Jacqueline Mugo is an advocate who doubles up as the Executive Director and CEO of the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), the Secretary-General Business Africa Employers Confederation, a Titular Board member of the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Vice President for Africa of the International Organization of Employers (IOE).

Mugo has effectively transformed from being an advocate of the High Court to the world of Human Resource and Labour Relations.

“My journey as an advocate of the high court was full of ups and downs and lots of changes. When in school I didn’t want to study law. I resisted for a while. Later, I realized it is a foundation that opens many possibilities. During my elective class on Labour Law which many of us were not interested in, my interest picked when the lecturer talked about the interplay between business and workers and how multinationals were ripping off locals.

“The impact of this on people’s lives made me interested. I choose Labour Law as one of my elective subjects to seek an understanding of business law among other facets of law. This was the beginning of interest in labour and employment matters. However, when I finished my studies, I worked in the Criminal Law in the Judiciary.”

Jacqueline Mugo. PHOTO/COURTESY

From the onset, she had decided that she would not do just one thing in life.

“I didn’t want my career life summed up as having been a magistrate, judge and then passed on. I wanted to do so many things. After 7 years working at the Judiciary, I got the call to join the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), the national umbrella body and the voice of employers in Kenya.

“The move was a rude shock, because when on the bench your word is the law. You set the mood and drive the affairs. But at FKE it was more of social dialogue, which is where my interest in Labour Relations was honed. I worked here before moving into the private sector. My exposure to Labour Relations and my background in law, made me realize that there was a connection between the law and human relations. So, I went into the Private sector to practice HR for about seven years to get the human interconnection.”

Mugo is very passionate about industrial relations, employment and employers’ issues. She shared with Swala Nyeti what spurred her interest in the field and what she considers as some of the most successful career moments and the events that have shaped them.


“At the Judiciary, I was perceived as tough but fair. Being fair is a value I uphold - Fairness and Justice. This was positive feedback from those I was serving. It prepared me for the new world of FKE, transitioning from the bench to the bar where I had to use persuasion, social dialogue and accommodate different views. The transition was a milestone that enabled me to negotiate many Collective Bargaining Agreements and achieve outcomes in the cases I was handling.”

The shift from the federation into the private sector, settling with multinationals to understand their work culture, key performance indicators and focus on delivery and presentations was also a transition point, then finally back to the helm of the FKE.

“I believe the capacity to adapt, accommodate change, remain focused and consistently deliver is one of my achievements. I build many networks and friends that gave me opportunities to speak in many high-level forums, chairing global meetings and passing interventions where presidents were present.”

She says the capacity to adapt and remain focused in leadership was yet another achievement for her and being able to work with people to deliver results either in departments or in the roles that she plays in FKE, regionally and internationally.

Jacqueline Mugo. PHOTO/COURTESY

“We are proud of the role that the Federation has played in the advancement of women and building the capacity of women to take up leadership positions in all spheres of their lives.”

FKE has been involved in international debates on gender equality, standards that discourage discrimination, harassment to create a more conducive environment for women to work globally.

“FKE started the Female Future program to develop the capacity of women in Kenya because of the opportunity the 2010 Constitution presented for women. It helps women to understand how they are put together, their strengths, how can they lead and present their case credibly and convincingly. It equips women with presentation skills, gives them the competence to operate at the board level and builds their capacity as leaders.”

FKE has so far graduated more than 300 women to date.

Jacqueline Mugo also plays various roles in the regional and international scene. So, what has her experience as a CEO been like?

“Part of the success I have been privileged and honoured to experience is derived from the love of what I do. It has its challenges, but I am in it, I am present in it. I do not doubt that this is what I should be doing at this point in my life. Internal settlement of the position you hold is very important. Then the capacity to accommodate views, interpersonal relationships because you meet many people with divergent views.”

Jacqueline Mugo. PHOTO/COURTESY

Any challenges?

“I have faced many challenges in my career. As a young mother, I wanted to stay home and work part-time. This option was not available to me at the time. I loved my career and so balancing the career front, motherhood, combined with the transitions was difficult. Sometimes, I faced resistance where there was a bit of chauvinism particularly with Union representatives who thought I had little experience.”

She says the dynamism of the corporate world was equally an enormous challenge for her, as well as dealing with retrenchments and exiting people from work. The career transitions have also not been easy for her much as they have given her many opportunities to grow.

“In my role as a leader here at FKE, there have been challenges, going against proposals by policymakers because of their impact on employers. There is political pressure at all levels to pass resolutions to support projects that may not benefit employers or may increase the cost of doing business irrationally. You may feel isolated sometimes, because of the stands you have to take. At the end of the day, I am reminded that I am an advocate on behalf of employers.”


She shared what role the following have impacted on her career life:

• Mentorship. This has pushed me into roles I didn’t want to take up. One of them was when I was transiting from what I thought was a big change. When taking on the role of leadership at FKE, I had another offer that was a regional role. One of my mentors asked me how many women CEOs do you know in Kenya? How many CEOs of employers’ organizations are there in Kenya? They nudged me to take up this unique opportunity and continued to walk with me. Mentors continue to play an important role in my personal and my working life.

• Personal Branding. I tie this to how I perceive the world, why I do what I do and what drives me. I have a passion for what I do. Show courage in the face of fear. Most of the opportunities and leadership roles require that you learn by doing!

• Taking up new challenges. These are there daily. Step into the space, take in challenges, into new situations and various leadership roles. I have taken in roles in the continent; to lead employers in the continent as a Secretary-General voluntarily. At the international level, I took on a role within the global employers body and ILO where labour policies are formed. This was a learning opportunity for me. New challenges come in different ways but if you are open to learning, then you will make it.

Jacqueline Mugo. PHOTO/COURTESY

She spoke of what she thinks it takes to be a successful woman leader.

“Leadership is something that you grow into. A leader must have passion and clarity of vision on what it is you want to achieve. You need to know what your gifts are so that you can build a team around you to fill the gaps because nobody is perfect. It means you can draw the commitment of your team to walk alongside you and achieve the organizational goals.”

Mugo noted that leadership is about being a first among equals and being able to inspire one’s team to deliver and commit to the long-term vision of the organization.

“There are many opportunities for leadership for women. Women make outstanding leaders. They need to step up and take their position and remove some stereotypes that have been - women don’t support one another, women are emotional. That’s not true, women lead differently because we are women.

“I am now contributing to a global debate that is looking at coming up with an international standard on women, gender equality and fundamental rights for women so that we open spaces for women globally. Even developed nations still have a lot of drawbacks for women to lead. The world cannot be led by men alone and that women have done very well. It is a privilege for me to be a woman leader today and to pave way for future generations.”


These are the two core values that have shaped how she works and lives:

• Faith and Hope because a human being is more than oneself. You need a higher power, a guide that you can rely upon beyond yourself. So faith and spirituality are very important. When I reach the end of my road, beyond my capacity when times are challenging, I turn to God for support and courage.

• Integrity is key so that you serve from a good heart, from a good intention, wanting the best for your team, the organization and the best input for all discussions.

Jacqueline Mugo. PHOTO/COURTESY

She had these powerful words as her parting shot:

“Life is a gift, the opportunity to serve, to work and to lead is also a gift. Not everybody has the opportunity, so when it comes your way, you have to do your best. Shine where you are planted and give back so that at the end of your life you will die empty because you will have invested everything you have in terms of your skills, passion, knowledge, competencies joy of life in other people so that they can carry this life.

“My appeal to everyone is to step up and do their best so that we can change the face of the industry, we can build wealth and be able to change lives which is ultimately the reason we exist.”

Curated by Patience Nyange and Esther Kiragu