This is how we want our men to support us

Mary M’Mukindia is an executive leadership coach, trainer, and emotional intelligence practitioner with a 35-year corporate career in senior leadership. PHOTO | POOL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

According to Goldman Sachs’ 2008 Global Economic Report, ‘narrowing the gender gap in employment could push income per capita as much as 14 per cent higher than baseline projections by 2020, and as much as 20 per cent higher by 2030. But what will it take to attain a semblance of balanced representation of women at the work place in order to reap these fruits? Drawing from their experiences, four women discuss how men can support women to enable them excel in their academic pursuits and careers.

Prof Jacqueline Oduol is a Kenyan academic, thought leader and manager with vast experience having held senior positions in the civil service, academia and civil society. Prof Oduol is also a renowned gender expert who has specialised in child protection, peace building, leadership development and conflict resolution.

Prof Oduol is a nominated Member of Parliament for ODM, is a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development. PHOTO | POOL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Q: You have made an impressive mark in academia, civil society and politics — you say that your husband has been instrumental to your success — how so?
“I wouldn’t have been able to achieve all that I have had I not had my husband’s support and approval. As my career in academia took off, he took up roles traditionally reserved for women, roles such as taking our children to hospital, taking them to school, being the one that turns up for parent/teacher conferences and visiting days at school and being the one overseeing what we like to call household chores.

Due to the numerous leadership positions I held at the university where I taught, I travelled a lot for conferences and was often called upon to make presentations in various forums. To fulfill all these responsibilities required me to be out, either in meetings or travelling, which took me away from my family. My husband, fortunately, has never been rigid when it comes to traditional roles, so he took them up.

Some of my in-laws, as you can imagine, wondered why he seemed so comfortable doing what we refer to as female work. The fact that I was the one doing most of the travelling did not escape our children too – I remember our eldest daughter, who was around nine years, she’s now 32, told me one day, “Mummy why don’t you let daddy go this time?” We lived in USIU-Africa’s university complex, which had 12 blocks, my daughter must have seen the pattern, that in all the other households, it was the male members of staff that travelled, yet in our house, I was the one that did the travelling.


My husband’s support has allowed me to thrive in my career, such that I have never felt the need to limit my ambition. He is a confident man with a high self-esteem, and has therefore never been threatened by my growth. Had he not been self-assured of who he is, and what makes him a man, he would have created a lot of negative energy in our home.

One of the reasons I chose to get married to him was because I realised that his sense of who he is was not defined by society’s definition of a man, he understands that he is a man regardless of whether he is in the kitchen or helping his children with homework, that his manhood and masculinity is not defined and limited to a role. I am in politics now, and just like he did in the other roles I have played, he has been steadfast in his support of me. Several times, he has supported my political career in public.

When I vied for a parliamentary seat in Alego-Usonga constituency in 2007, he came to my launch and told everyone that I had “written an application” to vie for public office, and that he had vetted my qualifications and competence and accomplishment and found me worthy and deserving of that seat, that I was the best candidate and that I had his approval and support.

He serves as a cover for those that may want to pull me down on flimsy grounds of gender and other negative stereotypes that have nothing to do with leadership. This way, those that try to bring up the culture front to undermine me are deterred because as my husband, he has given me that cultural approval. For women in the public space, it means a lot to have their husbands’ support them. I wouldn’t be where I am”had it not been for his support."

Dr Mshai Mwangola is a performance scholar with interests in generational discourses, leadership, civil society, culture and the arts, as well as Africana education. PHOTO | POOL | NATIPON MEDIA GROUP

Q: How well are women represented in academia?

“Though I don’t work fulltime in academia, my observation is that there has been great progress in terms of numbers, with more and more of the traditional barriers that have discriminated against women coming down.

I believe that in some disciplines such as law, we are now graduating more women than men.

Overall though, there are still more male graduates, and this is heavily tilted in certain disciplines.

In terms of faculty and administration, we still find women are not equitably represented at the top ranks, there needs to be more support to ensure that we get to proportionate representation and that women are treated fairly throughout the system. This is the only way they can be supported through their careers, including at graduate level and as faculty."

Q: Do you think men have a role to play in the growth of a woman’s career?

"I think women and men equally have the responsibility to support each other. Just as women support men in their lives - their children, siblings, friends, partners and colleagues, so too, should men reciprocate.

In particular, men need to appreciate the multiple roles that women play inside and outside the workplace, and where these differ from their own experiences and roles, value them appropriately.

Practically, this translates in the workplace respecting, facilitating and enabling supportive mechanisms such as parental leave and sexual harassment policies and ensuring that no stigma or career penalty is attached to women and men who use these, while making sure that women get commensurate opportunities and support in mentoring, promotion and growth in the workplace to that offered to men.

In other spaces such as on the domestic front, this means working together to ensure neither disproportionately bears the responsibilities for the household."

Mary M’Mukindia is an executive leadership coach, trainer, and emotional intelligence practitioner with a 35-year corporate career in senior leadership.

Q: Why must men support women in their careers and whatever other role they play?

"The answer is simple really; because women add value to every aspect of life, whether it is career, family or in wealth generation.

It would, therefore, be wise for men to maximise value that they already have – think about this way, you have two hands, why would you choose to tie one behind your back and use just one? That would only place you at a disadvantaged position.

Another factor to consider is that men are excellent at focusing on one thing, and are good at planning ahead by say, about 30 years. Women, however, are good at focusing on the now – the “now” has many things going on, for instance, what will the children eat today? Are their school uniforms clean? Is there milk?


Men may be flustered by all these competing demands because they have a kind of narrow focus vision and may therefore not be capable of giving all these responsibilities the attention they demand – we need to appreciate these differences and understand that we were created differently so that we can complement one another.

Research has shown that when women are on board, when they are in senior management, the company becomes more profitable, that it has higher returns. Women are intuitive, and therefore make better managers, it would therefore not make sense to seek the advice of one person, (in this case the man) and not the other when you can benefit from the advice of both. When it comes to marriage, women challenge men and encourage and inspire them to become better people. Men should listen more to women and understand that doing so will not take away something from the macho image society expects them to portray."

Rajneesh is a political and communication analyst. PHOTO | POOL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Q: Drawing from your experience, how can men support women in their academic and career pursuits?

“I have three men in my life that have played a very significant role in my education and in my career.

One of them is my dad, my current mentor. He’s big on education, and has pushed me to excel in my studies, right from my undergraduate. Besides this, he leveraged on his networks to get me internship during school holidays, the aim to enable me to build a network of my own, a network I could tap into in future.

After graduating from USIU-Africa with my first degree, he shared with me a couple of scholarships and encouraged me to apply, fortunately, I won one to study at the London School of Economics - as much as I got the scholarship through merit, my dad pushed me towards this opportunity.


Besides professional references, the scholarship also required a guardian to talk about the applicant, I had listed my dad as my referee, and I believe that what he said about me played a big role in my getting that scholarship. The other man that has played
an important role in my career was my former mentor at USIU-Africa, where I did my undergrad. He gave me my first paid full time job as a research officer, a job I held for a year-and-a-half and which allowed me to travel all over Africa – I visited 16 countries.

I believe that it is unusual for such a role to be given to one just starting out in her career, one in her early 20s, but he saw my talent, and that was all that mattered to him. He gave me my stepping stone, which has led to better and better opportunities for me. Unfortunately, he passed away last year – he was only 33 years.

The third man is my current boss, Donald Bray, a digital anthropologist at the University of Cambridge. I am doing a lot of work in the world of academia, thanks to the communication role he encouraged me to take up, he is also the one that encouraged me to do my second master’s degree in communication, which I am currently studying for.

Any time we have a meeting with clients, he allows me to represent the organisation, this way, I have made many great networks. I wish we would have more men like him who push women towards the glass ceiling.”