February, 2018

Women are woefully underrepresented in the corporate workplace globally and even more so in Pakistan. As women move up the corporate ladder the disparity becomes more evident.

There are inherent biases towards the advancement of women in the corporate sector. These start from in-built attitudes where women are stereotyped in traditional roles as wives and mothers with little room for building careers. In fact, women who pursue corporate careers are labeled as aggressive, bossy and overly ambitious (read nasty). The other issue that women face is a bias towards being able to manage both home and career. Employers are wary of a high turnover with women as they feel women leave their jobs as soon as they get married and have children.
The fact of the matter is that in this day and age, there is as high a turnover of men in the workplace as women. In fact, economic circumstances as well as higher levels of education are seeing more and more women entering the corporate sector in Pakistan. The real challenge still remains of climbing up the corporate ladder to positions of higher management.

In the advertising workplace, women were traditionally employed in the creative field as copywriters, visualizers, designers, etc. However, now the trend is changing with women working in client service and marketing roles. There are women (albeit a handful) heading agencies as well as media buying houses. In the larger scheme of things, women are also being inducted in corporate boards as part of diversity drives and good corporate governance. However, the numbers are still dismal. A Business Recorder news report states that 21 out of 559 (only 4%) companies listed on the
Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) have a woman director on their boards. Research shows that businesses with women on their boards perform better and deliver higher returns than those with an all male composition. Moreover, businesses with women directors are also associated with improved decision-making and lower corruption.

On May 24, 2017, the Pakistan Parliament passed the Companies Act requiring women’s representation on public company boards in keeping with SECP


requirements. This is a welcome step in the right direction and will encourage larger representation of women on these boards. But a lot more needs to be done to deliver effective change.

So how do we build an eco-system where women are encouraged and enabled in the corporate workplace?

Firstly, the social stigma attached to women in the workplace needs to be addressed. Strong women leaders as role models need to be promoted to build a positive image of female leadership. The media can play an important role in this regard. Similarly, the projection of women on TV and in films and advertising should also sensitize audiences.

Gender equality must be made a top business priority within the corporate workplace. This will require sensitization, training, education and legislation at the very least.
There needs to be a reinforcement of policies within organisations with zero tolerance to sexual harassment in the workplace. Mentorship programs for women need to be set up. Compensation packages for women need to be equal to those of their male counterparts. Women need to know they are valued.

Education and training of women needs to be made a priority by the Government. Women are a valuable resource that is underutilized and policies and programmes to develop this resource are extremely essential.

Flexibility in working hours needs also to be encouraged to motivate more women to take up larger roles and continue their careers uninterrupted. Some inspirational women who have made it to the top in Corporate Pakistan include Musharaf Hai, CEO Loreal Pakistan, Sima Kamil, President UBL, Shazia Syed, Chairperson Unilever Pakistan, Roshaneh Zafar of Kashf Foundation, Sultana Siddiqui, President Hum TV and Dr Shamshad Akhtar, former Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, to name a few. The list has numerous other remarkable women but this is just a drop in the ocean.

Unless we build an enabling environment for women, give them equal access to opportunities and build a workplace that is fair and inclusive, we will continue to lag behind the rest of the world in realizing our true potential in the world economy.
It’s about time we let Pakistani women know that they truly matter.

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