By Norbert Mao
Despite the many executive appointments in our blessed republic the elevation of Anne Juuko to CEO of Stanbic Uganda has made more waves. If you live in Uganda, type Anne on Google search and you’ll get her full names topping the list. Underneath, you’ll find other things people want to know – “Anne Juuko husband”, “Anne Juuko children“, “Anne Juuko marriage” and so on. People want to know more about this corporate star.
And lest we forget Anne Juuko’s appointment was announced in the same breath with that of Patrick Mweheire who moves to Nairobi as Regional CEO of the Standard Bank Group. But Ms. Juuko’s male counterpart has not generated as much interest. Maybe it was expected. Only the unexpected is newsworthy. We don’t know who else was interviewed for the position Mr. Mweheire got. As for Anne we now know that she floored two formidable competitors. She reportedly beat Sam Mwogeza, Chief Finance Officer, and Kevin Wingfield, the Executive Director and Head Personal and Business Banking. Let me say with apologies to affirmative action promoters that was no process to put a token woman in the corner office!
Twitter has been livid. The feminists have claimed her as a mascot for their cause of gender equality. She is now one of the emblems on the mast of their battleship. “As we prepare to celebrate Women’s Day, I think some progress is being made”, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga said via Twitter. The Uganda Women’s Network raised their glasses to “breaking barriers and shattering glass ceilings” and urged all companies to make gender balance a bottom line issue not just a human resource issue. The biases normally associated with age, color and gender simply tumbled like the Wall of Jericho in the face of her credentials.
This brings me to Lean In – Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book (Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead) that challenges women to be more assertive in the workplace. Women often denigrate themselves in order to fit the dominant stereotypes. Women fear to speak out or be assertive for fear of being seen as not feminine enough. They don’t want to be called Amazonians! They are boxed into the corner of thinking being feminine is the same as being a corporate doormat. In one of the anecdotes she writes about her performance review meeting with her boss Mark Zuckerberg who told her that her “desire to be liked by everybody would hold [her] back.” I’m sure this is not an invitation to become a repellent corporate porcupine devoid of any niceness, but rather a challenge for a woman seeking to lead to set clear boundaries between what she can take and what she won’t. Leaning In is about not succumbing to the “tyranny of low expectations”.
Anne Juuko is where she is because she either consciously or unconsciously ‘leaned in’. Remember the woman we’re talking about was second in command at Citibank Uganda about ten years ago. And she was just in her very early thirties! To Lean in means to reach for and seize opportunities without fear or hesitation. The word evokes the laws of aerodynamics such as a skier leaning in at a turn in order not to lose balance or a runner leaning in to the wind during a heavy gale.
The excitement about Ms. Juuko’s rise is warranted. We have high expectations for her to inspire more women to “Lean In”. But the most inspiring thing about Anne Juuko is that she has very high expectations of herself. That is why she has reached her current position. The essence of leaning in is that women should grab career opportunities and not limit their expectations.
Leaning in is thus not just about being present around the table where decisions are made. It is about being seen and heard. It is about making it impossible to be ignored. The corporate metaphor is that of “a woman at a business meeting leaning in and engaging with the challenges being put forth, not leaning back and disengaging.”
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