Dr Shivon Byamukama is the deputy CEO of Babyl Rwanda, a digital healthcare provider, and a lawyer by profession. She previously worked with RwandAir and Bank of Kigali and for her, work experience is what shaped her into the woman she is today. She shared with Women Today’s Sharon Kantengwa about her experience as a career woman.
Tells us about the transition from lawyer to deputy CEO.
I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 12 years old. If you work in the corporate world as a lawyer, you begin with legal representation, and then heading a department. The next natural progression is to go into executive leadership and obviously, a legal background helps you to be strategic from that perspective.
What leadership experiences have shaped your approach?
I think that I have been shaped by the experiences I have had at work and I have greatly admired all the people that I have worked for, especially the CEO that I directly reported to, this essentially shaped who I have become.
I have been lucky to have worked with very good bosses and companies and all of them have been mentors to me. I worked for RwandAir and my boss was also a lawyer and there was a lot to learn from him. I loved his leadership style which was very engaging and the recent CEO of Bank of Kigali was also very engaging. I love to engage with team members but also, be decisive in a particular direction.
People often tend to compare the leadership styles between men and women. What are your thoughts on that?
I think that sometimes people can look at women and look for nurturing and motherly instincts and sometimes when you are a woman and have a totally different style, you are probably looked at harshly, which is not the case for men. I never feel like being a woman is a limitation in any way to be who you are as a leader. However, essentially, for a country like Rwanda, it’s not really felt. It’s a top bottom approach where we have put women at the forefront of the country through leadership, where women are represented anywhere and girls aspire to that and they don’t feel like there is a glass ceiling they can’t break. I feel very different in Rwanda because I never feel that I cannot be what I want to be because I am a woman.
What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?
I have had a number of career highlights, especially after working on something and actually seeing it happen. When I worked with RwandAir, the day that a new aircraft arrived, it was an amazing experience. No one knew about the ‘behind the scenes’, the hard work and struggles we went through. I think that I am also living in my highlight, currently at Babyl, because if you think about what we are trying to achieve and how it will impact the world, it’s pretty major. For us to provide access to health and the fact that we are in a third world country and using high end technology (and I am part of that story) is a highlight. We are also using artificial intelligence and machine learning, and being part of this story is amazing.
What is the biggest issue for women in workplaces?
Women are taught when they are young to be humble, calm and not assertive. However, at the workplace, what you are required to do to get ahead is different, you have to be firm and assertive and it can be looked at negatively by your colleagues. As a result, women don’t push further for themselves. There is a review that says when a woman is negotiating for her salary she will ‘down negotiate’ herself. I think that Rwandan women are not any different and we have the same concerns.
What do you do to relax after a long day?
I love having fun. I have dinner with friends and watch movies. I have a son and just looking at how free and innocent he is helps me to unwind.
What advice do you have for girls that think that some jobs are ‘out of reach’?
If you are about to begin your career, go for something that you love. Instead of being a master of 10 different things, get something that you like, stick to it and be the very best at it. Also, you can only be you, and so be the best version of yourself.