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Women on Boards: Serving with Excellence

  Jun 3, 2016

Advocates for gender parity have identified equality as not just about fairness, but also about better business results. Board of Directors with a better gender balance have proved to have yielded better performance.

The Women Directors Leadership Summit at Strathmore Business School is an incisive program that aims at moving the focus from why women should be on boards and C-Suite positions to how they should perform for board excellence and leadership effectiveness.

One of the main tools of the program is an authoritative book, The Mountain Within: Leadership Lessons and Inspiration for one’s climb to the Top written by Dr. Herta von Stiegel. Dr. Herta Von Stiegel and Ms. Patricia Murugami, are the key faculty and academic directors of program. (Click here to read more about the program.)

The program is in conjunction with Women Corporate Directors (WCD) and International Finance Corporation. Speaking on behalf of IFC, Ms. Rose Lumumba gave insights on corporate governance in Africa, emphasizing on the importance of transparency and accountability, as this is one of the ways in which boards can truly excel.

Ms. Anne Muchoki, Director KenInvest and Dr. Catherine Kimura, Chancellor Multimedia University, shared their experiences in leading boards with excellence during The Women Directors Leadership Summit (WDLS) inaugural class of 2016.

Here are the experiences they shared:

Boardroom leadership: Re-inventing the art.

Dr. Kimura: Serving as the first woman board director in the Coffee Board of Kenya was as challenging as it was daunting. I had to work extra hard to justify my existence in the board.

I joined the Kenya Commercial Bank board at a time when the bank was on its knees. I was the Investment Secretary representing the National Treasury and so the health of the bank’s performance was crucial.

Upon appointment I realized that most of the board members had served prolonged terms with very minimal productivity rate. For the bank to grow we had to have energetic people who would be productive and think outside the box.

I teamed up with like-minded colleagues who had just been appointed to the board, and together we pushed for the establishment of a board charter which would govern the board’s governance and engagement. The charter highlighted the duration of a member’s tenure in the board, consequently guaranteeing frequent appointments of new board members. Members who had outlived their membership soon left.

It is important that board members leave amicably as they are ambassadors of the institution.

Setting the board straight got the bank back on its feet. Board members must ensure that they have the right people for the right job.


Ms. Muchoki: Women leading boards must be clear about their set purpose and be extremely sensitive to how they present themselves.

Joining a parastatal board whose reputation had been tarnished by numerous cases of corruption meant that the decisions which I would make would greatly determine the fate of the organisation. I made the choice to ratify the Managing Director’s appointment to ensure that he was fully competent to perform in that capacity.

I make it my business to know the context of where everyone is coming from. This informs my decisions as well as my approach to various matters. I take a personal initiative to know all my directors.

My goal is to always get them thinking of the organization more than their interests.


Transitioning from board member to chairperson

Dr. Kimura: When you are the chair you must listen to the voice of every board member. This is a unique kind of leadership which has to be cultivated. Chairpersons must recognize the dynamics of the board; the dominant personalities and ensure that every board member’s voice is heard. They (chairpersons) must demolish cliques and groupings in the board as they often lead to superiority wrangles.

Ms. Muchoki: Board Chairs  must accept that cliques will be present. They must deal with each clique differently and find a way to harmonize the board so that those cliques do not tear apart the board. They should not sweep matters under the carpet. That is the only way to disempower groupings in the board.

The board is as good as the chairperson. Chairpersons must align all members towards the best interest of the organization. They must have all the directors convinced and supportive of all the decisions arrived at.

Parting Shot

Dr. Kimura: Women should also learn to strike a balance between their work and their family life. I hadn’t realized that my children felt neglected at home until one of my daughter’s teacher called to ask me why my daughter’s hair was unkempt. It took an observant teacher to show me that my family was missing my presence.  Family should always come first.

Ms. Muchoki: As women we have a very great responsibility to be good examples. It is unfortunate that some have left disgracefully. Women should give other women chances to excel.

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