Rosemary Nakuya

HR Business Partner – Diageo / Uganda Breweries Limited

Rosemary is the Human Resource Business Partner at Uganda Breweries Limited, a subsidiary of Diageo. She graduated with honors from Bangalore University with a Master’s degree in business administration. As a Human Resource Business Partner, Rosemary provides HR support to the various business functions allocated through the development and implementation of  globally aligned and effective strategies, delivering mission, goals, and business growth. Rosemary Nakuya is passionate about inclusion and diversity and is a recipient of the 2021/2022 HR Reveal Award by the Human Resource Managers Association of Uganda for Best Practices in Inclusion and Diversity. Rosemary’s purpose is to inspire those around her to become the best versions of themselves.

Rosemary’s career journey

I started my career in 2009 with Stanbic Bank, working there for about four and a half years until I joined Diageo as a Learning and Development Manager, tasked with setting up the learning and development department. Just six months later, I was promoted into a HR Business Partner role, which I enjoyed very much and really got me grounded in HR.

I’ve been so fortunate that Diageo has valued and supported me through my personal journey. In 2018, shortly after I gave birth to my son, who’s now five years old, I became ill and was in a coma for three weeks. When I woke up, my entire body had shut down. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk, and to make matters worse, my eyesight had been affected. Luckily, I have a very supportive family – my parents and siblings were all available to support me during a time where I experienced every emotion possible, from shock to denial to anger.

Diageo paid for my entire treatment, including all the support and physiotherapy I needed after I was discharged from the hospital. They prepared the team for my return and provided me with the adjustments and software I needed to ensure I could communicate with people and continue to do my job.

I remember my first day back at work in October 2018 well. My colleagues were apprehensive in terms of knowing how to ‘deal’ with me, and the first few days were tough. I remember sitting quietly in meetings, and a colleague saying, “What happened? You used to be so chatty. Why aren’t you looking at the screen?” and I told her that I couldn’t see it. It turned out the extended team hadn’t been told about my impairment. I remember my mentor telling me that the first thing I should do when I go into a room is tell people I have a visual impairment so they can support me. As soon as I started to do that, things became far easier.

My manager has challenged me to help them to become more inclusive. I joined the Uganda Business Disability Network, and they came on-site to do training for our leadership teams about disability awareness and to ensure the site was physically inclusive of people with disabilities. In March 2021, we commissioned the first internship program for people with disabilities. We carried out sign language training, learnt how to communicate with the individuals, how to work with them and how to support them, and it worked out well. We have the next cohort joining in April of this year.

On their Role Models

Initially, my role models used to be people who had ‘made it’ in life, but having acquired this disability later in life I am now amazed by ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things. Whilst working on disability and inclusion initiatives, I came across a gentleman called Musa Mwambu who works for Light for the World. He is visually impaired, but he has the drive and energy and passion and works to make disability and inclusion top of mind for so many companies. He inspires me to see beyond people’s impairments and disabilities to the value of what they bring to the role.

There are so many others I’ve met whose stories have blown me away and inspired me to become better. It always reminds me of a quote by Maya Angelou: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ It’s so important that people with disabilities feel that they are valued, that they are human beings, and that they are in no way worth any less than people with no disabilities.

“It’s so important that people with disabilities feel that they are valued, that they are human beings, and that they are in no way worth any less than people with no disabilities.”

Risks and achievements

I think the biggest career risk I’ve taken was moving from banking to FMCG because my career in banking was on a set trajectory. I had never led a Learning and Development team or devised a learning strategy before. Looking back, I remember struggling with impostor syndrome for the first few months, but I did it, and the rest is history!

My greatest career achievement has been the work that I’ve done in disability inclusion. In March 2022, I was recognized by the Human Resource Managers Association for the work that I had done in this area, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I wasn’t employed by Diageo and therefore wasn’t given the platform and the freedom to succeed.

Advice to their 18-year-old self

I tend to worry and second-guess myself, so I would tell my 18-year-old self not to worry, and that everything will be fine. It reminds me of a verse in the Bible – Ecclesiastes, 1:9-10 – “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”. Don’t worry about it, and don’t sweat the small stuff, everything will be fine.

Navigating their career

My personal journey has certainly shaped the way I navigate my career. Developing a disability later in life is challenging. One minute, you’re okay, then suddenly everything changes. It wasn’t easy to learn how to walk again, the physiotherapy was painful and at a certain point, I almost gave up.

I then came across a quote: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” You have a choice either give up or to move through it. I went through physiotherapy, learned how to walk, and practiced my handwriting. I of course also utilized the support network at work, and found that once you tell people you have a disability, they are likely to be willing to support you. I remember being worried about not being able to drive, and my manager flippantly told me not to worry about it and arranged transport for me to and from work. I was so thankful they offered me such a supportive environment to work in. It was these support networks, alongside support from my family, that helped me along my journey.

The benefits of connecting globally

I am very lucky to be part of a global company, Diageo. We celebrate Inclusion Week every September, where we get together as employees from different countries across the world and share best practices in terms of what we are doing around inclusion. I’m also happy to have been part of a global, cross-functional team which formulated our ‘Disability Inclusion Framework’ which outlines how we define disability, the support mechanisms we have in place, the language we use when working with people with disabilities and lots more. It’s a great platform for us to share ideas and help each other out when faced with challenges related to disability inclusion, and any other element of inclusion too.

On debunking myths and misconceptions

A common misconception around disability is that people assume those with disabilities are incapable of doing their job and that their employer will have to put in extra work and a huge budget to help them to do the job. Disability is not inability, however.

Something I learned after I got my disability is the idea of ‘reasonable accommodations’, which involves listening to the person with the disability to determine what you can do as an individual or a company to make sure their work environment is free from any obstacles. Using myself as an example, all I needed was additional software to be able to do my job properly and to be supported with the journey to and from work. I can fulfil the rest of my role just like any other person. The misconception here is the assumption that people with disabilities will be a large cost to the company and won’t be worth the expense, which isn’t true. They may only need a small amount of additional support to complete their work seamlessly.

“The misconception is the assumption that people with disabilities will be a large cost to the company and won’t be worth the expense, which isn’t true.”

Unique challenges and opportunities of driving inclusion

The biggest challenge around disability inclusion that is stopping some businesses in Uganda is the focus on the cost of changing infrastructure. Lots of companies have started to adapt their buildings to make them more disability-inclusive, for example by building ramps, adapting doors and light switches, and offering reserved parking spots. The major concern around these changes for some companies is that they are prohibitively expensive. What’s important is that they are reminded that it’s about the intent, and making sure that they are listening to the individual and the adjustments they need rather than carrying out major works perhaps unnecessarily.

In Uganda, as per the last census, people with disabilities made up 12.4% of the population. Of that 12.4%, many have degrees and are highly educated and capable, yet aren’t given the opportunity to showcase what they can do at work. There is a huge workforce of potential here. We should start by giving everyone an equal playing field in terms of employment, irrespective of whether they have a disability or not, and then deal with reasonable adjustments as and when necessary.

Practical advice for business leaders and allies

The first piece of advice I’d give to any organization when it comes to driving inclusion is to be intentional about it. Speaking about it and not actioning your words doesn’t help, and change must come from the top in terms of outlining the deliverables necessary to create an inclusive workplace. For example, at Diageo, we have a target that almost 3% of all our new hires will be people with disabilities. If it’s not measured, it won’t get done. Be clear about your targets as a company, and what you’re doing to get there.

My second piece of advice would be to seek out non-government organizations that support people with disabilities and can advise on the best strategies and way forward. Light for the World, for example, trained our senior staff on inclusive leadership and our HR teams on inclusive hiring, as well as working with us on our work placement program. You need an expert in disability inclusion to walk the journey with you.