Tell us about yourself and what you do at Safaricom.
My name is Hildah Njeru, I am a (relatively young) lady passionate about life and positivity, and mostly diversity and inclusion. My mantra is something the late Bob Collymore used to say: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” Here at Safaricom, I wear several hats. I am a Customer Experience Executive at the call centre. In the Diversity and Inclusion department, we have a Sign Language team where we train staff in different departments, touchpoints (RC and Dealership) Information Technology, Fibre To The Home, to mention but a few. We run a Deaf Awareness Week every year to sensitize staff on matters deaf culture. I also volunteer sign language interpretation services.
You describe yourself as an introvert who has always been friends with introverts. When did you find out the trait about yourself?
In a room full of people, I am likely to strike a conversation with the person seated quietly observing everything. I believe sometimes you learn more from listening than talking, unless of course you are asked to give your input in a matter. It is something I learnt over time and I enjoy such engagements, but that is not to say I would not thrive in situations where an individual is expressive. I do pride myself in creating a balance in both situations.
You studied Special Education and Sign Language and became a teacher. How did you handle being a teacher as a shy person?
This question just made me smile because it has been a journey. It took me down memory lane when I was a teenager choosing a career path to follow. My mother, who is a successful teacher and administrator, saw it in me even before I did. I went to the university and it is then that I felt a conviction to not only pursue education, but also Special Education as I was passionate about the deaf. With regards to confidence, it was an acquired taste that grew in me over time with constant self-affirmation until it naturally felt right and not rehearsed.
How did you join Safaricom?
Out of ambition, I learnt about the opportunity through an acquaintance, and decided that since working for a great company had always been a lifelong dream, giving it a shot was worth the while.
What do you like the most about your profession?
The fact that I get to solve customer issues, day in, day out, maybe not all but majority of them, is something I enjoy.
What made you want to speak to the people at the Diversity and Inclusion Department?
Having trained in Special Education, I was excited when I learnt that I could still pursue my passion of helping differently-abled people even in this capacity. I got to learn that there are deaf employees in Safaricom and we later became great friends as we were all part of the Sign Language team. I felt I had much more to offer to the company apart from responding to customer queries. With my skills in sign language, I could train staff on the basics and interpret when need be and that gives me so much fulfilment.
How did you feel when you were told you were going to help form a new department dealing with sign language?
I was over the moon. Sending that email to Tabie Kioko, Senior Manager Diversity and Inclusion, was a leap of faith and when she responded and put us together into one pool, we formed the sign language team. It felt so great. We have gone on to achieve so much since our inception, something I am very proud of.
How did you get into podcasting? Please share a link.
When the pandemic hit, I thought about what more I can do with the new normal, which is not so new anymore. I realized that I enjoyed having conversations about social issues hence the birth of “The Normalize Podcast,” a platform where we raise issues in our society, unlearn and relearn new ones.
Unfortunately, there were technical hitches that affected the official launch but watch out for it within the month of June. Great things are cooking.
You have undergone quite a career change. How did your family and friends react to these changes in your life?
My father likes to say change is as good as a rest. He was and still is my greatest cheerleader. My family was more than supportive as they understand that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. My friends were also very supportive of the shift. We like to say “Clap for each other until it’s your turn,” and that is something I felt with my small circle of friends.
What would you consider the biggest career risk you have ever taken?
Switching careers entirely from being a teacher to a customer service representative. Both are similar in that they do involve problem solving but at the time looking back, it was a giant roll of the dice and I am glad it worked out in the end. What is more amazing is that by training others on sign language, I still get to teach. I suppose a way fate reminding me of who I still am.
What do you do when you are not working?
I love to try out new dishes from YouTube and I am also an ardent home baker.
I enjoy swimming and reading novels, my current read being “Becoming” by Michelle Obama.
What changes have happened in your life during the pandemic?
At the onset, working from home took a bit of a toll on me, mostly on my mental health, which is a topic I love talking about and creating more awareness. The shift from always leaving for work to never leaving at all made me want to curate sort of a schedule to give me structure and balance even when at home. I am happy I got the hang of it as time went by and the invaluable time spent with my family that I treasure.
I also had introspection on what more I could do with my life other than work.
My family and I unfortunately did contract the virus at some point, but coming out of it, scary as it was, made me appreciate how resilient we all are as we kept encouraging each other.