Dr. Mary Okelo entered the annals of Kenyan banking history when in 1977 she became the first African woman to rise to the post of a bank branch manager. Her promotion at Barclays Bank opened the door for more women to rise to management positions in Kenyan banks. It also opened new doors for her. By July 1987 she had risen to become a director of the African Development Bank and a senior advisor to the bank’s president.
Dr. Okelo’s rise at Barclays was testimony of the leading role the bank had by then established itself as the most gender responsive of all Kenyan banks. Barclays boasted a decent number of women as members of staff. In September 1972 the bank had promoted Mrs. Agatha Obare to the post of supervisor, the first female employee of any Kenyan bank to reach that position.
Not many banks followed Barclays practice. Banking in Kenya continued to be dominated by men until the 1990s when calls for affirmative action began to gain affect employment practices across a wide spectrum of sectors of the country’s economy. Today women are employed in the banking industry as much as men, if not more.
Some notable women who have risen to high positions in banking in recent times include: Nasim Devji, the chief executive officer of the Diamond Trust Bank group who is also the first woman appointed CEO of a bank in Kenya; Anne Mutahi, chairperson of Standard Chartered Bank (Kenya); Nyambura Koigi, the managing director of Postbank; Vindhya Vittal Ramesh, CEO of Bank of Baroda (Kenya); Jacinta Mwatela, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank; Rose Detho, Director of the Central Bank’s Deposit Protection Fund; Nuru Mugambi, Director of Kenya Bankers Association; and Sheila M’Mbijjiwe, a former director at StanChart and a member of the Central Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee.
And gender sensitivity has not been confined only to employment policies. It has also affected services in a number of banks. The Bank of Baroda recently opened an all-women’s branch in Nyali, Mombasa, where its staff are primarily women and their product focus suits their women customers. Other banks that offer accounts designed for women include Chase Bank, Fina Bank, I&M and Standard Chartered.