‘Practice Emotional Intelligence at Work’: Meet ‘Women on Boards Network’ Founder

March 2, 2020

Catherine Musakali is the Founder of Women on Boards Network, an initiative aimed at promoting and encouraging women into Board leadership. She also founded Dorion Associates, a law firm that specialises in regulatory, commercial and business law.

Ms Musakali also worked as the Company Secretary and Head of Legal Affairs at Kenya Shell Limited, now Vivo Energy Kenya Limited, for more than 15 years.

Until May 2014, she was the Chairperson of the Institute of Certified Public Secretaries of Kenya (ICPSK) and led the company’s Education and Professional Development Committee and the Legislation and Corporate Governance Committee.

Musakali also sits on the Council of the Corporate Secretaries International Association, a body that brings together governance professionals from around the world.

She talked to ‘myNetwork’:

What was your biggest career breakthrough?

I’ve had three. The first one came in 2007 when I was working at Shell. Because it is a global company, senior employees were required to have experience in foreign markets, so I was sent to work in London and other markets in Africa. I learnt a lot about leadership and eventually got promoted.

Six years later when I was the chairperson of ICPSK, I was tasked with developing the Code of Corporate Governance for State Corporations now known as Mwongozo, which was meant to streamline operations in local parastatals.

During this time, the Capital Markets Authority asked me to lead the team that would develop a separate regulatory code for corporates. This was my third breakthrough. As I was working on the two initiatives, I got an opportunity to share my knowledge and experience in corporate governance, a subject I love to bits.

Why did you study law?

My father wanted my siblings and I to be responsible and accountable from a very young age. I come from a large family where my father was the self-appointed president. He made my mother his deputy and minister for home affairs. My older brothers and sisters each held ministerial positions with different responsibilities. In the evenings, my father chaired our cabinet meetings around the fireplace to discuss every minister’s performance, challenges and solutions proffered. Since I was very young, I held no ministerial post. However, my dad asked me to take the minutes of all meetings. I became his secretary and kept all his secrets. As I grew up, I was attracted to courses relating to record keeping and governance, which is why I chose law. And of course, I qualified for it by passing my exams!

What was your biggest challenge as a young professional?

Lack of good role models. I got a job immediately after high school, but I couldn’t find mentors in my profession. I had to learn everything by myself. Shortly after I graduated, I joined an insurance company where I was required to set up a legal department from scratch. I had nobody to guide me, so I did it through trial and error. Luckily, the errors were not too many.

Do you offer mentorship programmes?

Yes. I have many mentees in the formal and informal sectors. Under the Women on Boards Network, we have mentorship programmes for children as young as 12 years old.

What do you think needs to change about how law students are taught in university?

The training needs to incorporate more practicals and fewer theories so that law students can put the knowledge they acquire in class into practice.

How did you get your first board appointment?

I was nominated by George Maina who I consider a great mentor. George was my boss at Shell and he knew my potential. Many years after he left the company, he proposed my name for a board position at the Nairobi Securities Exchange which had seasoned board members. They mentored me and gave me responsibilities such as chairing committees, and held me accountable. I was still in my 30s and had no knowledge on capital markets. I embraced the opportunities and read as much as I could about it.

Your advice to young women on how to navigate boardroom politics?

Know your strengths and identify the things that make you stand out. Build valuable networks because your network is your net worth. Know everything about the organisation, the key stakeholders, and what their needs are. Practice emotional intelligence and you will be OK.

What do you hope to achieve in your career?

To keep growing and to mentor others. That is why I founded Women on Boards Network. I want to share my knowledge and experience and find opportunities for younger women to succeed in their roles as board members.

Who is your role model?

My parents. They taught me to value family, to be responsible, loving and generous, to cultivate a good relationship with God, and that hard work pays.

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