It is more than a decade, a family and triumphs and disappointments since I joined journalism, a profession that involves looking for and packaging news to a world with varied expectations.
When I joined the field, right from college, it felt like being tossed into the ocean.
With a few other fresh graduates from the School of Journalism, we had to wade, swim and gulp a few litres of the muddy waters to find our bearing.
It was tough and many, especially women, fell off. There weren’t many women in journalism; they had been scared away.
While journalism schools churned out almost an equal number of women as men, only about an eighth of the women would enter the newsroom.
Reason? It was considered a man’s job and “risky” for those who wanted to get married as it involved working late, being away for days and suffering discomfort in certain beats.
Married women often found themselves with two choices: Stick with the job and lose the husband or stick with the husband and lose the job.
Looking back, however, I am convinced that it didn’t have to be that bruising. My former classmates just needed someone to hold their hand through the challenging but interesting career and we would have as many women journalists as there are men, if not more.
The tragedy is, this trend of dropping out of careers by women is not unique to journalism. It affects medicine, architecture, the military, aviation, business and many more skilled professions, leaving humanity the poorer. And it boils down to mainly lack of mentorship and the willingness of old hands to help novices to deal with the challenges vocations portend. But there is hope.
Last week, I had the privilege of sitting through two functions at which I admired the way members of the fairer gender go out of their way to help their sisters to stand on their feet.
The first was a forum of five women who head their own companies, which deal with businesses and projects largely considered challenging and the preserve of men.
They are youthful and determined women in engineering and information communication technologies.
They were gathered at the Lower Kabete offices of their mentor, former journalist Rebecca Wanjiku, the chief executive officer of Fireside Group Ltd.
They spoke about such things as financing and the associated challenges and, importantly, overcoming them.
What was clear in the two-hour meeting was that there was no room for negativity and indiscipline. Also, the women, part of Safaricom’s Women in Business Initiative, were, no doubt, doing well in business.
Ms Wanjiku’s four mentees have switched to infrastructure installation. As I listened to them and the determination by Ms Wanjiku to have them succeed as much as she has in a business that most women, me included, find intimidating, a question played in my mind.
Why would one want to put so much energy, time and love into mentoring her future rivals and competitors, and with no economic benefit from it?
My question did not surprise Ms Wanjiku; she always has to deal with it whenever she speaks about her mentorship. She pointed out that she got where she is through fellow women and the best way to pay back is holding the hand of other women. On “raising’’ competitors, she sees the opportunity to mentor as a “reinforcement’’ of a group of like-minded women who would take over and deliver the same quality and mandate.
The other function was an AGM of the woman-led, women-serving development institution Echo Network Africa (formerly Kenya Women Holding), which mainly targets economic empowerment of women and people living with disabilities.
WOMEN WITH DISABILITIES
The CEO, Dr Jennifer Riria, who also founded the women’s microfinance Kenya Women Finance Trust (KWFT), paid an emotional tribute to a woman she said mentored her in business many years back: The late Janice Mwosa, the first chairperson of the institution.
Dr Riria led the delegates in picking two young women to join the company’s board. The youngest is Elizabeth Mang’eni, a 27-year-old trade development officer with the Ministry of Cooperatives with an impressive record in community work and a champion of the rights of women with disabilities.
This goes to show how critical mentorship is and women veterans must embrace it if we are to create the next group of women leaders, attain gender equity and affirm the place of women in society.
Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] Twitter: @nrugene