It has been noticed that in Pakistan, women have taken multitude of leadership roles and have overcome the barriers of illiteracy, poverty, violence and discrimination. Yet, the low presence of women at top positions needs attention.
More and more companies are now focusing on gender diversity but they would risk misalignment with potential outcomes, if the answers are negative to any of the following for their women focused initiatives:
- Apart from networking, do these gender diversity programs aim to achieve other objectives such as engagement, performance improvement, personality development, skills development, or leadership development?
- Have you noticed considerable improvement in women’s confidence levels after participating in these initiatives?
- Are you confident that women at your organization are comfortable, more welcome, and higher performing at senior levels compared to other organizations?
- Do you think there are sufficient managers who report strong positive outcomes for female employees participating in these programs?
Even at multinational corporations in Pakistan, the progress of women in senior leadership roles can be likened to an hourglass. Women make up a large number of entry-level positions, but often see waning representation at management levels. Top executives will have to recognize that a more balanced management team could help drive success in business.
Empowering women not only improves the well-being of women and their families but also lead to broader social changes. Our culture and societal norms play a significant role in shaping women’s career decisions but if organizations tend to focus targeted development programs to upskill female staff by addressing systemic issues of leadership perceptions, family support, and career progression, it can create a solid impact on women’s advancement to key positions.
The improvement in taking women leadership to the next level includes two fold commitment; while the big organizations should have strict check on board diversity, adopt an explicit diversity policy, the real change will be driven by employees themselves and women leaders within the organizations.
Building a strong pipeline of women leaders should be laser focused. The HR departments in both local and multinational organizations should be able to interact with the self of their women employees. In Pakistan, majority of the times, all through her life, a woman attempts to present a self in the world which is rejected over and over again. It panics the woman for not having a self that fit and this thought of self being rejected starts defining her with hopelessness. As the woman steps into her career, it is equally important for organizations to let her evolve from anxiety to confidence. In our part of the world, women have wings to fly, but it’s just that they are not aware of the function of wings or may be existence of wings in the first place.
Organizations working towards diversity programs should understand that One- Size Fits All kind of career opportunities will not bring the desired changes to accelerate the number of women leaders in the organization. Firstly, they should appreciate the privilege of having women employees in the bloodstream of the organization and then marvel at what comes next. Simple awareness is where it begins.
We have to get out of denial, stop looking for good people and focus on real people. We should stop claiming to be supporter of diversity if we don’t mean it truly n really. Let me give you an example of a “Lady Pilot”. The moment its announced that a lady pilot will be doing a flight… you hear biased voices acknowledging the achievements of women. And then the flight takes off and there comes a little turbulence….these few minutes of bumpy flight brings out our real colors. We would doubt the efficiency, the expertise of this lady pilot immediately, although there had been many a times that our flights encounter turbulence with Mr. Pilot in the cockpit… we have never questioned the confidence of the male driver. Now, here’s the problem… if you ask people, they would say “Female pilots are awesome”, but it appears that when things get funky and a little troublesome , a little risky, we lean on a bias that we didn’t even know that we had.
You know, fast moving planes in the sky, we want a guy; leading big organizations, we want a guy; senior marketing leaders, we want a guy; critical surgeries at hospitals, we want a guy. That’s our default? Men does it right… that’s the default setting we have embedded in our own selves. What is the point for organizations to invest on diversity when their default setting would not support the women to excel.
So many amazing women, those who are the most amazing queens and political leaders that have ever lived, brave soldiers, awesome hardworking laborers. These are the women who are incredible scientists and artists and writers. They are dynamic comedians. They are doting grandmas, caring daughters. They are strong mothers and they are young women with dreams of their own.
Organizations & institutions in Pakistan and across the globe got to take our lovely intelligent women as our future and strive to build a transparent and healthy pipeline of women in leadership roles. We have to tell our women employees that they have a workplace with incredible opportunities to grow, that their hard work had made some progress but they are yet not done. They still have to struggle through the old challenge of men superiority & greater acceptance. We have to strengthen the beliefs of our women employees that their workplace is acknowledging their work and preparing them for the next level of growth without gender discrimination and that we expect our women employees to be part of the forces of change and will evolve as exceptional leaders.