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Meet Deborah Kwanga, a career consultant who supports women in leadership!

A recent interview with Deborah Kwanga, an executive career consultant, shed light on her career alignment strategies and more!

1: You are an Executive Career Consultant & Executive Career Alignment Strategist!

Tell us about what this entails and how did you start your journey in the ‘careers’ sector?

I will say that my journey started while working as a Graduate Administrator at the University of

Oxford over 10 years ago. A lot of the students under my portfolio were worried about life after

graduating, due to the fact that there was an economic downturn. While living in Oxford, I launched

a meet up for women under the age of 35 where the focus was gaining insight on how to transition

into leadership roles. I also launched a website featuring female leaders between the ages of 18 to

35 years old who had grown their careers into leadership roles. Due to personal reasons, I moved to

Kenya where I started supporting the family business which focuses on helping expatriates moving

to Kenya for work or business. However, after having my son in 2017, I felt drawn back into

supporting those looking to transition into leadership roles, particularly within multinational

organisations. Having lived and worked in Kenya, USA and the United Kingdom, I have gained in

depth knowledge and understanding of the various work environments in the different countries.

My main focus as an Executive Career Consultant is supporting women with the ambition to

transition into Senior Executive roles but are faced with Imposter Syndrome or feel unclear on how

to effectively communicate their transferrable skills. A large majority of my clients happen to be

mothers as well and a major factor is how do they balance transitioning into high level roles while

having a family.

This is where I combine my Career Alignment Strategies where I focus on 3 main


1. Their value proposition. We work together to identify how their overall career and each and

every role carries transferrable value into the executive role. However, in order for them to

internalise their value, I take them through a workbook that enables them to identify mind

blocks and statements that were said to them in the past that may act as a contributing

factor towards imposter syndrome.

2. Once they understand the value they carry and how they can significantly contribute

towards the Executive Role, we then move on to positioning their professional brand. This

includes positioning their value proposition in their CV/Resume, LinkedIn Profile, Executive

Bio Page and their communication.

3. Once they are Prepped and Packaged (as I like to call it), we create a strategic career

transition plan. This includes identifying roles that match their career aspirations and

where they know they can make a positive impact within the role and sector.

My coaching style is quite holistic whereby we work together, and I also encourage my clients to tap

into their intuition. As we know, the economic climate is changing on a consistent basis, so I am an

advocate for listening to your intuition. I use my intuition a lot when coaching clients and we will

execute strategies that are unconventional, but they have worked each time.

2: You have incredible areas of expertise from ‘Senior Stakeholder Engagement’ to Public

Speaking! How and where did you gain all of your knowledge and proficiency?

I gained my experience from the positions I have worked in. While working as a Graduate

Administrator at the University of Oxford, I engaged with individuals from various backgrounds

including Professors and Academics. I am an introvert by nature, so it took a lot of courage to interact with the Professors and Academics, however, this also enabled me to face my fears. During

my work with Fathers Hand Limited, my clients were CEO’s and Executives within their

organisations, so again, I was expected to engage with high caliber individuals despite the imposter

syndrome. I am still extremely shy when it comes to Public Speaking, however, I have a strong

belief that each and everyone of us has unique gifts and talents. Our gifts and talents are meant to

be shared so that others can be inspired to share their own gifts. When you hold something

valuable that you know can create a positive impact in the lives of many, then it’s selfish to withhold

it to yourself. When you look at the world around us, we are enjoying advanced technology, medical

breakthrough’s etc because someone shared their gift with the world. So with this in mind, I put

myself out there despite being an introvert and shy when speaking in front of large groups.

3: What advice do you have for women who are looking to advance their career and develop

their skills/obtain new ones?

The first step is to get very clear on the sector and area in which you would like to grow your

career. For example, if your goal is to grow your career into a Director of Programme Management

within an INGO, have a look at the Director roles being advertised in various INGO’s. Look at the Job

Description and find out what key areas of expertise are required to amplify you as a candidate for

that role. What systems, skills, core competencies are required in the candidate. Doing this will

enable you to create a plan and do the necessary online/offline courses. You will gain a perspective

on the type of conferences or workshops you need to attend. Additionally, some of these positions

expect you to obtain memberships within certain bodies so it’s important to research and work

your way backwards. I always tell my clients that when they brand themselves as an expert within a

particular area/role, then they stand out a lot more as a competitive candidate. Once you

understand the sector and roles you would like to progress into, then you can align your skills

development to match those roles.

4:Tell us more about the work you do with women who are ready to transition into the Social

impact or INGO sector and with women in C- Suite positions.

To begin with, the first steps is helping them understand their value. As a professional, it can be

easy to get lost inside the role, office politics and climbing the career ladder that you forget the

value within you that can enhance the role. I am of the belief that we all were born with a purpose

and wherever we are led to work, if we apply our purpose within our roles, then we can make a

great impact within an organisation. A key step I teach my clients when transitioning from the

private sector into the Social Impact or INGO sector is that they understand that they will be making

a difference within that society. The private sector can be quite fast paced so I usually work with

them on learning on how to be value driven and understanding how their skills combined with

their value can enhance the role they are applying for. The INGO and Social Impact sectors are

focused on changing lives and so I always aim to inspire my clients to identify ways in which they

can implement strategies or innovative ideas that will change not only the organisation but the

mission for changing lives. When working with my clients who aim to transition into C-Suite positions, the first step is to tackle any imposter syndrome or blockages they may have. One of the key sessions we go through is them learning how they can allow imposter syndrome to work for them rather than against them. I have workbooks that contain thought provoking questions which inspire them to think deep and discover the hidden talents that they have within them. We tackle some of the negative experiences they may have had in past roles and then work together to visualise themselves as the C-Suite professional. A key step is also teaching them how to be a servant leader. What I mean by this is enabling them to understand that their position is not only to build a department or build an organisation, they are also there to build other leaders by inspiring, empowering and sharing the gift of leadership to their team. There’s a great quote by Elizabeth Isaacs that states “We are born with gifts and talents, which we discover over time through new experiences. Talents invigorate our lives, incite our passions, allowing our authenticity to shine. To me, nothing is more tragic than someone never taking a chance, never stepping out of their box, only to leave this world with a myriad of unwrapped gifts.” Once an individual grasps this, they will step into those roles that scare them the most with confidence and authenticity.

5: How would you advise women looking to enter the C- Suite?

I would advise them to get very clear on the value they are bringing to the role. What difference can

they make within the organisation and the team? If you are a woman in a mid-level to Senior

Management role with the goal to transition into a C-Suite position, start planning your transition

now. Give yourself a 5-year goal or less, depending on how ambitious you are. Research a number

of C-suite positions that you aspire to transition into and take an in-depth look at the requirements

of the candidate. Are you expected to have certain qualifications? Are you required to be part of a

professional membership or association? What skills are highlighted the most across the various

roles? Once you identify this, then you can start taking on roles that will equip you with the work

experience. Get out there and network with various professionals and business leaders. You can

join an online membership and grow your network on LinkedIn. The key is to position yourself as

an expert within that industry and you can start now. It could be something as simple as writing

articles on LinkedIn or aligned blogs such as Her Expat Life. It’s important to be authentic to who

you are so if you are Social Media personality, you can start posting rich content that positions you

as knowledgeable in the field you aspire to grow your career. I would also advice getting a mentor

or a coach, joining a membership or becoming part of a community of individuals with the same

goal. This will help you grow your career because there will be those around you who don’t believe

in you, so it’s important to have a tribe that supports and cheers you on.

6: In your opinion, how do women get over ‘Imposter syndrome’ and what tools can you share

that enable women to work effectively in any situation?

Honestly, Imposter Syndrome will always show up as you progress in life. The key is stepping out

despite the fear. Whenever we are stepping out of our comfort zone or breaking barriers in our

lives, we will always be faced with Imposter Syndrome. This is because we have become

accustomed to certain beliefs, ways of life or conditions. When you start to step out into the

unknown, our alarm bells within us start to go off to tell us we are stepping into unfamiliar ground.

However, when your heart and intuition is telling you that you are stepping into the right direction,

follow the impression despite the fear. This is usually how I teach my clients to keep moving and

stepping out, despite the fear. Sometimes we have to do things afraid and that’s how we overcome

and grow.

7: Globally, what problems do you see affecting women’s careers in the corporate world? What

can make a fairer working world? Better HR? Authentic hiring? For better equality?

In my opinion, a major problem would be authentic hiring. With the introduction of Applicant

Tracking Systems and AI, there may be missed opportunities during the hiring process. Secondly, I

feel that organisations should implement robust HR processes to mitigate bureaucratic hiring.

Another problem is when women compete against themselves. It’s unfortunate but some of my

younger female clients have faced major discrimination from their female bosses. Which is a shame.

This is why, one of the key areas I work with my clients looking to transition into Executive Roles, is

to view their roles as creating other leaders rather than stifling up and coming professionals due to

insecurity or jealousy. Women already face so much competition and inequality in society so it’s key

that we become out biggest cheerleaders and support system.

8: What are some key ‘transferable skills’ that many women are not recognising and should be

using to their advantage?

Key transferrable skills that many women are not recognising is their ability to tap into their

intuition. A perfect example is looking at how the states, countries and cities that were governed by

female leaders implemented the best strategies to tackle the COVID crisis. Women are naturally

intuitive so this is an ability that we should tap into more often. Other key transferrable skills you

may not recognise is the hobbies you do on the side. Some of these hobbies can be transferrable

skills that you can utilise in your role. The transferable skills session is usually one of my favourites,

because it is an eye opener for many of my clients.

9: What can women expect from you during a ‘Career Clarity Cal’?

During the Career Clarity Call, the client will take me through where they feel the most stagnant

within their career. I usually request for them to send me their CV/Resume, LinkedIn URL and roles

they aspire to transition into before our call. This enables me to get an initial idea of what they are

presenting to potential employers and then as we go through the initial Career Clarity Call, I can

identify what’s missing within their professional brand. The Career Clarity Call is 90 minutes and I

allow the client to “brain dump” at the start then follow with my thoughts on how to position their

professional brand. The client will then make an informed decision on whether to book more

sessions with me or sign up for one of my programmes that suit their requirements.

10: Lastly, what do you do for fun when you aren’t working hard as a career coach? How do you

switch off? Recharge? Do you like to travel?

I am a K-Drama (Korean Drama) fan. I am such a home body so I will sit, and binge watch a K-drama

to unwind. I don’t know what it is about listening to a show in a different language and reading the

English subtitles that relaxes me haha. I also find that the K-Drama content is so rich, relatable and

authentic so you get immersed into these interesting characters for 16+ episodes. I also enjoy

taking walks in the leafy neighbourhoods and soak in the evening air. I’m not a big fan of travelling

too much but when I do, it’s either a beautiful countryside cottage/villa or an all-inclusive beach

front resort.

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