Why Catherine is not your usual 'HR'

What you need to know:

  • If you want something, do not let it go unspoken but rather find your facts, present your case, and get feedback.
  • You are the only one responsible for your success.
  • It is important you take accountability for it because someone else won’t do it for you.

When asked, "I am not your typical HR" is the response Ms Catherine Chumi uses to describe the mindset that the HR field is not simply about solving administrative tasks but about providing a strategic perspective that influences the success of an organization’s bottom line.

Catherine Chumi is the Human Resources Manager at Mapinga Premium Foods, a company that deals with processing Tanzanian potatoes into high-quality products with the aim of transforming the potato value chain in the country.

She started her first role as a human resource administrator at UDA Rapid Transport in 2017, soon after graduating with her BA (Hons) Business Studies at the University of Greenwich.

Her learning spirit, ambition, and dedication to continuing to learn more about the HR industry supported her move from HR Admin to becoming an HR Manager with strategic vision and implementation.

For over a decade now, she has worked with multiple industries in transport and logistics, construction, consulting firms, and now the manufacturing industry.

She shares that she is a firm believer in the power of an organisation’s ability to impact change and employee growth during their time of employment.

Her role at Mapinga Premium Foods is not just about managing people. It is about nurturing a growing community of talent that drives our company's success in a dynamic and competitive market landscape.

This includes developing and implementing HR strategies, policies, and practices aimed at attracting, retaining, and growing top talent within the organisation.

She said this involves overseeing the recruitment and selection process from end-to-end, ensuring the company onboards individuals who not only possess the necessary skills, but also embody the culture and are excited by our growing community.

"I am further dedicated to facilitating comprehensive onboarding and orientation programs. I prioritise maintaining a positive and inclusive work environment, managing employee relations effectively, and addressing any grievances or conflicts that may arise. I oversee the implementation of performance management systems designed to enhance employee engagement, productivity, and development," she said.

Sharing how her work experience for over a decade has built her leadership journey, she says that with time, she has had to experience different scenarios, challenges, outcomes, thought processes, market dynamics, leadership and management styles, teams, and cultures, and all these variables have built her current leadership skills.

She said her experience makes it easier to look back at what worked or did not work in the past. It makes the overall leadership experience not impossible to navigate, and the confidence also comes from knowing that all problems have solutions.

The challenges at her work go along the lines of competing priorities, because in a startup, everything is urgent and needs to be done immediately.

"I overcome this by planning and clearly communicating expectations when I require input from other team members. I also share my workload so that everyone knows what I am doing in real time. If priorities are changing, then that must be agreed upon unanimously and sometimes, I ask for support so that I do not get overwhelmed," said Catherine.

Catherine's leadership style is transformational and delegative. It creates a sweet balance between inspiring and empowering her team to achieve a common goal and giving them autonomy and responsibility to make decisions.

Her style gives them an opportunity to learn about their strengths. For her, it is easy to learn how and where to support them.

This style allows her to have room to think about personal growth, as she is not always micromanaging tasks. However, she is aware that people are different, and sometimes, as a leader, she might consider adjusting her leadership style to accommodate her team, and grow together.

Commenting on which skills are needed for women to be able to negotiate the same pay as their male counterparts, she said that it is necessary to do research and have industry knowledge .

Women need to know what the industry is paying to be in the best position to negotiate for total compensation.

She called for women to also ask for information through a recruiter or talent consultant, these are the employers' companions in this process, and they can provide necessary guidance in negotiation.

For employers to create gender equality, it is important that they be aware and accept that times have changed and that women are not only breaking barriers and seeking opportunities that were previously considered for men, but they are also capable and willing to take on the challenge.

"They need the right support and infrastructure to do the same. Employers should have and actively follow through policies, structures, and infrastructure that support gender equality," said Catherine.

She said gender equality is not just in writing but also in action. For example, having a nursing room for new mothers, personal time for new parents, a working parent travel policy, accommodating remote working, mental health support structures, and so many other initiatives goes a long way in fostering good work environments.

Responding to how she uses her title to create gender balance at the workplace, she shares that she adapts diverse recruitment strategies to ensure unbiased and diverse candidate pools, coupled with structured interview processes to identify the right candidates.

She applies inclusive policies that will consider flexible working arrangements that support dynamic teams, be they working parents, students, those living with disabilities, or any other identified group.

For women to excel in their careers, they should work on their confidence, which leads to second guessing and overly fixating on whether or not they are capable, qualified, or deserving.

At times, women tend to not seek growth and opportunities; they wait to be selected rather than requesting or asking for opportunities.

"I have learned that if you want something, do not let it go unspoken but rather find your facts, present your case, and get feedback. You are the only one responsible for your success. It is important you take accountability for it because someone else won’t do it for you," said Catherine.

While the company is still a growing team, there exists a good ratio between men and women.

"We are an equal opportunity employer, creating space for both men and women with the right skills, considering equal and earned compensation across the board," she said.

The company also adapts to remote working and flexible working hours, which allows working mothers or parents to be available at home more often.

"Speaking from my personal experience, just a few weeks ago while I was enrolling my son in school, I was able to work remotely and allocate some personal time while still meeting my deadlines," she adds.

She shares that she intentionally wants to strike the work-family balance because she is a mother and wants to have time for her family.

She plans ahead, sets aside some focus time to complete my days’ work, clearly communicates what she is working on, and if need be, asks for support from her team.

"Planning can include booking my leave days well ahead of time so that my line manager knows when I will not be in the office and adjusting my work around that," said Catherine.