Vodacom Tanzania’s head of human resources Vivienne Penessis spoke with Beatrice Materu on the need to create equal platforms for men and women.
Today, almost every company in Tanzania has faced some sort of digital disruption. What is your vision for the future of the telecoms industry in the country?
The industry is evolving at a fast pace, and luckily we at Vodacom Tanzania provide a platform for our customers who embrace digitisation, creativity and innovation. In a few years, intuitive technology will be at our fingertips.
Education and health services are being digitised, services will be of better quality and easily accessible to even people living in rural areas. The function of technology is to simplify tasks and improve our way of living—that is the impact we want to have.
What are you most excited about as a woman working in telecommunications?
I worked in the banking sector for many years and now that I have transitioned into telecommunications, its disruptive nature and direct impact on the lives of people make it more exciting for me. The industry plays a significant role in all aspects of life within communities.
In Tanzania, people are embracing it at an astonishing speed, especially through the use of mobile phones not only as tools for normal communication but also in pushing commercial and entertainment interests.
Most importantly, telecommunications has become a central part of socio-economic development by granting access to market information, enabling a wider reach to consumers, empowering women and disadvantaged groups, and creating mobile payment systems that enhance financial inclusion.
What challenges do women face in the workplace?
Women in the workplace still encounter significant obstacles in taking on managerial or senior roles. Although at Vodacom Tanzania we are at a proportional level with about 43 per cent of female employees.
Our culture perceives that a girl should not focus on professional success; her ultimate goal should be marriage. These beliefs become ingrained in us.
This is one of the many stereotypes that make it into the work environment, and therefore we need to combat these notions to create an inclusive and equal workspace.
What policies can be put in place to move companies toward gender equality?
You know, gender equality is not only about women; it goes both ways. To stop the reverse from happening, organisations should create equal platforms for both women and men to participate and excel, from the recruitment stage to promotion at the workplace.
Be a role model—seeing is believing. Real life examples are more valuable than mission statements, policies and codes of conduct. We must model the culture and behaviour that we want to promote.
Now you have women in workplaces, what next? Mentorship? Train and encourage female employees to meet promotion targets.
It is important to design policies, systems and environments that facilitate this career path. Personally I would not accept a job given to me because I am a woman—I would rather have to work for it and earn it.
There are initiatives that promote and train women for leadership positions. Is it important to nurture women specifically for some of these positions?
You feed a woman and she feeds the village. As women we believe many stereotypes that dictate our role in society, and that needs to be changed.
Encouraging a mindset that focuses on both professional and personal success will allow women to believe and achieve the greatness within them.
Do not sit on your personal success; share it and encourage other women. Practice what you preach; our actions will inspire more than our words alone. We all have a role to play in uplifting and supporting each other.
And we do not have to copy what men have been doing—we can create work environments that are for women by women.
What do we enjoy? What makes work fun for us? It is time to answer these questions without needing to follow the male lead. We collaborate perfectly in wedding celebrations and the like; let’s bring that spirit to the workplace.