For this segment of Women In Marketing we had a chat with Sherry Kennedy who is the Head of Communications for African Trade Insurance Agency in Kenya. Born in Canada, Sherry spent some of her early years in Jamaica. With all of her travels and exposure to different cultures, her insights are invaluable and we are confident that you will enjoy her story as much as we did. Let’s jump in!
LET’S GET PERSONAL
THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO PARTICIPATE IN OUR WOMEN IN MARKETING SERIES, SHERRY. LET’S START ON A LIGHTER NOTE. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR MEMORIES GROWING UP?
I was born in Toronto, Canada but spent my early years in rural Jamaica. Like many women at that time, my mom couldn’t afford to keep me. She, unfortunately, had to send me away to live with my grandmother when I was one. I must say, even though I left Jamaica when I was six, this experience laid the groundwork for much of my life. I still have memories of having no electricity and making toys to play with, which gave me such an appreciation for what matters in life – family, relationships and your health.
Needless to say, when I arrived in Toronto for the first time, I felt like a martian from outer space seeing earth for the first time! The most vivid memory I have is marvelling at the highways with overpasses and television. For the longest, I thought people lived inside the TV!
WHAT WERE YOU LIKE IN YOUR HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE YEARS?
Not your typical student! I was very focused – sort of like Alex Keaton from the 1980s series, Family Ties.
I was, and still am to a large extent, an overachiever. I have always felt so lucky to have an opportunity when many don’t. I like to make every opportunity count. Because of this drive, I’ve often found myself as the only Black person in the room. As a result, I always strive to pay it forward whenever possible. I try to set good examples so more doors may be open to anyone else, who may follow me. Despite this seriousness, there were some naughty moments, of course – like the time my best friend and I signed notes from our parents saying that we were sick.
Believe me when I say that didn’t end well!
IF YOU COULD BE ANY ANIMAL, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
I love the way they carry themselves and the fact that they can see far beyond anyone else!. Being near a giraffe also makes one realise just how small (literally) humans are. It humbles you and allows you to put in perfect context the place of humans on this planet.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MEAL? THAT ONE MEAL YOU WOULD FEEL NO SHAME FOR NOT SHARING!
There are so many! I love food so much and feel like this is like a trick question. If I had to choose, it would have to be fried fish with fried plantains – very healthy :-).
IMAGINE WAKING UP $10 MILLION RICHER TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR FORTUNE?
The well-being of children is a real passion. There is such a great need to help children of all ages. But, the lack of job opportunities is a real impediment to their growth, particularly in Africa. I’d probably create a Foundation to provide professional and employment opportunities to the youth. I believe that this would ideally provide for a pathway towards youth employment in the form of internships or training opportunities.
WHAT IS THE ONE INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT WE WOULDN’T FIND ON YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE? ANY HIDDEN TALENTS PERHAPS? PREVIOUS WOMEN IN MARKETING CANDIDATE, DR. LIEZEL BYGATE SAID THAT SHE IS AN EXPERT HULA-HOOPER!
I’m an artist at heart; I love creating in any form. I have been a model and a stage actress in my past life. I have also been a designer, creating unique sweater designs and even interior design items such as curtains and sofa covers.
CAREER AND WORKPLACE
WHAT ENCOURAGED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN MARKETING? AFTER ALL, MOST OF US GREW UP WANTING TO BE DOCTORS, RIGHT?
I fell in love with the idea of influencing people through messaging.
One of my first job memories was working at the front desk of my parent’s hotel in Jamaica, which was one of the first all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. I was eleven but can vividly remember the thrill of trying to solve problems and speaking to guests – not to mention watching my parents put together brochures.
The second job I had was working in marketing, also in a family business – a temporary personnel agency. This experience taught me a lot about human nature. It also demonstrated that deep-down we are all driven by very similar motivations. I then wanted to understand more so, I pursued a degree in Sociology and then Clinical Social Work to try to have a better understanding of human motivation. In my mind, at that time, this knowledge would then feed into an eventual career as a journalist!
As is often the case, life had a different path for me. Instead of journalism, a series of cool summer jobs led to a career in Communications and then later a hybrid Marketing Communications field, which allowed me to tie all my interests together all in one career type!
GIVE US A SNEAK PEEK OF HOW YOU TYPICALLY START YOUR DAY. ARE YOU #TEAMCOFFEE OR #TEAMTEA? OR BOTH? YOU BEAUTIFUL REBEL!
I like to live a healthy lifestyle simply because I need enough energy throughout the day to complete everything on my very long to-do list! A typical day starts early – at around 6:00 with herbal tea or warm water. In an ideal world, I would start my day in the gym and finish with a sauna or steam BUT, since we’re in a pandemic and all gyms are closed, I skip the gym and jump onto my laptop.
I like to get an early start on emails. Once I get those out of the way, I can start the real work. And at the end of the day, I do a video workout, go for a bike ride or a long walk.
In my current position, the focus is now on rebranding. We were fortunate enough to start this project just before the lockdown and, as a result, we’ve been able to make tremendous progress. Also, I’ve been able to spend more time on a strategy to determine priorities and how we can do things differently to achieve greater efficiency.
HOW BEST DO YOU MAINTAIN A WORK-LIFE BALANCE?
Lately, I’ve been making a concerted effort to disconnect in the evening.
Therefore, no late-night texting or responding to emails. The result of this has allowed me to unwind and have some quality time with the family. I also love cooking, and because it’s a necessity, I do find myself in the kitchen creating something – well, creative, and hopefully yummy – for the family most days.
I also like to combine a love of nature with exercise, which led me to bike as a form of exercising. An ideal day is biking with the family. Either through the busy streets of Nairobi or in a forest amongst sky-high trees. Truly blissful!
YOU OBTAINED YOUR MASTERS DEGREE IN PUBLIC COMMUNICATIONS FROM AMERICAN UNIVERSITY. YESSS GIRL! ACCORDING TO CNBC, RESEARCH CONDUCTED BY GLASSDOOR FOUND THAT COMPANIES LIKE APPLE, GOOGLE AND IBM (AMONGST OTHERS) OFFER WORK-FROM-HOME JOBS THAT DO NOT REQUIRE ANY FORMAL EDUCATION. IN YOUR OPINION, HOW CAN YOUNG WOMEN UTILISE THE INTERNET TO UPSKILL THEIR CAREERS PARTICULARLY IF THEY ARE NOT ABLE TO AFFORD A FORMAL EDUCATION?
Working in a pandemic is causing all of us to rethink and reshape our normal on every level. I’ve found myself thinking a lot these days of how many new skills I’ve learned during the lockdown and how I can successfully apply them once we move back to a face-to-face setting.
I think that remote working may force us, as women, to strengthen our confidence. In this setting, you only have your voice and facial gestures to make an impression, so you need to project confidence more than perhaps we’re used to when working in physical spaces.
And now there are so many great opportunities. There are so many free training programs that are focused on practical skills, whether it be computer coding or other technology-related skills. And best of all, most are free!
The internet has provided us with multiple opportunities. We need to figure out a way to tap into some of these opportunities. I don’t think we are ever going to return to the pre-COVID normal since we’ve now experienced nearly a whole year of something so different that has proven to be effective.
YOU HAVE A GREAT RESUME. YOU’VE WORKED FOR COMPANIES SUCH AS THE ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK, WORLD BANK AS WELL AS THE BLACK FILM & VIDEO NETWORK. HOW IMPORTANT HAS LINKEDIN BEEN FOR YOU AND WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUNG WOMEN LOOKING TO ESTABLISH THEIR PROFESSIONAL BRAND FOR NETWORKING PURPOSES?
The most valuable piece of advice I can give to any young woman is that you need to cultivate your brand. You should, always think twice about anything you post because your content lives forever on the internet. You should position yourself as a candidate for a dream job and ask yourself if I were recruiting for that position, what would I look for in a successful applicant?
Would you be drawn to the young woman who posts daily updates on her movements no matter how mundane or would you be drawn to the one who looks like she is achieving something on a professional level that is related to the job in each post?
To sum it all up, be mindful of what you post, cultivate a professional personal brand. Be part of conversations that are in an area of interest. You can achieve this by commenting on posts or by posting something on the topic. Doing this will help you create a network that you can also draw on professionally as well as to attract recruiters.
SABRA MWAURA WAS A FEATURE FOR OUR WOMEN IN MARKETING SERIES. SHE MADE A FEW GOOD POINTS ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF MENTORSHIP FOR WOMEN. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON MENTORSHIP?
Mentorship has always been my MO. I grew up with a mother who achieved firsts. She was one of the first Black models in Toronto and was one of the very first successful Black female entrepreneurs in Canada. Though she may not have been a household name, the combination of seeing her do her thing so well every day and her pushing me to always strive for excellence, allowed me to grow up believing that women could do anything.
As a result, when I started working, I had very few doubts about myself. However, as I got older, I realised that not every woman was fortunate to have such an upbringing. I was therefore motivated to reach out to girls in every position I’ve had in the last 20 years. I’m fortunate enough to have played a role in supporting a string of young ladies, who are now shining in a variety of fields and continents.
It gives me the greatest joy to see my girls kicking it in the world!
WHAT’S YOUR SMARTEST WORK-RELATED SHORTCUT OR PRODUCTIVITY HACK?
Google, hands down!
Even though you still need to vet the information, I find a lot of great ideas from other organisations by doing targeted searches. Things like strategy documents and reports are much easier if you borrow from others – after all, imitation is the greatest flattery and also makes your life easier!
JOB HOPPING IS A COMMON PHENOMENA ESPECIALLY IN THE DYNAMIC WORLD OF ADVERTISING AND MARKETING. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON JOB HOPPING? DOES IT HURT OR AID ONE’S CAREER?
It depends. Before leaping to another job, I always ensure that I can answer the ‘why’ to a prospective job recruiter. If it’s for professional growth and more responsibility, then I say, ‘go for it’!
The second consideration should also be your track record. Does your CV show a string of one or two-year stints? If yes, then perhaps you should consider staying a while at least at one job. To an employer, this shows a level of commitment.
Some may see this perspective as old school given that millennials’ attitudes and expectations are changing the rules quite a bit. However, I still stand by these principles because anyone hiring is always going to want to see the tried and tested values of commitment and a good track record that shows career progression.
It is hard to accomplish if you don’t stay anywhere long enough.
FOR IT’S 2019 MOST INFLUENTIAL CMO’S REPORT, FORBES LISTED 31 WOMEN OUT OF 50 CANDIDATES (19 MEN). IT APPEARS THAT MORE WOMEN OCCUPY CMO ROLES COMPARED TO OTHER C-SUITE ROLES. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS THE CASE?
First of all, I think this is great. Traditionally, most women have been drawn to marketing because it provides an opportunity to utilise both creative and analytical skills. If more women are occupying the CMO roles then I think this is a result of mentoring, and perhaps it also signals a changing culture in which companies are sincere about nurturing diversity.
Perhaps companies also realise the financial sense of being more inclusive – a recent McKinsey study comparing companies with the largest number of women on their Board of Directors, consistently outperformed those with no representation with 41% return on equity and by 56% in operating results.
The challenge going forward will be ensuring that women get paid for their worth in these roles, where we still see a disparity in salaries. Secondly, I would say that companies need to back up their commitment to policies that reinforce a diversity objective. To do this, they must be willing to adapt to the needs of young women, who may need flexible working hours due to child care responsibilities, for example.
It doesn’t mean that women are less hard-working. But, it does speak to a reality that a lot of people and companies have overlooked in recent times.
REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN IN MARKETING, PARTICULARLY, IN SENIOR ROLES IS ON THE UP. IN YOUR OWN OPINION, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT WOMEN STILL FACE DESPITE THESE CHANGES AND HOW BEST SHOULD THESE BE ADDRESSED?
To echo my previous response, companies need to commit to addressing the concerns that women bring to the table, particularly women in their 20s and 30s – namely, flexibility around childcare issues and providing the benefits that they may need to take care of this responsibility in their lives. If we can support these young women, then they will be motivated to stay the course and not drop out of the workforce because the stress of not having the resources to parent properly while working becomes too great.
Also, a work culture that fosters training and mentoring would speak to the issues that typically prevent women from progressing. A large part of this is confidence. Mentoring can empower women to have the confidence to speak up more, propose new initiatives, and lead teams. Doing this should not necessarily have to be achieved from an official leadership position. Often leading can happen in the approach someone takes to a project or an initiative.
You can find yourself naturally falling into the role because you’re quick to provide solutions and management might then take notice of your ability to lead.
ONE OF THE LEARNING CURVES FOR MOST ORGANISATIONS SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE PANDEMIC, IS THE SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION OF DIGITAL INFRASTRUCTURES TO FACILITATE REMOTE WORK. FOR TECH PLAYERS IN SILICON VALLEY THE TRANSITION WAS RELATIVELY SMOOTH WITH THE LIKES OF FACEBOOK AND TWITTER DESIGNING A FUTURE WHERE THEIR STAFF MAY POTENTIALLY WORK REMOTELY FOREVER. THE ARGUMENT THOUGH, IS THAT THIS IS LONG OVERDUE. IN YOUR OPINION, WHY HAVE COMPANIES TAKEN SO LONG TO IMPLEMENT REMOTE WORK OPPORTUNITIES?
Some of this has to do with being too comfortable.
Some of the best innovations often occur when we are out of our comfort zone. The pandemic did this to companies. Of which most of who may have envisioned a work from the home scenario in the distant future. But getting there, seemed too difficult of a task to achieve.
However, while this is a welcome development, we must be mindful of who may be affected as a result as we transition in this new world. So far, from the preliminary research, we see women being affected the most because, once again, they bear the brunt of child care and household responsibilities. In this scenario, they may be unable to keep up with back-to-back calls throughout the day. So, while this is a good development, companies must take heed of the potential repercussions on women’s ability to work and progress.
WORKING FROM HOME IS AWESOME! MOST OF US CAN AGREE. HOWEVER, IT IS NOT WITHOUT IT’S SET OF CHALLENGES. EMPLOYEE WELLNESS HAS TAKEN A SIGNIFICANT STRAIN WITH PEOPLE WORKING LONGER HOURS AS A RESULT OF EMPLOYEES BEING ‘ALWAYS ON‘ AND NOT BEING ABLE TO SWITCH OFF. HOW CAN EMPLOYERS GUARD AGAINST EMPLOYEE BURNOUT OR IN THE WORST EVENT, LOSING THEIR BEST TALENT?
Employers need to implement a ‘rules of engagement’ approach in this environment, which should apply to everyone. Therefore, companies need to be diligent about monitoring vacation days to ensure that everyone is taking them and not working in any way during these downtimes.
Furthermore, from what I’m seeing, they also need to be vigilant about the hours people are working. Employees should not be allowed to be rewarded just because of sending emails at 1:00 in the morning.
Internal communications aimed at, allowing staff to talk about their experiences daily, articles that speak to the need to take care of mental health, and keeping staff appraised of the latest developments in the organisation will also go a long way to alleviating their angst in these abnormal times.
If a company champions such rules from the top, it will help provide a buffer for employees not to feel pressured to perform outside of their normal parameters – i.e. 8 to 10 hour days.
BCG PUBLISHED ITS INNOVATION REPORT FOR 2020 AND AT THE CORE OF ITS SELECTION CRITERIA ARE COMPANIES THAT HAVE SUCCESSFULLY MARRIED ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN THEIR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES. ACCORDING TO YOU, WHAT MAKES SOMETHING INNOVATIVE?
Everything starts and ends with the customer.
If you can find a solution to an issue they are facing and also makes their lives easier, this is innovation. In effect, this illustrates flexibility. Also, it shows that one is always on the lookout for solutions that fill a gap in the market.
Kenya’s mobile money solution, Mpesa comes to mind along with taxis now becoming home food delivery services with a planned next phase in the offing of electric and driverless cars as well as drones providing the same service.
HEMAL THAKKAR, BRAND MANAGER FOR BURGER KING INDIA IS A RECENT WOMEN IN MARKETING FEATURE. ONE OF THE KEY AREAS SHE IDENTIFIED FOR CONTINUED GROWTH IS THAT OF INFLUENCER MARKETING. WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF MARKETING LOOK LIKE ACCORDING TO YOU?
In my opinion, COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the field, particularly in digital marketing. With millions of people forced online to conduct many of the functions they may have done in an in-person setting pre-COVID, this has revealed several possibilities.
Social media – Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram – have proven to be great places for reaching customers, who are searching and purchasing items. In effect, this offers the ability to reach new customers effectively by shortening the sales cycle and making the experience easier for the customer.
Customers and clients are looking for personalised content that can educate or entertain. Either way, this will keep them on your page longer, so it’s a win-win. With COVID creating physical separation, people want to feel that someone is thinking about them so personalised emails, for instance, now take on even more importance as do live videos.
I came across some research in Forbes magazine recently that revealed, on average, live videos on Facebook Live and Instagram Live keep viewers three times longer than recorded videos.
2020 AND BEYOND
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Don’t stress so much about the future! As long as you wake every day and move through it with purpose, the details will take care of themselves.
WHAT CHALLENGE IS ON YOUR PLATE? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PAIN POINTS YOU ARE TRYING TO OVERCOME IN YOUR LIFE WHETHER PROFESSIONALLY, PERSONALLY OR BOTH?
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is always a challenge. I know most professional women, who have an increasing level of responsibility at work, find this to be the biggest hurdle.
A good friend of mine, who works in a Senior-level marketing position in the pharmaceutical industry, recently floated the idea of creating her Board of Directors – this would be a group of like-minded female professionals, who can advise her on all aspects of her life.
After this discussion, we became the founding members of this Board concept! I think women need to support each other because no one else can relate to the unique challenges we face as working professionals.
ANY BUCKET LIST ITEMS?
Yes, so many!
Professionally, I want to move into the country branding space. I’ve had the opportunity throughout my career to work with governments. I see a real need for developing countries, particularly in Africa, where I’m more familiar, to obtain guidance on how to position their countries internationally to attract investments and tourism.
South Africa and Ghana are my role models in this regard. Ghana’s year of return was brilliant! Africa has so much potential to shine on the world stage. I want to be part of that.
I have travelled so much due to work and have seen so many beautiful places. Now, I would like to travel, with my family, to explore some new locations as well as ones that I didn’t have a chance to enjoy while working.
These include Morocco – anywhere in that beautiful country would make my spirit soar, Egypt for the pyramids and architecture and Thailand for the food!
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR SHEROES?
It’s great to see so many women increasingly moving into prominent positions globally; this serves as an inspiration to all of us.
In this context, the woman I would most like to meet is Nancy Pelosi. She is a brilliant strategist and communicator. She achieves it all by embracing her femininity. There are many more on my list, including Michelle Obama, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Susan Rice, among others. They embody some of the values I admire – tremendous intellectual depth, compassion, independence, creativity and the ability to connect with people on a very personal level.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?
Paperback! I love the feel of a physical book – it provides a conduit into another world and a means of learning. My guilty pleasures are crime thrillers! I also love poetry, historical novels and any topic by authors who are out of the mainstream – African, Indian, South American – these writers have such a beautiful way of pulling you in with their rich use of language.
Some of my favourites include Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Arundhati Roy, Milton Acorn and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Currently, I have been trying to crack open the history of Kenya since independence by Charles Hornsby.
WHAT WOULD YOU COME BACK AS IN THE NEXT LIFETIME CAREER-WISE? DO YOU THINK YOU MISSED A CALLING?
A creative in the advertising business; this would feed my appetite for using creativity to influence!
WHAT IS ON YOUR NETFLIX WATCHLIST?
How to Commit Murder, White Lines, and Killing Eve – though I can’t find it on my Netflix at the moment – it remains one of my all-time faves!
WHO HAVEN’T YOU SEEN OR TALKED TO IN A LONG TIME AND HOPE THEY ARE DOING OKAY?
My friend from high school. This question prompted me to pick up the phone and call her. She’s doing well, thanks 🙂
WE ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR AMAZING WOMEN IN MARKETING TO PROFILE. WHO WOULD YOU LIKE US TO GET IN TOUCH WITH?
Judith Risasi Mongala, Partner Manager, Government, Politics & Advocacy, Sub-Saharan Africa, Facebook.
She’s a dynamo!
A UNIQUE MESSAGE FOR ALL YOUNG PROFESSIONALS IN THE MARKETING INDUSTRY
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the client or customer, then let all your ideas flow from there. Be bold, be confident, be ambitious, be true to yourself, have integrity and don’t be afraid to speak up when you have an idea or a point of view that you are passionate about.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME SHERRY. WE HOPE THIS INTERVIEW WILL INSPIRE FUTURE LEADERS AND OTHER WOMEN IN MARKETING. HOW CAN PEOPLE FOLLOW YOU AND YOUR COMPANY ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
Well, I’m currently working for the African Trade Insurance Agency based in Nairobi, Kenya. I’m about to jump to a global role with Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll) based in Vienna, Austria as of January 2021.
So I have two handles to share: