KAMPALA – The theme of International Women’s Day 2021 is “Choose To Challenge” The premise of this theme is the simple belief that from challenge comes change and people all over the world can choose to challenge gender bias and inequality in the world.
Besides challenging gender bias, we can also seek out and celebrate women’s achievements as we continue to create an inclusive world.
Today we feature Ms. Anne Abeja, the Company Secretary at Housing Finance Bank; she spoke to PML Daily about celebrations today, her achievements throughout her career and what the future holds for women.
QN: Briefly tell us about yourself (Name, background, current position at HFB)
ANS. My name is Anne Abeja. I am a the Company Secretary and Chief Legal Officer at Housing Finance Bank. I am an Advocate of the High Court of Uganda and other Courts of Judicature, a Governance Professional and Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, United Kingdom.
I hold a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the Eastern and Southern African Management Institute (ESAMI), Arusha, Tanzania, a Bachelor of Laws Honours Degree from Makerere University, Kampala and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the Law Development Centre, Kampala. I have attended a number of Leadership Programs such as the Bulletproof Manager and Executive Leadership Program and CEO Apprenticeship by Strathmore Business School and CEO Summit.
QN. Talk to us about your career journey? When and how did you get into banking?
ANS. I took the opportunity to perform odd jobs during my school vacations. While in Secondary school, I took on Clerical roles at Uganda National Examinations Board and while at and Post-University, the roles ranged from volunteering at the Legal Aid Project of the Uganda Law Society to doing voice-overs at Radio one while at the Law Development Centre. These roles enabled me to appreciate the values of hard work and respect.
After Law school, I began my career at the Firm of Byenkya, Kihika and Company Advocates, where I had had the opportunity to conduct the Clerkship program in order to earn my Post-Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. I later worked at the Swiss Procurement Company (SWIPCO) a 3rd Party Government Procurement Advisory Agency, following which I joined TOTAL, then Monitor Publications Limited where I grew through the ranks to Company Secretary. I then joined Housing Finance Bank (HFB).
Interestingly, my journey with HFB began while I was at the University. I initially held an account with a Bank that closed and I lost money in the process. I decided that before I open a new account, I will do my research thoroughly, once bitten, twice shy. I later identified a Bank that was indigenous, stable and solid due to its shareholding and that is how I became a customer of Housing Finance Bank. When an opportunity arose to join the Bank, it was not a difficult decision for me to apply for the role of Company Secretary as I had already had a chance to interact with the bank as a customer and I had enjoyed my experience. My interviews were successful and here I am.
I was contented to take on new and exciting challenges and exposure in the Finance Industry after the exciting times in the Multi-media and Oil and Gas industries (downstream).
QN. Executive positions in Uganda’s banking sector have for a long time been taken up by men, what are your thoughts about his fact and do you have any tips for women who are just starting their journey in this sector?
ANS. I say, there is a time for everything. There was a period when majority of Executive positions in Uganda’s Banking Industry were taken up by foreign nationals. This situation has changed significantly over the years and we now have most Executive positions in the industry taken by highly skilled and experienced Ugandans. Today, we also have a large percentage of such roles taken up by ladies and more are in the pipeline. Watch this space! The future is female, and not just for the Banking industry.
For Ladies starting out in this and other sectors, I say, you are as capable as the next person or better. Stay ahead of the game by learning every day, volunteer for assignments at work and in your community, improve your skills, read on any subject, be aware of your environment, be vulnerable when you need to, be authentic, treasure your values and be bold and confident, Life is a journey which you should enjoy, pray and be grateful. Never take no for an answer, have me-time to take care of yourself, have time for your family and friends, look the part, be purposeful and intentional in all you do and above all, take on a mentor to guide you in your personal development.
QN. Being in such an influential position is a huge responsibility. Talk to us about some of the challenges, lessons and successes.
ANS. The successes for me stem from my own contentment when I delight a customer, both internal and external. When I impact on someone positively and create a delighted and happy customer for whom I have provided a timely solution to their satisfaction, that for me is success right there.
The challenge is the fast-paced nature of the Finance industry. It makes prioritizing quite challenging as the day changes like the Irish weather. One has to be flexible and very organized. One also has to have solutions ready at the fingertips. The industry is highly regulated and so there are a myriad of Laws and Policies that one must operate within yet be flexible enough to meet a Customer’s dynamic needs.
One of the greatest lessons is that the customers’ needs are what one must address in a timely manner otherwise they can easily resort to another financial provider at the click of a button.
QN. What has been your greatest achievement from a career perspective?
ANS. Receiving two awards in recognition of outstanding performance on the same occasion as an individual and for the Uganda Bankers’ Association Legal Committee which I had the opportunity to Chair in 2019/2020.
QN. The impact of COVID-19 has put a lot of pressure on families and working women have had to make huge sacrifices. How can organizations innovate and do more to support women better?
ANS. Whereas the impact of the COVID19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the world, it has also given us the opportunity to press the reset button and transform the way we work and live. For example, most parents, particularly mothers are having to balance home-schooling, office work and other responsibilities.
Organizations that have not already done so, should embrace enhanced use of technology, remote and shift working and provide resources to enable new ways of working as well as flexible working hours. The law almost always follows innovation. Organizations that have not already done so should amend their policies to suit the changing times and provide for ways of adequately measuring productivity.
QN. As Uganda joins the rest of the world to celebrate International Women’s day, what changes would you want to see and message would you send out to women who are aspiring to challenge the status quo in whichever career or workplace that they have chosen?
ANS. In alignment with this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #ChooseToChallenge, we need to remember that there is strength in numbers. As women, let us support each other more as we push boundaries to challenge the status quo in all spheres of life.
One quote for the road, “Be the woman that fixes another woman’s crown without telling the world that it was crooked”.