Jesca Nkwabi: Judge leadership based on results, not on gender

Jesca Nkwabi poses for a photo in Kahama recently. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Jesca explains that gender inequality in Tanzania stems from social cultural-cum-traditional norms and to change this, society must start with the instituton of the family

Dar es Salaam. It is thrilling to know that Tanzanian women are now among the game changers in the business sector across the full spectrum. One such woman is none other than Dr Jesca Nkwabi, chief executive officer of the KOM Group of Companies which is in oil processing and industrial manufacturing.

Ms Nkwabi’s leadership journey unfolded when she first served as the director of KOM Foods Products which is specialised in food processing. Dr Nkwabi shared her story with The Citizen’s Rising Woman...

“I come from a strong business background as my family has been involved in the business sector for over 20 years. The first time entrepreneurship caught my attention was when I became an intern at my father’s small shop. As my interest in business started expanding, so did my general knowledge and experience of how businesses work, including sales management, customer service and accounting,” she recalls.

Wanting to expand her knowledge in the business stakes, Dr Nkwabi decided to explore business studies, specifically focusing on supply management. She pursued a Master’s degree in Business Administration programme at the De Montfort University in Leincester, England. Thereafter, she studied for a Doctorate in Business Administration at the University of the West of Scotland in London.

“My work has been a rollercoaster; but, whenever I faced any business-related challenges to the extent I thought of giving up, I would go back to the person who introduced me to the business world: my father. We would sit down and analyse the hurdles I was facing - and then brainstorm ways to solve them. This has been one of my motivations; that despite how difficult a challenge would be, it could be solved,” she says, exuding confidence. According to her, this ‘business behaviour’ has strengthened her core, making her the product of a well-oriented achiever.

“One of the challenges that I faced during my early days in a leadership position was people doubting my leadership capabilities. ‘She is such a young woman leader! What can she tell us that we do not know? They would ask - forgetting that a leader is judged by results and not gender. It was difficult for me, especially in the beginning. But then again: it is part of what has made me a stronger leader today,” she says.

Dr Nkwabi also reveals that one of the most vulnerable moments that almost made her give up was when she ventured into the manufacturing industry without not knowing all its technical details.

“I first allowed myself to accept that I was not an expert in that area, and I started seeking assistance from experts who knew the manufacturing industry better that I did. In the end, things worked out the way they were supposed to,” she says.

Being one of the leaders whose impact in the business sector is evidently visible, Dr Nkwabi explains that gender inequality in Tanzania stems from social cultural-cum-traditional norms.

“These norms are the reasons why women continue to doubt their ability to lead others. We grow up in communities that have invariably considered women as inferior to men, and this has somewhat caused women to also doubt themselves as potentially capable leaders. You are likely to find otherwise capable women questioning their own skills and capabilities that could elevate them if only they would give themselves the confidence to do so,” Dr Nkwabi says.

She also says that, for gender inclusive societies to develop and flourish, the current, male-dominated systems must be rearranged.

“Many leadership positions in developmental systems are held by men. This limits women from holding the same or higher working positions. By promoting skilled women to those positions, the number of women leaders in the sectors involved is likely to increase because there would then be ‘someone’ - a fellow woman - who would fight for them to also climb up the leadership ladder,” Dr Nkwabi says.

She advises that, for gender bias to end in the society, the struggle must start at family level.

“Most socials norms are experienced in family units and if they are to be debunked, we should start there. Families should not make girl children feel or believe that there are things they cannot accomplish only because they are women. This should also apply to men and boys in the families as their roles are always named ‘manly’ in relation to their sex,” Dr Nkwabi explains.

She also says that different initiatives involving gender equality should be created and enhanced within societies so as to spread awareness on the issue.

“As much as the focus is on the girl-child, it will be meaningless if we do not look to the source of almost all the problems faced by women in the society. This shows that, by the time we are focusing on uplifting women to leadership positions, we should also create supportive initiatives with the intention of changing false narratives about women that have been created by the society,” Dr Nkwabi explains.

She advices women to start believing in themselves as they chase their dreams.

“But, the truth is that working to realise your goals is hard especially when you are the only one that believes in yourself. But, when you work creatively and consistently, no odds will be against you,” Dr Nkwabi counsels.

She also stresses that women should not be afraid of ‘going big about things’. When opportunities present themselves, she advises women to grasp them apace.

“Women should challenge themselves to become great. They can easily be moulded into impactful leaders - justlike men,” Dr Nkwabi details.