Women Leaders In Africa: Building Careers

Patricia Obozuwa & Brenda Mbathi

In this podcast, Africa.com talks with Patricia Obozuwa and Brenda Mbathi of GE Africa.

  • Patricia Obozuwa, Chief Communications & Public Affairs Officer for GE Africa
  • Brenda Mbathi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for East Africa

The Exclusive Interview:

What does GE’s hundred and twentieth anniversary in Africa mean to you? 

BRENDA: GE’s one hundred and twentieth anniversary in Africa illustrates our heritage indeed it illustrates how we have come from far how we have stayed the course and illustrates our commitment to the continent and how we are primed to continue to be a part of building Africa’s future. ​

PATRICIA: For me it means that we’ve been providing innovative technology across Africa for the last 120 plus years but it’s not a time for us to pat ourselves on the back and rest on our achievements, it’s a time to restate our commitment to the region so our commitment to localization, our commitment, to diversity and G’s commitments the sustainable development of Africa.​

Brenda we know that GE is committed to developing women leaders, can you tell our listeners how you arrived at your current position as chief executive officer for East Africa? 

BRENDA: GE is committed to developing leaders and especially women leaders across the region and globally and this is done by ensuring that at all levels there are different programs and learning experiences that allow all employees to up-skill ourselves in various ways and as employees it’s up to us to seize these opportunities and to leverage them to ensure that we can grow in our individual roles. This various experiences have been very fulfilling for me and my advancement at GE. ​

PATRICIA: When I joined GE seven and half years ago, we were expanding in the region and one of the first things we put in place was the GE Women’s Network and I was a founding  co-hob leader for this network and it’s been a very structured process of ensuring that we’re attracting, retaining and promoting women in GE. I came from outside another company into GE some people have developed the entire career in GE and we make sure that we’re supporting at those three points to ensure we not just have women in leadership like we do today but that we have a strong pipeline of women to grow into leadership roles within GE. ​

To touch on some achievements in the past year we promoted five women into the GE Africa leadership team, of the 85 promotions we’ve done in the past year, two most senior positions across GE, 40% of those have been women so we continue to ensure that we provide that structured development across the three stages and have a strong pipeline of women to grow into leadership positions in GE. 

The Women’s Network for GE in Africa, help us understand what that organization is and what role it plays for women is at GE. 

PATRICIA: The GE Women’s Network specifically has that mandate globally and in Africa to attract women into GE by creating programs that promote STEM education in schools by actively ensuring that recruitment processes are inclusive enough to attract women in making sure for instance, that there’s a woman on an interview panel. We know and a lot of research shows that women are more attracted to a company when they see women in senior positions in those companies. ​

Retaining people in GE is the second mandate which is done by creating networks that women can tap into to find the right mentors, the right the right skills, the right support, when they need it and making sure that we can keep the great female talent that we already have in GE to stay on and grow into leadership positions. ​

The third is promoting making sure that we sponsor, actively sponsor women to be placed in senior leadership positions. The GE Women’s Network didn’t originate in Africa it’s been around for many years but it was one of our first priorities when we were setting up the founding leadership scene for the region. ​

Brenda you’d mentioned that you had sustainability, it would be helpful for our listeners if you could unpack what sustainability means and you also had what we understand is corporate social responsibility for sub-Saharan Africa. Is this another word for sustainability? Tell us how those two words relate to one another -sustainability and corporate social responsibility. 

BRENDA: At GE, part of what we do is we are committed in Africa to Africa sustainable development operating under GE’s hallmarks of responsible leadership and operational excellence. While we run our businesses we also ensure that we’re making a difference, we look to create value for the societies where we operate, in ways that also support our business strategy and indeed as our presence in Africa has grown and continues to grow so does our efforts to be responsible citizens in the community. So indeed corporate social responsibility sustainability for us at GE they go hand in hand and they mean the same thing. ​

What I also need to add is we have a signature program here in GE Africa, it’s a program that’s called kujenga which means to build in Swahili and it showcases how GE is a partner in building Africa sustainable future and it goes in line with thinking globally and acting locally. 

PATRICIA: To add to what Brenda said, sustainability when we look at Africa even by the nature of the business that we’re doing we are contributing to the sustainable development of the continent. I saw a very interesting fact that says Saharan Africa will have 25 percent of the world under 25 population by 2025 and then when I combine this with the fact that we have a rapidly expanding middle class and we have the fastest rate of urbanization of any region globally then it shows it’s clear that building infrastructure is critical for Africa sustainable growth and because of GE’s capability and our expertise in providing technology and solutions across all infrastructure it allows us to play a significant role in the sustainable development of Africa. ​

Brenda how do you see the business growth strategy in East Africa aligning with GE’s social responsibility in the East Africa region? 

BRENDA: From where I sit it all aligns and we’re involved in all the sectors in East Africa. We’re a world leader in power generation with solutions for the region, we fuel the future as we provide integrated services for the oil and gas industry in East Africa. We also provide transformational medical technologies and services that shape patient care in East Africa and we design and deploy industry-leading technologies that ensure safe efficient and reliable medical equipment for rural clinics across the region. ​

Something that sometimes we forget, at least in East Africa most of the aircraft that are owned by various East African airlines are powered by GE technology with GE engines so when we say how does our business link in with our sustainability I go back to the word kujenga which means to build and our citizenship program responds directly to the needs of the communities across the region. We adopt the  kujenga approach as we call it by empowering people with skills equipping communities with tools and technology and indeed through innovation we elevate ideas that help to solve the challenges and that’s actually the three pillars of our kujenga program. ​

“We empower, we equip, and we elevate”. ​

Our kujenga sustainability program goes hand-in-hand with our business growth strategy in the region. ​

It’s helpful for you to have touched on all these different sectors. Patricia I want to come back to you about these different sectors, key developments in power, healthcare, renewable energy grid, aviation, can you chat to us a little bit about 120 years of technology innovation in each of these areas. 

PATRICIA: We have a strong proven track record of providing infrastructure solutions in this area. I’ll just touch on a few things like for instance in Nigeria in power, we have this company to country agreement that we signed with the government about a decade ago that covers all of these infrastructure areas. To just touch on power the commitment we made at that time was to provide 10,000 megawatts of incremental power in Nigeria by 2022 and so far we’ve provided 4,000 megawatts of power in Nigeria.​

In Kenya an example in health care, we were selected by the Ministry of Health in this really innovative manage equipment services program and in that program we have provided radiology infrastructure and diagnostic equipments in 98 hospitals across 47 counties in Kenya. ​

When we talk about aviation we have very strong partnerships on the continent one example is Ethiopia Airlines, GE engines far more than 56 percent of the airline’s white body flits and in renewables  one that comes to mind immediately is that we’ve provided Uganda with all electromechanical equipment for the robotically hydro power plant that’s the largest privately financed hydroelectric power plant in sub Saharan Africa and it provides almost 50% of the country’s electricity generating capacity.​

Those are just some examples of the innovative technology that we provide on the region across our different sectors and that we plan to continue providing in Africa.​

Brenda coming back to you for a moment, explain what localization means and what diversity means in the African context. We will have listeners to this podcast from around the world many in the U.S. who understand diversity perhaps a little differently. Help us understand a bit about localization and diversity in the African context what it exactly means, why is it important to Africa, and if you could give us any examples of how GE has worked in these spaces in East Africa that would be very helpful. 

BRENDA: We know that GE is committed to localization and diversity and I guess for me it’s to unpack what it means and why it’s important for us in Africa. GE is a global company and it looks to act local in the countries where it operates. Localization and diversity is not merely a good idea, it’s a reflection of our reality and our business sustainable growth requires local capability inside a global context something that could be called connected localization and it’s very important that GE attracts and develops local talent and leaders but connected to the markets where we operate in order to drive our success. ​

In addition, it’s important for GE to create an inclusive workplace where everyone is empowered to fully participate and grow. In terms of how I could provide examples of how this has been advanced in our region in Africa I want to also refer back to the Women’s Network which Patricia had spoken about earlier, this is one of the affinity groups founded at GE globally. The GE Women’s Network and indeed I lead it across East Africa and this network was created to accelerate the advancement of women working at GE and we do this by sharing information, best practice, education and experience, we help one another to develop leadership skills and career advancing opportunities needed to drive GE’s success. ​

Further to that as GE is committed to developing women leaders as part of its diversity program and making sure that inclusion and diversity is an integral part of all leadership programs and considerations GE in Africa recently started a program for women leaders called grow Plus, which looks to provide leadership and mentoring programs to support women leaders in the region. This program is one that’s run across the world by GE in other markets. ​

Patricia I know that your role also touches on diversity can you also give us from your perspective a bit more on localization and diversity and perhaps some other examples from across the African region. 

PATRICIA: Brenda’s covered it pretty adequately what diversity means for us, on localization I’ll add it’s always been important that GE Africa is led by Africans and in the programs that we’ve done we’ve made sure that for all key positions whether leading businesses or leading functions we have an African leader in the pipeline that is actively working to take on a leadership position that maybe was previously filled by someone who wasn’t necessarily from Africa.​

We’re proud to say that today the vast majority of GE’s businesses in sub-Saharan Africa are led by Africans in the region and in total GE Africa leadership team is 85% led by Africans. CEO for GE Africa as well is from Africa, in terms of leadership we take localization very seriously, not just in the businesses that we operate ensuring we are working with local partners but also in the people that are making decisions on the continent from GE. I don’t think there’s more I can add really to what Brenda said about diversity in terms of gender just that we are not just ensuring we have women in GE African leadership but we are making sure that we have African women in leadership positions in GE Africa. ​

How do you see women leaders supporting other women leaders at GE we talked about how do GE supports women leaders, but it’d be interesting to hear how the women leaders themselves support one another. 

PATRICIA: Apart from very informally like Brenda and myself for instance would do, in making sure that we can lend a voice to promoting women in the region, to retaining women in the region, to finding good job placements for women who may want to transfer even naturally from one place to another, we make sure that we sponsor women to grow into this leadership positions. lf I’m in a room where decision is being made about a more senior job position for instance and you’re choosing between highly qualified men and highly qualified women I would instinctively back a highly qualified woman and this is not just because I’m a woman and will tend to support my own kind but it’s because -studies recently showed that companies who have more women in leadership have been more profitable over time -so it’s important that we look at it as not just a nice way of helping another woman but also for its importance to the bottom line of the business. ​

We are constantly mentoring and we are also constantly sponsoring women into more senior positions.​

BRENDA: I would revert back to the Women’s Network, that it really builds a community for the women across all the GE businesses in the region and it supports women in achieving their professional goals. ​

Brenda where do you see GE ​in the next 100 years?

BRENDA: I believe we will see GE Africa have a more known and recognizable presence across Africa, we will maintain a strong presence hopefully a stronger manufacturing base, innovation footprint that will indeed delight our customers and all the employees. Once again a global business that’s also intensely local in Africa. 

PATRICIA: I believe we’ll still be here in the next 100 years and with innovative solutions and technology across all infrastructures, we see ourselves as continuing to support the development of Africa. I see us continuing to be committed to localization, continuing to be committed to diversity, and ultimately continuing to be a part of development of Africa and in a significant role in its future. 

If there were one thought that you would want listeners to this podcast to recall about GE Africa as you turn 120 what would that one thought be? 

PATRICIA: Commitment the future of Africa, commitment to the localization, commitment to diversity, and commitment to sustainable development. ​

BRENDA: As GE Africa turns 120 we are committed to providing real customer value in Africa and to making a positive sustainable difference together with our customers.

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