INTERVIEW: How Career Women In Nigeria Can Excel- Nennaya Umeh

Nnennaya Kalu-Umeh is the Technical Assistant to the Director General of the National Health Insurance Authority(NHIA). She has experienced public sector life at the state and federal levels, occupying different positions of responsibilities.

She holds a first degree in Medicine and Surgery and Masters degrees in Public Health and Business Administration.

In this interview with THE WHISTLER, she explains how she was able to break barriers and excel in the public sector.

What are the competences and strategies that you believe have helped you get this far in public service?

It’s knowing myself. I know who I am, my beliefs and strengths. Why I think and act the way I do and I don’t try to be like anyone else.

I also know my weaknesses and actively seek out opportunities to improve. For every person I meet, I try to learn something, either how to do something better or how not to do things. For every experience, there are takeaways to add to previous experiences, to apply or teach someone else.

I am a good observer and listener. It is a very important skill to be able to read the verbal and nonverbal cues and make sense of everything.

I am all or nothing person. It’s either I put in my best or I opt out. There is no excuse for poor performance. While I would not describe myself an extrovert, I believe in the dignity of people as well as recognizing and optimizing their potential. People make things work and not the other way round.

Discipline. I have my parents and early career to thank for that and my mentors from all walks of life have helped me access great opportunities . But What underlies everything above all is a strong faith in God.

How can women in Public and Private Sectors stand out?

You need to realize that wherever you are and whatever you do, people are watching and learning. So ask yourself what kind of impression you want to create? How do you want people to perceive you?

As confident or shy? knowledgeable or not? Reliable or not? Organized or not? How would you describe yourself and how would others describe you?

Understand that you yourself are a unique brand and work to improve yourself as a total package – in and out.

In my case I went back to school to do an MBA because I found out there was a business aspect to public health, especially when you are working in the administration. But I felt that was not enough, so I went on to get a Certification in project management because I saw myself running programs as well.

To succeed and stand out you have to keep adding those skills to improve and make yourself relevant.

When I finished my masters in public health, I attached myself to an NGO, though they were not really paying, the experience was useful at the time for me.

Be consistent in service delivery. Most times work is about keeping things running and solving problems so be a fixer and not a destroyer. Don’t add to the problems. That way you stand out.

How can women relate with male bosses?

There are male bosses that are good and those that are bad. Similarly, there are female bosses that are good and those that are bad.

Good leadership does not know gender. It cannot be faked, it must show.

Who you work with is just one of many workplace variables, like where your office is, how many hours you have to work, what assignments you are given and so on.

The quality of your service delivery and performance, as much as possible, should be independent of these variables. In other words, be consistent, no excuses.

How did you break the glass ceiling that is often there to stop women from succeeding?

I believe that this exists first and foremost in our minds. We consider it as unusual or abnormal for women to handle certain responsibilities including running certain businesses or leading organizations. Partly because of societal norms and partly because we do not have enough role models to show us it is possible and mentors to guide us.

Some women also derive joy in pulling down fellow women, for reasons best known to them. It is relatively rare to find networks of women who support each other especially in the work place with information, opportunities and trainings.

To deal with the supposed glass ceiling, you have to first change your mindset. Don’t settle for less and help each other.

What will be your advice to young women in the public health sector?

Public health is a field of study that improves the wellbeing of populations through various means including policy design, advocacy, communication, research, capacity building, program management, administration, leadership, monitoring and evaluation and so on.

It offers you a lot of flexibility and opportunities to contribute to socioeconomic development.

I think in terms of where I want to be and the context in which I find myself, I have made a lot of progress. When I look back, where I am is not where I was. With that comes the realization that there is still a lot of room for continuous improvement and the responsibility to help others

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