, right?
“Life is not smooth” – Things do not come easy. There will be struggles in life, and tough times will surely come. While we are not born resilient, we build our resilience each time we face a challenge and rise over the challenges. But over and above, build your character.
I will end with another personal favourite: One of the things women must learn from men is the ability to believe in themselves – I also picked this from the all-male session. Leadership needs courage but for a long time, I only understood this in abstract terms.
One day I will write about the number of times I step into one of my boss’s offices when I am about to start crying because of a big challenge I need to make a decision about, or sometimes just fear, second-guessing myself. And I think because my boss has seen it all, the calmness with which she listens is sometimes all the reassurance I need to go back to my desk and work.
As I step into serious corporate and professional leadership, I more than ever appreciate the importance of mentorship, of having both women and men who believe in and root for you. If you are a young woman looking forward to taking up leadership, cut down on Netflix and spend some of that free time finding a good mentor or mentors.
The writer is the Research & Impact Editor, NMG ([email protected]).