Emma Wenani is the Director, Human Resources at Global Media Alliance (GMA), a leading communications company in West Africa. Together with her team; they manage the HR processes for over 300 staff members across 9 business entities.
Emma embodies the idea of women in corporate leadership, but her career now is nothing close to what she wanted to do with her life while she was growing up.
She shares more about that, her leadership experience and the challenges for women in leadership.
What was your dream job as a kid? Why?
I wanted to be so many things at the same time. At some point I wanted to become a model because they looked so prim and proper and very well mannered.
Then I wanted to be an air hostess so I could travel the world; I still want to travel the world, but as a tourist. Then at yet another point, when one of the top cardiologists in Kenya died from heart disease, I decided I was going to be a surgeon.
For the longest time I was working to be a doctor, but when I really discovered what careers were (I guess one eventually does grow up), I knew I wanted to become a teacher, I still believe that I will teach one day.
I wanted to teach because of one of my primary school teachers, Mrs. Katingima. To date, she is my all-time favourite teacher because she taught us and loved us. I admired her; there was something about how much she wanted us to succeed that made going to school very easy.
I wanted to be a teacher like Mrs. Katingima so I could teach my students with as much passion as she taught us.
How did you find yourself where you are now?
I will summarize it somewhat and say I do believe I am where I belong. I never thought that I would be pursuing a career in human resources, but this is where I find myself and I love it.
When I was doing my undergraduate studies, I joined a student organization on campus called AIESEC. AIESEC is the largest student-run organization in the world, which was keen on inculcating in us the importance of working towards realizing our leadership potential.
It was there that truly, my passion for talent, training and people was unearthed. I was involved in a number of roles that gave me the opportunity to lead teams, attend conferences in different countries with like-minded leaders, facilitate conference sessions etc.
It was clear that anything and everything that involved working with people and in talent management was something I would pursue. After 6 years of being in HR and 2 years specializing in HR studies at Masters Level, I can comfortably say that I am home.
What woman inspires you and why?
I admire Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta; I admire everything about Her Excellency. How simple yet powerful she is, how much thought goes into her ceremonial and occasional outfits, her causes and the passion she puts into them.
I admire that she not only says she is going to do something, but puts her all into it. A leader should not only delegate but should also show others that they can do what they say they are going to do.
The effort and work she has put as founder and patron for the Beyond Zero campaign, aimed at stemming maternal mortality must be lauded. I look forward to meeting H.E. Margaret Kenyatta one day, to tell her that I admired her from afar, and to say thank you on behalf of current and future mothers for sharing her story and truly living her promise.
What do you consider your biggest success?
I don’t know whether I would term it as biggest success but I am proud of the woman I have become. I have always been ambitious and deep down I always knew I would be successful.
But, I do not take for granted the opportunities that I have had in the pursuit of my dreams that have made me excel in my career. 10 years ago, if anyone told me that in 2016 I would be a Director of one of the most successful media companies in West Africa, I would not have believed them.
But here I am, many miles away from home, away from my family, away from what is familiar but flying the Kenyan flag high and representing it in my new home, Ghana, smiling deep down and being content with the woman I have become.
I am still a year behind my dream of being CEO but I am proud of who I am today.
Tell me about a time you failed as a leader?
I cannot put a finger to any moment that I may have beaten myself up for failing. One of the things that scares me the most and would be a failure on my part, would be not leaving a legacy or having a good successor.
If for example, I have to leave my work place and no one notices or feels my absence or I am not able to leave a good transition history, I would have failed as a leader.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to women leadership today?
Today, more women are empowered to take on executive leadership roles than in the past. Obviously we still have a long way to go because the percentage of male executive leaders still outnumbers women’s by a huge margin.
One of the barriers to women leadership is the struggle with the idea of neglecting family as they climb up the corporate ladder. Women are natural caregivers. Therefore, we always have to think of how our families will be affected if we take on more responsibilities at the workplace, and what support, if any, will be offered by organizations whether in the formal or informal sector.
How do we create a balance between taking a seat at the table and still remain competent home makers?
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