CEO Betty Sayinzoga on leadership through the eyes of a woman

Betty Sayinzoga, who is currently at the helm of Prime Life Insurance, started off as a human resource manager.  But how does she balance this professional upward trend with parenting? She told Women Today’s Sharon Kantengwa about that and more.

Where did this journey begin?

My professional journey started in Belgium back in 2001, while my life’s journey started in Burundi. But as all roads lead to Rome, everything started in Rwanda. I worked for more than 15 years mainly as human resource director; human resource manager and I scaled up the ladder more specifically in human resource advisory. Slowly I have grown in my career and I see the future becoming brighter as the sky is the limit.

What life experiences have shaped your leadership approach?

There is no life experience that does not shape us, the good and the more difficult ones, be it private or in career. I think working in different cultures and meeting different types of people shapes the way you think and shapes your own identity through those people.

Being a mother, living in different countries with different cultures, working in companies with different cultures, being raised by two hardworking parents, and being surrounded by strong women has had a profound impact on my life.

People often tend to compare the leadership styles between men and women. What are your thoughts on that?

I tend to think that leadership styles are shaped by many elements, gender not being the most important one. I can cite the informal education that one receives in his family and the set of values taught to him through his young life, family values, the people we meet through our lives, our mentors, the different companies we worked in and their working culture, the academic education that one goes through, our culture of origin and the cultures of the different countries that we live in and visit along the way, our personality, our different life experiences (bad and good) our level of openness to listen and learn.. All this will shape your leadership.

What important management lesson have you learnt so far?

First, you need to trust your team. Secondly, I always hire for attitude and train for skills. Work culture is important and skills can be taught but attitude cannot change. I use quantitative analysis to make decisions to avoid biases.

Thirdly, good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment (Rita Mae Brown). Lastly, experience often comes with failure and disappointment and only one who understands that can work with others and begin see things differently.

What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?

A career is made of highs and lows, so is life. I do not recall any particular event or moment but rather a series of different situations where we either achieved something big as a team or we made a significant change. Most of them I can say are shared moments with my team.

What do you do to loosen up?

Having a good laugh with my children. I enjoy being around my sister. I also read a lot of English and French books, with Paulo Coelho as my favourite author. I read a lot about my country and pick authors from all over the world from political strategy to economics but I am not a fan of management books. I have my moments when I want to read serious things and when I want to loosen up a bit.

What, according to you, is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Sexual harassment. I think many women in their career have been subjected to inappropriate talk or actions to even more severe situations. There is need for education to explain to people what is inappropriate for the women in the workplace. Having worked for almost 15 years in Human Resource, I have seen and heard the unthinkable way too frequently. In our country I have seen very few cases that go through justice which means the problem is worse because it is not recognised. If this problem is not addressed, the rest is just a by the way.

There is often a deliberate amnesia about what represents an appropriate behaviour and what does not.

What advice do you have for young girls who think that some of these jobs are out of reach?

Go for it. As girls we are raised to be perfect. So don’t try to be perfect all the time and just do it. Stop over thinking and go for it even if you do not tick all the boxes.

Read in TNT

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