Embracing Female Energy
By Wawira Njiru, Founder and Executive Director,
Food for Education
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the most brilliant women. My organisation, Food for Education, provides meals to 500 girls of the 1200 school children we work with each day and 85% of our 15 member team is female. I’ve sat with 12 year old girls, discussing school, boys and their hopes for the future. I’ve sat with our staff, some of whom are in their late 30s, discussing marriage, motherhood and what the future is for women in Kenya. I am mentored by the two brilliant women, one of whom is the former Chief Financial Officer of Apple and the other the Senior Global Development Executive at Hewlett Packard. I am blessed with incredible girlfriends and women in my family who continually inspire and push me to be better but it was not always like this.
Popular media often pits women against each other, pushing the narrative that there is only space for one or two women, either in politics, leadership of various positions of power. Women are portrayed as being canning, untrustworthy and always having ‘an agenda’. I have 2 sisters, went to an all girls high school and have always been ambitious. For many years, I struggled to reconcile what I saw in majority of movies, read in books with my reality. My grandmother and mother who continue to be the strongest female forces in my life have an incredible bond of love, mutual respect and a deep friendship. I’ve been blessed to share in this love and have them as some of my best friends. They’ve always encouraged me to excel in whatever I put my mind to, and my grandmother, a single mother of four and successful business woman who worked for years to bring herself and her family out of poverty has always pushed me to believe in my limitless potential.
There’s space for more than one woman. Women are often pitted against each other as if in competition because we are often made to believe that it is not possible for us to share in each other’s success. I see a lot of women, younger especially, deny the comfort and strength that comes with female friendships and instead spend time fighting and competing with each other. The older I get, the more I appreciate the wonderful females I get to share life with. For every challenge that I am faced with, a woman in my life has overcome it and they are always there to offer insight and encouragement when I need it most.
The women in my life have also taught me how to embrace my style of leadership. When I started out, I wanted to lead like my father who is respected in his community and offers leadership to many people. I thought that to lead I must be tough, no-nonsense and basically, lead like a man. My mother and grandmother however continue to teach me how instead of thinking ‘be a man’ in a difficult situation, think, ‘be a woman’. They’ve taught me that I do not have to be loud, tall and sturdy to lead but rather be firm, seek wisdom and treat people with respect.
Women lead differently to men and that is something we should learn to embrace and love about ourselves. In many situations, I’ve been looked down upon because I am young, female and speak with a soft voice- not what many people expect a boss to look like. This can be disheartening and frustrating and as women, we are often tempted to change our leadership style to suit a patriarchal society that embraces male leadership and refers to it as the standard.
I’ve learnt how to demand respect even with a soft voice, how to share in my staff’s life stories because I am interested in them as people not just as employees. I have learnt that it’s okay to cry when you fail, to not always have the answers and to embrace this. I’ve learnt this from the women in my life and those I look up to and as I grow older, I’m more thankful for the female energy around me.
Women are strong and resilient. The world will be a better place with more of us in leadership positions and for this, I embrace and cheer on any woman who is aspiring to lead in whatever field. There is space for all of us, space for all our female energy and the world is a much better place because we exist and continue to push boundaries of what we can achieve.