Malado Kaba

Board Trustee at International Budget Partnership; Board Chair, Authority for the Regulation of Electricity and Water Utilities (Guinea); Board Member African Women’s Leadership Fund

You can listen to Malado’s story in full on podcast here or search ‘Women on Boards Success Stories’ in all major apps:

Being the ‘first woman to’…

“They didn’t see me coming,” Malado laughs, referencing her appointment as Guinea’s first (and still only) female Minister of Economy and Finance.

It wasn’t just being female that made her an ‘outsider’ appointment. Malado is an economist, not a politician. Neither is she is not Guinean, but was brought up in France after emigrating from Liberia as a baby. “They thought I was too westernised to succeed in Guinea,” Malado explains, although she had worked in the country several years earlier advising the ministry, and also working on EU development projects.

Malado describes being a Guinean Cabinet Minister as ‘quite a rollercoaster at times’. She welcomes, and actively encourages, the scrutiny of government. However, she found the scrutiny on ‘things that have nothing to do with your skills, your experience or even your character’ unwelcome.

She remembers, “A colleague showed me online comments about my lipstick, and saying my sleeves were too short. I had to tell him, ‘What did they have to say about the reforms I am carrying out? Don’t show that again.”

Malado was well-equipped to deal with this added pressure having learnt in her early career how to focus on the task in hand when faced with sexism and racism. “In my early years I had great, professional managers. I got fantastic experiences and opportunities,” she says. “but later I had managers who were more difficult. They were very undermining, and you have to be careful not to fall into reacting in a way which undermines yourself.”

The advice of a mentor proved instrumental. “I was upset as I had been moved from an important project to something much less interesting. He said to me, ‘make it into a diamond, then everyone will come to you.’ It worked,” she smiles, although she also decided that it was a good moment to broaden her experience with a stint in South Africa.

Malado describes her leadership style as “I lead with simplicity. I stay focused on the results and work efficiently. It is the best way to deliver high quality public services.”

Being clear and unapologetic about her impressive track record is important to Malado.

“I am proud of what I’ve done. I believe as women, we need to own our achievements. Men do this all the time, even when they kill a mosquito you hear about it. Women need to, not boast exactly, but not shy away from what they’ve achieved.”

Starting a board career

Leaving office in a re-shuffle was more challenging than some assume. “People think you’ve been a minister so the red carpet will open at your feet,” she laughs, “but it is not like that. You lose 70-80% of your network, who were following the role not you.”

“I approached it like a diesel engine,” Malado considers. “I research, take my time to understand it and then, when I am set in motion, I am unstoppable.”

She joined Women on Boards UK and travelled to London for our signature workshop. “It only strengthened my resolve to continue. I really had to think what in my 20 years experience could be a value add in the boardroom. Having spent so many years in public sector, was I really fit for it? But when I really unpacked what I had done. I realised I had board level experience.”

“Women on Boards UK was quite instrumental in helping me to understand how my skills can be transferable to boards,” she considers.

Malado is a firm advocate of open recruitment to board roles. “I got three of my four board roles through my network, so we still have a way to go,” she admits. “But I am most proud of landing the role with the International Budget Partnership, which I saw advertised on Women on Boards UK. It was a very through, very serious selection process. And I was the one to land the role from over 100 people!”

It’s not hard to see why …

Your next steps…