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#InternationalWomensDay: Don’t Ever Play Second Fiddle

Renee Blasky, a financial consultant. PHOTO |
Renee Blasky, a financial consultant. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Renée Blasky arrived in Kenya in 1992 with her husband and their dog. Her port of entry? Kilifi. They had sailed on their 45-foot long boat from Singapore where she was working as an equity analyst covering the Singapore and Malaysia stock markets. The journey had lasted 18 months through several countries. When she arrived, she was the only chartered financial analyst Charterholder between Egypt and South Africa. When she was at the Kilifi Fishing Club, enjoying an ice cold Tusker, an investment banker met her and offered her a job on the spot. She has been in Kenya for 24 years working in the investment industry.

Two years ago, she embarked on a different journey coaching business women because she believes an empowered woman builds a strong family, a strong family builds a strong community, a strong community builds a better nation and a better nation builds a better world.

JACKSON BIKO met her in her house.

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What kind of advice would you give a young lady getting into corporate world, hoping to move up, that normally you would not give...

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That just because she is a lady?

Yes.

She is female, instead of a male?

Yes.

I would make sure that she realises that if she wants to advance her career, she needs to as Sheryl Sandberg {Facebook chief operating officer} says, lean. You cannot play in the background. You have to step forward, you have to be vocal, you have to act as if you were there because you are. And don’t play second fiddle. And that there is room for everybody to succeed, and help others rise.

What would you undo in your career that spans over 35 years?

Well, what I’ll do definitely, I would have stepped up, I would have leaned in much earlier, I would have refused to play small. That’s why I like working with women now.

I was reading The Times ahead of International Women’s Day where senior female journalists were asked to give women advice. A few advised younger women not to delay having babies over career, that no one ever has a work-home balance, that they should not freeze their eggs.

I purposely chose not to have children. It was an easy choice to make. I never had that biological clock go off ever. To this day, I do not regret not having children. I like children, don’t get me wrong I just never wanted them myself. I was the youngest of three children and my mum was a stay-at-home mum for many years. When I was nine, she decided to go to work. I hated when she went to work.

I grew up in the 1960s and the 70s, at the start of the women’s liberation. I always remember thinking I was gonna up and get a PhD and I was gonna be a working woman and children were always secondary for me. I saw my mum struggle and when I came home for my first holiday at university at the age of 18, I found out that my parents were divorcing. Then my mother told me that she had waited since I was six to do this.

Really? That’s sad!

Exactly. Very, very sad! That she effectively felt that she needed to stay home, stay in a bad marriage for 12 years. At that point in my life I just said I was not going to get married and have children. I met a guy, fell in love and we got married, thankfully, he didn’t want children either.

What’s the one thing you’ve noticed that drags women behind?

Women tend to put themselves last. They always give to everybody else except themselves. They bring themselves down, they are overwhelmed, they don’t give themselves a break, they always look after their spouses, their bosses, their children, their families first and foremost. That is something that needs to stop. Women need to put themselves at least at the same level as everybody else. And their husbands , their bosses and their children need to allow them to do it without them feeling guilty and actually arranging what I’m calling a guiltless retreat for women.

What have you failed at in life that stings?

My marriage. (Pause) Again failures are interesting because if you learnt from the mistake, I don’t consider it a failure. I mean, imagine a toddler as they’re learning to walk, and they fall down, and they don’t get back up, that’s a failure. But the toddler will constantly get back up until they are running and walking, so when they fell down, was that a failure? No, it’s part of their learning process. And we need repetition in order to learn.

What did you learn from your experience of marriage?

I learned that it is a lot of hard work and that you need to give and take. I probably didn’t do that. But at the same time my husband didn’t recognise my passion for my career so that was a very huge tension in the family. He got a job in Mogadishu and then, when that contract ended, he wanted to just up and leave. And I had found a role that I just loved.

How does one find their true north?

True north doesn’t always go from point A to point B in a direct line because you develop your passion over time. You may be very passionate at the beginning and then that changes. So, you have to know yourself well. You have to know what your values are, what is important to you and what you love doing whether you get paid for it or not.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I’d say my self-care day every Friday. I rarely allow anyone to interfere with that day. I also love skydiving.

Has Kenya been kind to you, what will you miss when you go back home as you plan to?

Kenya has been very kind to me. I love Kenya. I’ll miss the weather and the people. Kenyans are very open, more warm and friendly. I can tell you what I won’t miss; the water shortages, the power outages, having to deal with immigration.

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