From Girl to Woman: the Unpredictable Journey!

The transition between childhood and adulthood is a time to face the reality of making your own decisions – decisions that could make or break you.

For me, as a young woman in Uganda, the transition from girl to woman began at university, right from choosing what course to study to the never-ending thoughts and questions of what I wanted to be in the future.

After university, I went through one of the toughest and most confusing times for most young Ugandans – the months between when you are done with school and when you await graduation. You are not a student and neither are you employed, you have no source of income and neither are you getting much support from your parents. There’s only the constant question in your head, WHAT NEXT?

Since then I’ve been involved in a number of campaigns, volunteered with different organizations, held a successful fundraiser and outreach and I’m currently in the process of starting up my own organization whose main focus will be girls and young women. At the moment I own a small beauty supply store that was started online and moved into premises a year later. I’m now on the search for bigger premises, as well as working on another business idea. 

The journey has been difficult at times, but I’ve learnt a lot in my transition from girl to young woman so far. Here’s my top advice! 

Take the risk.

This is both in business and life in general. Do not listen to that little voice in your head telling you that you can’t make it. It’s not easy to ignore it but once you succumb to it, you’ll always be held back and never realize your full potential.

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.” (Thomas Jefferson)

Grab every opportunity.

Sometimes we come across opportunities that we think are too big for us or that we don’t deserve. Fill out as many applications, knock on as many doors, visit as many offices, make as many calls as you can. You may not get them all but even one can make a difference, besides – how will you know if you don’t try?

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” (Milton Berle)

Start small.

The saying goes that Rome wasn’t built in a day. The most important step is to start and let the small things multiply. Eventually you’ll get there.

“Dream big, start mall, but most of all, start.” (Simon Sinek)

Determination, focus and zeal.

If you are determined, nothing can stand in your way, and if you portray these three qualities in everything that you do people will always be eager to help. There will be bad days, there will be tough times, but each time you fall never tire of standing up.

“Sometimes you have to get knocked down lower than you have ever been, to stand up taller than you ever were.” 

Keep the right company.

It’s not about how many people you keep around you, it’s about what kind of people.

“Surround yourself with people who have dreams, desire and ambition; they’ll help you push for and realize your own”

Learn to let go.

Be it a relationship, friendship, job or business venture that could be tearing you down, hurting you or holding you back, let it go. Not everything is meant to be, it’s a harsh reality that we all have to face at some point in life.

“One of the happiest moments in life is when you find the courage to let go of what you cannot change.”

There’s no formula or straight path in life. You may not get what you want when you want it but eventually you do, as long as you don’t stop trying. I may not have it all figured out yet, but I will someday, and so will you!

Creating Equal Workplaces: My Recruitment Experience

In the past few years, many companies have implemented a 50/50 recruitment policy – 50% women and 50% men. This is an amazing improvement, since it shows that companies want to become equal employers and help women excel in industries where they have been historically underrepresented.  Even so, I ask myself whether there are ways we could make this policy more effective. Is there a better way of promoting gender equality in recruitment?

When I started applying for internships last year, I was impressed by all that was being done to ensure equality. Companies in male-dominated industries such as tech and finance had several programmes in place to inspire women to apply for their jobs. Actually, there were often more opportunities for me than for my male counterparts at university.

During my applications, companies hailed diversity and emphasised how much better they would perform if their workforce was not so streamlined. Many firms published yearly reports on gender diversity and pay differences, and some even boasted a 50/50 policy that had finally been fulfilled during that recruitment year.

However, people started asking questions. If you recruit 50% men and 50% women – will you really be hiring the best people? Is diversity more important than meritocracy? And I see where they come from. This top-down approach doesn’t deal with the root of the problem – why do women and men apply to different jobs in the first place? How can a company help solve this problem?

I have attended several recruitment sessions, some of them tailored for women. All of them displayed charts and numbers of how equal they had become. The workplace is now full of women, they said. But I asked myself, why is it only men giving the presentations? If there are plenty of qualified women at this company, surely they should be the ones attending university events for female graduates?

I believe that gender roles live on because we keep enforcing them. If I never see my mom fixing the car or my dad cooking when I am young, I am more likely to enforce the same roles in my home when I grow up. Likewise, if I never see women represent a tech company, investment bank or a political party, I am far less likely to see myself doing so in the future.

I once attended a women’s recruitment event where all of the speakers were women. There were about 50 students attending, all female, and most of the day was spent discussing women in the workplace. At one point, one of the attendees raised her hand and asked about meritocracy. “It is amazing that you do these events,” she said, “but how do you ensure that you still hire the best, most qualified people?” The speaker replied that meritocracy was very important to them – a principle they would never abandon.

But when I looked around the room, I saw only women. And I knew that the company did not plan to host a ‘men’s recruitment event’ – imagine the questions they would be asked if they did! So how can they claim to be hiring the very best people, when clearly women had a much better chance of securing an interview?

Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of women out there who are equally qualified, and many times even more qualified, than their male competitors, and often women shy away from applying while men tend to exaggerate their competencies and achievements.

But women deserve to be offered jobs based on their merit, not just their gender. That’s why we need to know that we were actually the best candidate for the position we’re offered, and that we are not just there because of a diversity programme. Our male colleagues will never respect us if they don’t think we deserve to be there in the first place, we won’t feel confident, and the situation will become even worse. It is incredibly important to find a balance between diversity and meritocracy in recruitment processes.

There are several ways of achieving a more equal workplace. One of the solutions might be 50/50 recruitment policies – after all, more women are entering the tech and finance industries than ever before and we will hopefully soon see a more equal gender division across company hierarchies.

But until then, I believe that there are several other ways we can encourage women to apply for the jobs where they will thrive the most. One is showcasing female role models – mentors, presentations and workshops are very effective in reaching out to students and establishing professional connections between talented women. Another is adopting gender-blind recruitment processes. Many companies have started using video interviews without a human interviewer – algorithms help determine who the best candidates are without a gender-biased lens.

There is, of course, the problem of men and women demonstrating different personality traits that are deemed suitable for different kinds of jobs, but that’s something to be dealt with much earlier in life than in graduate interviews. By screening CVs and conducting initial interviews without knowing applicants’ gender, we might end up with completely different recruits than through the traditional process.

And lastly, us women need to know that we are able. We need to show how qualified we are and dare to brag a little. The workspace is competitive, and in order to succeed, we need to be that way too.

Sometimes we will be faced with a gender-biased recruiter, and when that happens, we just need to prove why they are wrong. Hopefully, we can create a more equal workplace for our daughters, where they don’t need to attend all-female events to stand the same chance as their brothers of securing their dream job. And at that point, we will know we have succeeded.