When the Institute of Human Resource Management (IHRM) council seat for Nairobi region fell vacant on September 25, 2020, Lillian Ngala did not know she would be the next in reign.
IHRM is a State agency established under the Human Resource Management Professionals (HRMP) Act, No. 52 of 2012. Its mandate is to regulate the human resource profession in Kenya, to enhance competencies and capabilities while supporting innovative and transformative human resource practices and standards.
When she welcomes us in her home, dressed elegantly in a black top and pants and a floral blazer, her joy is evident and she is in high spirits. It is a Friday morning, a the wife and mother of four, currently the Head of Human Resource at Diamond Trust Bank has a lot to be grateful for. Her hard work and determination have yielded results.
Only female contestant
"I have always wanted to sit at a table that spearheads change in the country. What better way than to sit at a council where all decisions that affect the Human Resource profession are made," she says.
When the three-year term of the outgoing Council member expired, six contestants expressed interest in the position of council member. Ms Ngala was the only female, even though the human resource profession is comprised of 75 per cent women.
The council is the representative and decision-making organ of IHRM. The members are elected to spearhead and regulate the human resource profession in the country.
"When the announcement was made, I thought about how women tend to shy away from leadership positions. I did not want to sit on the fence and wait to be led, I wanted to be part of the solution," says Ms Ngala.
With only two weeks to campaign, she braced herself for the tough competition, assembling her campaign team on the same day. A roadmap had to be laid, a manifesto had to be drafted and she and her team got to work. It would be a bumpy two weeks, filled with emotional turmoil, lots of hard work and fatigue.
What it takes
"Naturally, I am not a loud or aggressive person. I work silently, and I execute relentlessly. I realised that I did not come across in a way most expected. At some point, I was told that the position required a tough-looking person who can make tough decisions and not a woman," she says.
The comment, she notes, was quite offensive as "we were all in it because of matters capabilities."
But she went on, festering more energy, and daring herself not to give up. But the discouragements kept coming.
"Some comments were very deep and especially hurtful just like any form of campaigns," she states.
"Some would sell their manifestos and then there are those contenders who would focus on me. There are times I asked myself if it was worth the trouble, then realised that quitting was not an option," she adds.
Lessons kept coming hard and urgent and she realised that what she experienced could be the exact reason women are not keen on elective positions.
"The only thing that kept me going was my conviction. I believed that I had what it takes just like my fellow contestants," she explains.
To get peace in her heart and the strength to go on, she stopped focusing on the contenders strategy of personal distractions but instead she channeled her energy into the campaign by articulating her manifesto.
The six-point manifesto focused mainly on issues of sustainable policies and structures, enhanced member engagement, revamped continuous development programme and formulation of an association of human resource that would cater for the welfare of HR professionals. Her focus also lay on reviewing of the Certified Human Resource Profession (CHRP) programme to make it relevant and would address the current issues that HR professionals are facing in their respective organisations.
With Covid-19 raging, most of her campaigns had to be conducted virtually, and she also relied heavily on virtual platforms in reaching out to human resource professionals who are mainly millennial and digitally savvy. This, she believes, gave her an edge over her opponents. The campaigns that began on November 2, 2020 and ended on November 14, 2020, eventually saw her emerge the winner.
"I am humbled that the human resource professionals endorsed me to lead them in representing the Nairobi region. It is not just my win as a human resource professional, it is also a woman kind of win. Many women have reached out and they are saying it was a bold step," says Ms Ngala.
Apart from sitting in the IHRM council, she will continue serving in three other boards.
That is the Kenya Network Information Centre (KENIC), National Industrial Training Authority (NITA), where she sits in the finance committee and the Kenya Institute of Bankers where she is the Ag. Vice Chairperson.
Ms Ngala explains that before she even sat in her first board, she had a nagging feeling that she would one day be a board member.
"I got interested in boards in January 2019. That same month, I sat myself down, researched the requirements and committed to fulfilling them. By December the same year, I was in three boards," she adds with a smile.
Now that she has joined the IHRM council as the Nairobi Region representative, Ms Ngala says she is keen on ensuring that the HR profession is regulated and that she weeds out those practicing the profession without certification.
"I also want to position human resource as a key stakeholder on matters of national interest," she says.
When she is not working, the youthful HR professional is at home spending time with her family. When she is not at home, she is out mentoring youth in her neighbourhood, encouraging them and showing up at their football games and other social events.
Even as her journey in leadership continues, she hopes that her life will inspire girls and young women to show up and follow their dreams and passions.
Hit ground running
"Just show up to that interview," she says. "Men can be less qualified for a position, yet they will be confident and show up. Women on the other hand, are sometimes even over qualified, but are scared to go for that big assignment or that big opportunity. That needs to change. Courage is a skill that can be nurtured," she remarks.
Ms Ngala adds that one time, she showed up at an interview where she did not meet the age qualification, yet she got the job considering she met most of the other requirements.
"I did not and I never want to live with regret wishing that I tried for a certain position. I would rather try and fail than not to try at all. Everyone should. If I had not contested, I would still be in my previous position," she remarks.
Once her new position is published in the Kenya Gazette, and after her inauguration, she will officially begin her duties. Even before then, she has already hit the ground running, already organising meetings with IHRM members.
"Just like branding, you have to be intentional, consistent and patient. If you are focused and committed, you will find what you want," concludes Ms Ngala.