Career Women’s Network Kigali: Inspiring women for greater career goals

Women at Career Women’s Network Kigali (CWNK) support and advocate for each other; some are managers, entrepreneurs, whereas others are chief executives who come together to seek empowerment as they motivate themselves to advance in their careers.

On this platform, women consult each other, have access to trainings, share job opportunities and also offer each other support in terms of peer, personal and professional development.

Women have access to trainings and job opportunities.

Lucy Schalkwijk, the founder and chair of the organisation, says she started this organisation because of a personal need, later expanding it into a platform that would help other career women.

When she first came to Rwanda in 2015, she was raising three children and also attending to her full-time job.

Lucy Schalkwijk, founder and chair of the organisation. (Photo credit; Hope Magazine)

“I had an eight-week-old baby and the oldest was only five, so with these kids and working full-time, I was immediately confronted with issues that women face in the workplace—the need to balance family and career,” she says.

She says that instead of complaining and jeopardising her job, she opted to create a platform where women with a similar challenge would meet and come up with solutions.

 So, together with a colleague, they started organising networking dinners that later on evolved to events.

Networking is important for career growth. 

“We grew by word of mouth, by referral and our mission was to connect and empower professional women to reach higher in their careers,” she says.

The organisation also has a vision to promote equality at the workplace at all levels, and a strategy that fosters peer support with an aim of connecting women.

Schalkwijk notes that the challenge is that when women reach their 30s, especially when they have children, they either withdraw from working and networking or they get overlooked.

“You find that in societies like Rwanda, men are more networked than women because they go out after work, where they learn about which investors are coming into the country, which job positions are opening up whereas women just go home and take care of the children, so we are missing out on that information.”

She says that women need to learn how to network, noting that if they don’t, they are blocking chances of promotion.

“Because at times it is not your work that speaks for itself, one needs to have professional connections to know you, they need to have that relationship with you and vouch for you. If you are not engaged in networking, you are not known, you are not visible and not considered.”

How the initiative operates

The organisation has three membership types; the go getter that caters for middle management and female entrepreneurs with small companies, the game changer which is for senior managers and female entrepreneurs with medium sized companies, and the executive council which is for c-level executives.

Members learn important aspects such as negotiating for a raise, getting to the next level in one’s career, skills on leadership and emotional intelligence, among others.

They also get to socialise and exercise. 

Schalkwijk emphasises that it’s important to connect women to each other for them to understand that whatever they are facing is not unique, and that others do face similar challenges.

“The workplace is not set up to make women progress easily, I think we need to help and learn from each other to get ahead.”

Taking charge of destiny

Bernadette Umunyana, the founder and CEO of Dokmai Rwanda Ltd, says women have to take their destiny in their own hands and not wait to be empowered, rather, ensure that their voices are heard.

This, she says, can mostly be achieved when acting in a group. The goals of the network reflected well to what she expected to achieve and that this is why she joined it.

Umunyana says with the two years she has been with the organisation, she has been able to learn and share strong business experiences.

“This informal mentoring has helped me find my place as a woman entrepreneur and to assume my responsibilities as a socially and environmental champion, providing a secure workplace for a rising number of female employees,” she says.

She, however, notes that in spite of all goodwill and declarations of intention, for example from politicians or those who influence the economic world, women as decision-makers in business still play only a secondary role.

Umunyana is, therefore, of the view that considering that today women are equally well-educated and contribute through their activities significantly to the economic progress and livelihood of a country, it is necessary that they join forces.

“Women should not be empowered out of goodwill but because they merit their place in today’s economic world. An organisation like Career Women Network is a good platform for self-empowerment.”

Alice Nkulikiyinka, the managing director of Business Professionals Network (BPN) Rwanda, says the network has impacted her career in a way she didn’t expect.

At one of the events in 2017, Nkulikiyinka met a lady—an international executive coach who has been her personal career advisor ever since, something she says has had impact in her line of work.

“Another lady introduced me to the organisation she works with; we are now negotiating a long term partnership. Not to mention the amount of information I have access to and a few beautiful personal friendships that have grown out of the networks,” she says.

Nkulikiyinka stresses that the value of CWNK is not only about receiving but giving as well.

“I have the privilege to mentor a young brilliant woman in the early stage of her career. At different occasions I have also been offered the opportunity to share my experience and my views with other women in the network. I could go on and on, for being a member of CWNK is a priceless opportunity.”

She notes that since Rwanda is becoming more of a global player, there is need to unite in different ways, to strengthen each other and multiply impact.

“CWNK is one of the possible ways to grow faster, better and together. No matter the stage of our careers, we all need opportunities to exchange, share and be vulnerable.”

Florence Gatome, a country senior partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Rwanda, says she has been very fortunate to network with inspiring career women in Kigali in different professions, socially and in business.

The network has been useful in terms of sharing information on events, opportunities and educative/self-improvement material through its social media platforms.

“I have also attended training on emotional intelligence, and this was useful and applicable to my current role,” she says.

“I have coached a lot of women and this has added meaning to my career as well as benefited my coaches in Rwanda, both in PwC and the business community.”

Gatome has always been interested in empowering and supporting other women to progress in their careers to senior management or board positions, this is why she joined the network. She also wanted to connect and network with professional women in Rwanda.

“Through our partnership with the UN Women’s HeForShe initiative, PwC is working towards achieving global gender equality in the workplace and beyond.  Hence, I also joined in order to encourage organisations to achieve gender parity in the workplace. Organisations with a more balanced leadership team, or women in leadership positions, outperform those that are less balanced. PwC Rwanda has a 50/50 gender balance of partners and also several women managers, and the firm is doing well.”

She says it’s normally a challenge for women to get networking opportunities, given their multiple roles both at work and at home. However, the organisation is working hard to address this.

Gatome also notes that the initiative is working hard to empower women to progress in their careers and join senior management positions and boards.

What can be done to facilitate women in their career growth?

Women are faced with many challenges in the workplace. With their responsibilities, they find it hard to deal with raising children and building careers. However, if companies develop policies that help them have a family-work life balance, I believe they can develop their careers.

Charles Shyaka, Incubation officer

Establishing a more flexible workplace can be helpful. Also, policies that are favourable in advancing their careers can be put in place; these can be against vices such as sexual harassment.

Lillian Mutesi, Administrator

More women should be given a chance to assume managerial positions. This way, other women who have aspirations in career growth can have people to look up to for inspiration.

Winnie Umuhoza, Businesswoman

Men have a role to play; we can be advocates for this and be partners with our female counterparts in the workplace. We can do this by ensuring that we provide a safe working place for women, and this way, they can have a chance to grow in their respective positions.

Nicholas Peter, IT Expert

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