Thursday, August 11 2022

Nnennaya Kalu-Umeh is the Technical Assistant to the Chief Executive of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA). She has experienced life in the public sector at the state and federal levels, holding various positions of responsibility.

She holds a first degree in medicine and surgery and a master’s degree in public health and business administration.

In this interview with THE WHISTLERshe explains how she managed to break down barriers and excel in the public sector.

What skills and strategies do you think have helped you get this far in public service?

It is to know me. I know who I am, my convictions and my strengths. Why I think and act the way I do and don’t try to be like everyone else.

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

I am a good observer and listener. This is a very important skill to be able to read verbal and non-verbal cues and make sense of everything.

I am an all or nothing person. It’s either I do my best or I retire. There is no excuse for poor performance. Although I wouldn’t describe myself as an extrovert, I believe in the dignity of people and in recognizing and maximizing their potential. People make things work, not the other way around.

Discipline. I have to thank my parents and my early career for this 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 the public and private sectors stand out?

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

Also confident or shy? connoisseur or not? Reliable or not? Organized or not? How would you describe yourself and how would others describe you?

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

In my case, I went back to school to do an MBA because I discovered that there was a business aspect to public health, especially when you work in administration. But I felt that wasn’t enough, so I got a project management certification because I saw myself leading programs too.

To succeed and stand out, you need to keep adding these skills to improve and make yourself relevant.

When I finished my masters in public health, I attached myself to an NGO, although they didn’t really pay, the experience was useful to me at the time.

Be consistent in service delivery. Most of the time, the job is to make things work and fix problems, so be a fixer, not a destroyer. Don’t add to the problems. This way you stand out.

How can women get along with male bosses?

There are good male bosses and bad male bosses. Likewise, there are bosses who are good and others who are bad.

Good leadership is gender neutral. It can’t be faked, it has to show.

Who you work with is just one of many workplace variables, such as the location of your office, the number of hours you have to work, the assignments you are given, etc.

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

How did you break the glass ceiling that often prevents women from succeeding?

I believe it exists first and foremost in our minds. We consider it unusual or abnormal for women to take on certain responsibilities, including running certain businesses or leading organizations. Partly because of societal norms and partly because we don’t have enough role models to show us it’s possible and mentors to guide us.

Some women also find joy in putting other women down, for reasons they know best. It is relatively rare to find networks of women supporting each other, especially in the workplace with information, opportunities and training.

To face the so-called glass ceiling, we must first change our mindset. Don’t settle for less and help each other.

What advice would you give to young women in public health?

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

It offers you a lot of flexibility and opportunities to contribute to socio-economic development.

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

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