Breaking the Barriers

Gou Kere



Gou Kere is ICT Billing Manager for Digicel in Papua New Guinea. She is also a graduate of a leadership course set up by IFC, the International Finance Corporation – a move she says helped her understand how to relate to people in a male dominated world. She is confident though that women are getting closer to breaking through the glass ceiling, saying attitudes are different compared to 10 years ago.

Can you describe your job for me and how you got there?

I have been with Digicel for almost eight years now. I joined soon after my graduation from the University of Papua New Guinea. I started off as a customer care agent, and was promoted later to IT which is my field of study. Then quickly I went from being an IT junior to a team leader, and later was again promoted to the profit sales team as the Facility Manager. I was also promoted last year to GSM and ICT Building Manager with the finance team in BeStop PNG. So that’s over the span of eight years that I’ve been here with Digicel.

So that is a rapid rise through the ranks, do you see that a lot in Digicel and elsewhere in Papua New Guinea?

To be honest it’s not. Woman do not rise rapidly as I have done myself – that’s not because I’m boasting but because I am very observant. I was aware from the beginning that if I wanted to rise to the top, I had to do something different. I had to do something out of the ordinary in the organization to be able to get that recognition that I wanted, and to be able to move up levels as I went along. It is not common, we do have a few female managers in Digicel and they are very good. To rise this quickly within the organization is not very common.

You also did the leadership course set up by IFC with the Business Coalition for Women. How did that help you?

I was a woman in the technical field in IT. This was a male dominated environment. And to succeed in this field, I needed to be more aggressive and out there. Actually, my reputation within the organization was that I was a very aggressive woman, almost intimidating. So, when the opportunity arose for Digicel PNG to send a few women to the Business Coalition for Woman I was excited, because I knew that to be a manager I had to be a “people person.” Being in IT, the bottom line was that I hated people, but I loved the machines. They were easier to deal with. I needed that transition to be a people leader and a people manager. So, after attending the program -  gosh! You should meet me now! Everyone in Digicel is so proud of me. And of course, the person most proud is myself. So, the course has helped me to level out and be more mature in my leadership approach.

So clearly you see this course as benefitting woman generally, in terms the challenge of rising the ranks within organizations?

Yes. One of the most important aspects of the course is learning about oneself. I took this opportunity to really see my style of learning and style of leading. I saw what I could be if I made a few small changes, and if I reached out to people that could help me. I made those changes. Today I am so much of a better leader than I was when I was in IT.

So generally, if you look at woman today in Papua New Guinea, how far away are they from realizing their full potential in the workplace?
We’re in a much better position than we were about five to 10 years ago. I have been in the workforce now for almost 10 years now. Back then, there was this general feeling, especially from myself, that there were not a lot of woman that were breaking that glass ceiling. The feeling was there were not a lot of women who were rising to that level and I aspired to be one of those women, making it to the top.  But now that I am a line manager, I can look around and see there are a lot of Papua New Guinean women who are breaking barriers, even Pacific woman. In the course, we had women from Digicel across the Pacific. These women have similar challenges to women in Papua New Guinea. There are so many women making these changes, and setting trends in leadership. Even though you look around and see there are no women politicians in Papua New Guinea today, you can see in all other fields there are so many women that are close to that glass ceiling. They are making cracks in it.  So, I don’t think that it will be long before we have that glass ceiling broken down and we have things leveled out between genders and women can be in those high levels positions.

So, if you look ahead 20 to 25 years what is possible what would you like to see?

I think we are going to have about 10 ten of all CEO positions being held by women in Papua New Guinea. It’s also possible that we will have a high level of female politicians in Papua New Guinea. We may even have a female Prime Minister by then. The perception of women is rapidly changing. People are moving away from that concept that woman cannot lead. They are accepting that women can lead. Now the perception is how well can women lead. They see the benefits. A lot of men and woman want to change the cultural mindset of keeping woman in the kitchen or in the home.  That trend is progressing now, so I do feel that we will see a woman Prime Minister in the next 25 years.