Interview

“Take advantage of every opportunity to develop yourself”

Looking back on 15 years of working in IT as a woman

Culture Jun 16, 2023

When at IT conferences, Senior System Engineer at Henkel Kenya Betty Njagi still sees women outnumbered by men: However, Betty believes that skills and hard work are what count in her career, rather than gender. She encourages young women to not be afraid to take opportunities and to continuously develop themselves. An interview about hard work, determination, and success in a fast-changing but traditionally male-dominated field.

In this story, you will learn:

Betty, you've been working in IT for 15 years – were computers a calling or a coincidence for you?  

Growing up, I had little contact with computers and IT was honestly not my first career choice. However, after discussions with my father who could see the impact IT could have in the world, I, too, saw the potential and felt inclined to pursue a career in that field. After school, I was able to secure a place at KCA University in Nairobi to study Management of Information Systems which was a great opportunity. The IT sector was still quite young in Kenya back then and studying it was quite interesting despite the challenges. After my higher diploma in Management of Information Systems, I went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology majoring in Distributed Systems.

When you started your career at Henkel, it had nothing to do with IT. Today, you are a Senior System Engineer responsible for Kenya. How did that come about?

Upon completion of my studies, I investigated possible career prospects and was excited to land an internship at Henkel in Sales & Marketing in the Consumer Brands business unit. Initially, this had little to do with my studies, but in the course of that year, colleagues kept requesting for IT support which I happily provided. This caught the attention of one of the managers. At the end of the Sales & Marketing internship, I got the opportunity to join Henkel as an IT trainee and started my career there. 

Portrait photo of Betty Njagi

Do not be afraid to raise your hand when opportunities arise.

IT is still considered a male domain: Three times more men than women work in big tech companies. Do you feel like you're in a special role?  

I do not feel like I’m in a special role. I look at IT as a career like any other with its challenges and rewards. Yes, there are still more men in IT, however, over the years a lot has been done to encourage women into the field, especially at Henkel by giving equal opportunities during recruitment and promotions; training and maintaining those already in the field. In my career I never felt that my gender played a role. At Henkel, skills count, and I’ve benefited from that. I progressed from an IT trainee to IT office administrator, then to Senior System Engineer in the last 15 years. Opportunities outside IT have also been availed at Henkel which have immensely helped in my growth. For three years, in addition to my IT role, I took up HR responsibilities in Kenya. I call it a “crash course” as I got experience in almost all areas of HR within a very short period. That truly was an incredible experience.
 

3 Questions for Betty Njagi, Senior System Engineer at Henkel Kenya


Are there any typical female attributes for you when leading teams?  

I think there are good and bad types of leadership rather than male or female. Having been responsible for project teams with both male and female team members; resilience, openness and confidence helped in the successful completion of these projects. In my experience, good leadership is the result of successfully combining both characteristics: Those that are usually more associated with the male gender as well as those traditionally more linked to the female perspective. In short: To use the best of both worlds. Because otherwise we are missing out on 50 percent of our potential.

Portrait photo of Betty Njagi

Good leadership is the result of successfully combining both characteristics: Those that are usually more associated with the male gender as well as those traditionally more linked to the female perspective.

Do you see yourself as a role model for women in the company?  

I tend to think so. My career journey can be an inspiration for young women thinking of joining IT. I started as an intern and continued my education, took on new challenges to get to where I am today. I am looking forward to developing more within Henkel in the future and wish to lead a team across several countries.

What advice would you like to give young women who are at the beginning of their careers?  

I would say, do not be afraid to raise your hand when opportunities arise. That’s how you’ll get ahead. Also, take advantage of every opportunity to develop yourself and learn new skills. It’s also important to know: Even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time, opportunities will come eventually. And of course, that goes for everyone starting out in their career, including men.

Henkel faces of diversity


38.7 percent of managers at Henkel are women.