Angela Mwirigi, director, marketing and communications for KCB Group is bold, sassy and not afraid to speak her mind. Her laugh bubbles from deep within her, it is difficult not to join in.
Stereotypes about women or the pressure to conform has not held her journey up the corporate ladder. She takes pride in her success and the support she has received from her family.
Doreen Wainainah sat down with her to have a conversation on what it takes a woman to manoeuvre the corporate and societal biases in modern day.
What does Angela do when she is not at work?
I am truly a pop and art culture buff; movies, series, music, hanging out and fiercely debating topics of interest. These are the things I find relaxing. I have tried to cultivate yoga, occasional exercise like walking and hiking but it does not come naturally to me.
If you were not a marketer, what would you be doing?
I had ambitions of becoming a lawyer but the size of required reading materials was a serious deterrent. The changing nature of what I do is what makes me remain passionately engaged.
What grounds you?
I think one must be true to oneself and deal with people from a genuinely authentic place. Anyone who has known me for any length of time would argue that I tend to be real, frank and I keep my word. I am guided by clarity on who I am and some basic principles I got from my mother.
What do you do to unwind?
I hang out with my wonderful children who keep me honest and humble.
How do you balance a career and having a family?
You see those two beautiful children over there (she points at a photo of her children on her desk) also accept that mum gets very busy sometimes.
Someone told me that they saw my daughter holding court; she has my nature by the way, so she is loud and talkative and always has people around her.
She was addressing her friends saying 'I really hope my mum is coming for this parent's meeting because she gets into meetings (at work) and she can lose track of time.'
So my colleague who was just leaving the meeting called me and told me 'you should know what your baby is saying.'
At the end of the day, I am teaching my daughter to be her own person. What really matters is to plan your life and career and try to find a balance.
Does the person you choose to marry have an impact on your career?
If you listen to Indra Nooyi, the PepsiCo CEO about how when she gets home after making tough business decisions at work and the first question she is asked is 'have you brought milk? There are societal norms that will take a lot of time to change.
So you really should pick someone who agrees with your values and that will determine the kind of career and life you will have.
Do your due diligence before you say yes. Does he care about your ambitions, is he a supportive partner?
And let me be clear it is the woman who chooses. Yes, it is the man that courted you, but you are the one who decided to say yes.
Pick a person who sees you for who you are. Because if I had a partner who did not allow me to thrive, who did not cheer me on then I would not have a high stress job because he would say why you haven’t cooked in this house for the last one year? Mine will never say that because to be honest he prefers the bigger pay cheque. (Laughs)
What do you think is the biggest misconception young girls have about the workplace?
That you have to give sexual favours to grow. In any case, that person loses respect for you and does not try to help you grow and I don’t care how senior he is when he asks. That is one of the most insidious stories that plague women in the workplace; their inability to say no especially when one thinks of the favour as a ‘fast track’. It is not a fast track. Prove yourself to be competent and then get the promotion.
What ails women when it comes to taking opportunities presented to them?
We are not bold. The world is only willing to give you what you are willing to take or what you ask for.
If people learnt the sense of ownership of their own futures, of their own destinies, they would have a lot less time to be concerned or worried about what other people are thinking or saying about them.
You talked about boldness, why has this been such a prevalent issue for the girl child?
I think it is how society has nurtured girls because we tell our girls from when they are young that we expect them to be well behaved, and we tend to micromanage the hell out of them.
In society, there are many assumptions about women. You are not strong enough, you are not made to do this kind of work, you are not supposed to think like that, you are not supposed to talk and if you are pushy and go get what you want, you are a bossy.
How can we create change around this?
There is a need for basic human nature to change. For women to get to where they want to, we must hold onto what we believe in and teach every generation to stand up for itself. And never make assumptions because they see superficial gains that we are there.