Women @ Work in Pakistan : A Long Way To Go!


Seven months ago we started on our journey to find out where gender diversity stands in Pakistan. The objective of this study was to gain insight into factors that are important to working women, to identify the best practices in place to support gender diversity and also to capture statistics on female participation in leading companies in Pakistan. We had a fantastic response and over 1000 females from 14 corporations across Pakistan participated.

Our Women @ Work 2013 report is now available. We will share with you the highlights through my blog posts over the next four weeks, but if you don’t want to wait you can read it now by downloading the full report or watch the 4 minute Women @ Work Presentation by clicking here

Many executives both men and women ask me: Paul is it really necessary to focus on bringing in more women, is it not about who is best suited for the job.  And of course the answer is that you should not appoint women if they don’t have the right skill set, knowledge, experience and attitude to perform in a role. However, in a situation where both a male and female candidate are equally qualified, our research shows that women are 8% more energized to go the extra mile, 7% more likely to stay with the organization and 10% more female employees would recommend their organization as a place to work for their friends, than their male colleagues.

So where does corporate Pakistan stand on gender diversity? The picture currently is bleak at its best. According to the World Bank, Pakistan falls in the bottom ten countries with regard to women in the workforce. Our study showed that only 10% of the employees in participating companies are females and only 5% of them are in leadership roles as opposed to the 25% recommended by gender diversity advocates and governments alike. 

But not all hope is lost! With increasing realization of importance of gender diversity, multinationals have started putting pressure on their Pakistani operations to improve gender balance and are setting an example for local companies too. Progressive Pakistani companies are also taking the lead in creating opportunities for and facilitating women to progress in their careers. Companies just need to remember that hiring and nurturing the best is the only key to success!

Next week I will be sharing what women expect from their employers and how Pakistani companies are living up to their expectations.

You can download our Women @ Work 2013 report or watch our 4 minute presentation here.

– Paul Keijzer

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Managing Office Gossip

gossip-webAs an HR Director I was once the gatekeeper for a lot of sensitive information and was always amazed at how fast, widespread and accurately gossip spreads. Studies from the 60s (although I don’t know whether this is still relevant as that sounds like a lifetime ago) show that more than 75% of the details in gossip are correct.

Why People Love To Gossip
According to Frederick Koenig, a sociologist and author of Rumor in the Marketplace: The Social Psychology of Commercial Hearsay, people listen to and pass on a rumor because it satisfies an inner need. This is why understanding the nature of the people involved is key. According to Koenig, different people have different needs that lead to their reasons behind passing along gossip.
Rumors …

  1. … can circulate because the topic is interesting or a source of diversion.
  2. … can pull together events and fill in the gaps to make sense and provide explanations for what is going on.
  3. … can validate and support a point of view.
  4. …can reconcile one’s psychological state with what one sees as actually going on. (Studies show people who have high anxiety frequently participate more in the rumor process and groups in stressful situations have more rumor activity.)
  5. … are a means of getting attention.
  6. … are ways of manipulating situations. The idea of individuals or groups deliberately starting a rumor to serve selfish ends is frequently suggested.

The Grapevine Is On 24/7
It is the informal communication highway and it works 24/7; in company buses, cafeterias, hallways, meeting rooms, bathrooms and water coolers. But don’t think it stops when the office closes down. Nowadays, more often than not the grapevine really comes to life through Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network platform. It never stops and most of the time it is much faster and more direct than the organized formal communication methods that companies rely on. (You won’t see anything scandalous written in an office memo, but what employees communicate from desk to desk would shock you.)

Benefits of Gossip
Of course gossip and the infamous grapevine that carries the gossip can have both positive and negative consequences for the organization. The negative is that the grapevine can carry all kinds of misinformation and create insecurity in individuals. There are, however, also a number of benefits. The simple fact that people are talking about the organization shows that they are interested in what is going on with the company (as a leader you should get worried if employees stop discussing the company as it shows that they are not engaged). The benefit is that gossiping allows employees to express their feelings (both positive and negative) rather than keeping it bottled up.

How to Manage the Downside of Gossip
Of course, when the going gets tough and difficult messages have to be communicated (for example: downsizing, re-locations, or organizational changes) the grapevine works at its best and the consequences are most likely the most detrimental. In these cases as a leader you have two options (1) share as much as possible as soon as possible, even if not everything is clear and decided or (2) share information once when everything is decided and clear. The advantage of the “ASAP approach’ is that you let people in on what is happening with the downside being that things can change over time and you might be increasing their insecurities (as not everything is clear). Telling people when everything is clear is of course the flip side of the same coin. Although here, the biggest negative is that you are unable to formally influence the grapevine as you have not communicated anything and have left it up to others to exaggerate or downplay (as any piece of gossip can turn). Both approaches have their time and place.

How To Manage The Grapevine
First and foremost is accepting that the grapevine is always on and can’t be stopped. You can try to ‘kill’ it in one situation, but I bet you it pops its head into another soon. The best way to manage the grapevine is to:

  1. Make sure you inform employees as quickly and fully as possible of what is going on in the company. Use social media and the formal communication channels available to you. Remember the key mantra in communicating to employees is: Communicate, then communicate more and if you think that you have communicated enough, double your efforts.
  2. Listen to the rumors and decide what are facts and what is biases. If, as a leader, you are in tune with the grapevine you get a feel of what is really happening in the company and you can use this as influence.
  3. Act fast. If rumors are wildly incorrect then make sure you come out ASAP to set the record straight by proactively communicating to all employees. Otherwise, distorted half-truths will make the rounds — so nip these destructive rumors in the bud.

Learn to love the grapevine. Don’t get jumpy if ‘secret’ information is out there. Simply accept and try to use it to your benefit.

– Paul Keijzer

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Democratic Enterprise

ballot_box_my_vote_ssk_37571284There are two things that I love about elections. Firstly, everybody is equal. Everybody has one vote, no matter how rich, poor, educated or illiterate they are. Whether they are from the north or south, male or female, everybody has only one vote.

The second thing I love about elections is that it is an opportunity for people to vote for the person that they believe will help them build a better future. For people to believe in political leaders, the candidates have to rise tall in front of the nation, explain what they stand for and what they will do to make those changes happen. They are criticized, scrutinized, challenged and pushed to the limit. However, as a result of all this, people get to know the candidate and how he or she may or may not be their best representative.

Although I think there are some interesting similarities that you can draw with companies (one I have touched upon earlier in CEO Elections), one parallel that I wish leaders of companies would learn from is the communication aspect of elections. Can you imagine the engagement of the whole company, from senior managers to the peon, if leaders in the organization spent the same amount of time as political leaders, in explaining their vision and strategy of the company. If leaders were to allow themselves to be challenged and analyzed then they can come up with a blueprint of the future that everybody in the company strongly believes in and is committed towards.

I have only met a few leaders who actually do this. Safaraz Siddiqui, Managing Director of DHL Pakistan, has spent a lot of time discussing and jointly agreeing with colleagues the way forward for his company, and through this was able to transform DHL (and became the Best Place to Work in Pakistan in the process.) Lynda Gratton, the London Business School Professor wrote one of my favorite books called the Democratic Enterprise in which she “built a roadmap for companies to Liberate their Business with Freedom, Flexibility and Commitment. It delivers the blueprint for a business built on choice and commitment, a business people would choose to work for”.

What do you think? Can you set your company on the path of becoming a Democratic Enterprise?

– Paul Keijzer

Change From The Inside Out

Mind-Set-Pieces1The Women@Work Study aims to understand what would help enhance female participation in the Pakistani workforce. Apart from the survey, in which we will ask female employees of participating companies to fill in a questionnaire as well as HR departments to share their best practices, we will also conduct one-on-one interviews with working women. The power of these interviews is to understand real life scenarios that you can’t always capture through surveys and focus groups.

I have come to understand that all the following things are important to working women: commitment from the top, supporting gender diversity, organizational support in the form of specific facilities, coaching and networking, ability to manage your work timings and support from family and the society. However, one thing has also become clear and that is the importance of the mindset and bias that leaders, line managers and colleagues have. All the policy papers and communication material can look fantastic, but if the person you work with is not able to understand and empathize with what is required for a woman to work in Pakistan, then you will still end up with the shorter end of the stick.

A woman who recently left a ‘what we thought was a progressive and female friendly workplace’ shared with us that although all the facilities were there and she really needed to work, she could not take her working environment anymore. Ever since she had become a mother, her line manager had taken away all the ‘exciting assignments’ and given it to young and upcoming trainees. She was given mundane tasks far below her capability as a line manager and after two years she has decided to resign.

It is one thing to have a biased male boss but it is even worse if, as a woman, you have a biased female boss. An example of this is a woman, who in line with the company policies, has reduced her work timings but her female line manager is not agreeing to this stating that “I have been able to do it, so you should be able to do it as well.”

Improving the gender balance and retaining women in the workforce will require more than good intentions, a few role models, beautiful statements and the right policies. At the end it requires people to change from the inside out, men and women alike.

What is your story? Have you seen the need for change?

– Paul Keijzer

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Is Following Your Passion Overrated?

follow-your-passionIn October I wrote a blog called “Do What You Love or Love What You Do” in which I talked about finding the right balance between three intersecting spheres: (1) What are you interested in? (2) What can you be the best in the world at? (3) What lifestyle is important for you?

The first two spheres, pitch skills against passion, and over the last couple of decades passion has been winning over skills. This come from assuming that if you are passionate about something you will learn to be good at it.

The problem however, is that a majority of people don’t have an inbuilt passion for something when they are at the start of their career. Kids, for example, change what they want to become rapidly, from an airline pilot or astronaut, to a footballer. When they realize that they don’t have the required skills to be the best footballer in the world, they change their minds and want to become engineers, doctors or accountants. As a result of students not being clear about their own interests, many follow the footsteps (or are influenced by the practical advice) of their parents.

Recently in an interview with Eric Barker, one of my favorite bloggers, Cal Newport (who wrote the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love) says “Long-term career satisfaction requires traits like a real sense of autonomy, a real sense of impact on the world, a sense of mastery that you’re good at what you do, and a sense of connection in relation to other people. Now, the key point is those traits are not matched to a specific piece of work and they have nothing to do with matching your job to some sort of ingrained, pre-existing passion.

He advises “to abandon the passion mindset which asks “What does this job offer me? Am I happy with this job? Is it giving me everything I want?” Shift from that mindset to […] “What am I offering the world? How valuable am I? Am I really not that valuable? If I’m not that valuable, then I shouldn’t expect things in my working life. How can I get better?“ Newport calls it the craftsman mindset.

This idea connected with me. A craftsman hones his skills, keeps at it, pushes his limits, learns from others, tries out new things and doesn’t give up. As a result, over time a craftsman becomes better and better at what he does.

It is likely that for most of us, passion follows craftsmanship. When we feel that we are good at something, that we can have an impact and that people recognize us for our craft – then we are more likely to become devoted to what we do.

Many of you will argue that in order to invest so much time and energy in honing your craft, you need to be somewhat enthusiastic about it. But think back to your own career start and that of the people around you. How many of them were passionate about what they were doing from the very beginning? My guess is only a lucky few.

– Paul Keijzer

Women @ Work

womenLast year I wrote a blog in which I confessed “I Am a Feminist“. Since then, Engage Consulting has launched Engage Women and has approached a number of companies to partner with us in conducting a study to identify what drives female talent in the workplace.

I am now happy to announce that we have found that partner in PepsiCo. International. Pepsi has been one of the trailblazers in Pakistan and together with a few other leading companies has been taking the lead in driving the gender and diversity agenda in the country. According to Pepsi, they have the highest female participation rate in the Pakistani FMCG industry and most likely within the corporate world.

The purpose of the study is to establish how organizations can enhance the female workforce, identify what practices others have introduced that have had an impact, to get a benchmark on the number of females working in organizations and how women rate their own company on efforts to enable female workforce participation. As part of the study, we will also interview a number of female role models that have made it to the top of the corporate world and ask them to share their insights into what made them successful.

I am really excited, as I am not aware of any other study currently being conducted in Pakistan on this topic and as a self-proclaimed feminist this study is something that is close to my heart and which my team and I really want to drive forward. We will use the launch of the Women @ Work Study to introduce a number of other initiatives from our Engage Women platform. We plan to share data, build connections, introduce career advice forums and develop a network for working women in Pakistan.

At the moment we will focus our study specifically on a number of leading companies in Pakistan to establish what works and what doesn’t work for talented women in moving their career forward.

I know of one female CEO of a multinational in Pakistan and she, Musharaf Hai, is an exciting example for many aspiring Pakistani women out there. We need to make sure that more and more women will follow in her example. Join us, participate and help women succeed in the workplace.

I would love you to help. Join our Facebook Page, keep connected through Twitter or reach out to Anushey Matri (anushey@engageconsulting.biz) if you are interested in more information, would like to identify female role models to share their experiences, or if you have ideas (and maybe want to help put them in action) to move the female participation agenda forward.

– Paul Keijzer

Are You Being Bullied By Your Boss? Bully Back!

02-bullying420-420x0During our careers we all come across them; bosses that are difficult to deal with or worse, bosses that are simple bullies. They push you into a corner, don’t listen, don’t give you an opportunity and are only driving their own agenda. I don’t have to explain the impact that these bosses have on the workplace. Disastrous!

All our defense mechanisms go up to ‘survive’ a bullying boss and all the conversations between employees center around ‘did you see what he / she did today?!’. Not particularly the signs of a healthy and high performing workplace.

I had my fair share of bullying bosses and overtime I have become more adept in dealing with such people. The turnaround came, when after months of being bullied by the boss of my boss, I was against the ropes and had basically given up. I was unable to do my job and didn’t want to be part of the organization any more as it had such a negative effect on my happiness and performance. That is when I decided to move on and move past his behavior.

A funny thing happens when you make such a decision, your attitude completely changes and what first impacted you negatively suddenly is not important anymore. The same happened with me, I simply didn’t care what his problem was and whenever my bully boss started to deploy his abrasive techniques, they no longer had the intended impact. You know what happened… the bullying boss stopped bullying me. He had realized that his technique didn’t work anymore and I didn’t have to quit the job that I loved.

I had gained a valuable lesson, the best way to deal with a bullying boss is to bully back with maturity. Two things happen: by having a mindset that you will not be affected by actions of others, the impact of their actions will disappear. Secondly, the one thing that a bullying boss respects is a person that stands their ground.

Of course you have to stand your ground and push back in the right way, you don’t want to stoop as low as your bullying boss. Psychology Today published a number of strategies on how to deal with a difficult or bullying boss:

1. Be Pro-active: Anticipate how your boss might react to a certain proposal and have an action plan if he behaves the way you anticipate.

2. Be Prepared: Prepare your different responses beforehand, think about how he might come back and prepare yourself for those as well

3. Be Professional: Never lower yourself to the level of the bullying boss. Keep the moral high ground, follow proper procedures

4. Be Persistent: Keep in it for the long run, your boss and his behavior are not going to change overnight, don’t let your guard down and continue to be prepared at any turn.

If you have tried everything and you continue to be at the receiving end of a bullying boss you do have the opportunity to follow a formal complaint procedure within the organization. A good friend of mine, who after trying different techniques to stop his bullying boss (and having seen two of his colleagues quit), decided to take his problem to the companies ethics committee. He was courageous enough to go through the procedure despite significant pressure from his peers and other line managers to let it go. At the end, the company decided that the bullying boss was not acting in line with the company values and decided to let him go. My friend is still working at the organization and is doing a wonderful job. The bully has moved on, hopefully he has learned from this experience and has changed his approach. Maybe, but not likely though…

Bullies often remain bullies and the best way to deal with them is to have the courage to stand up against them. Do so, without turning into the thing you hate, and watch your workplace experience drastically change.

How many of you have encountered such issues in your organizations?

– Paul Keijzer

They Like You, They Like You Not!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen it comes to hiring talent, organizations tend to look for employees who are dynamic, impressive and will contribute positively to the future of the company. However, as leaders of these organizations, how do you know if these dynamic individuals will be choosing you when they graduate from college?  Are you their first choice? Do students aspire to work for you? Do they like you…or not?

To help you answer these questions, Engage Consulting is in the process of conducting, the Most Preferred Employer Study 2013. This study is specially designed to help organizations understand the employment preferences of graduating students across Pakistan. What do these students want when it comes to finding a job? Who is their most preferred employer, most preferred industry? What benefits are they most interested or attracted to? The aim of the MPE is to focus on student’s first choice preferences, to collect data from Business, IT and Engineering students from the leading universities of the country and to help organizations understand what it takes to be the employer of choice in the talent market.

Working alongside Pakistan’s top universities, while partnering with graduating students to help collect survey responses, Engage Consulting will be helping students by giving them a voice and aiding  future employers understand the deciding factors behind what attracts fresh graduates to their desired organizations. Universities also benefit by partnering with Engage Consulting, as they have an opportunity to improve on their career development services and be recognized as a progressive university in the job market, by supporting our research.

In today’s highly competitive global economy, attracting and retaining talent is the key to success. There is a substantial and rapidly expanding body of evidence that speaks to the strong connection between employee perceptions (the people), organizational functioning (the processes) and the economic results achieved (the performance). Organizations that adopt ‘people centered’ practices can see immediate effects that can be translated into a markedly improved competitive advantage.

What factors do you think make your organization a desired work environment for graduating students? To find out what Engage Consulting uncovers about the leading characteristics that drive students to choose an employer of choice, stay tuned to read the highlights report from our findings.

Written by: Anusha Bawany
This author is the Marketing Coordinator at Engage Consulting

Disruption To Business: Did You Strike Out?

imagesSo far in 2013, Pakistan has seen numerous strike days and days in which, due to security reasons, mobile phone networks were shut down. No matter what the reason is for the strike (and I have full sympathy for the reason behind the strike that struck Karachi this week) the consequences and disruption to businesses are severe.

Unfortunately, living in Pakistan we have learned to deal with security threats and strikes. The normal modus operandi is for employees to stay home, as they are either unable to leave their residences (as whole neighborhoods are in lock down) or want to make sure that the situation in the city is safe and their lives are not in jeopardy.

Of course safety of lives and property is sacrosanct and businesses make sure that as a result their operations, and of course bottom line, is accepted. I often ask myself, is that how it is supposed to be? Are businesses and their owners the ones that should take the biggest burden of strikes?

I have been struggling with this question ever since I came to Pakistan. Of course as an HR Director and now as an Entrepreneur, personal safety is priority number one and I left it to employees to assess their circumstances and make the decision whether they would come in to work or not. Employees often took the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach and stayed home more than they came to the office. I sometimes wonder, is the situation such that prohibits people from coming to work, or are they just using the always famous ‘my driver couldn’t come today’ excuse.

I had been trying to come up with a balanced approach that would equally distribute the consequences of strikes across employees and employers. I had never been able to find the right middle ground until I visited a client in Dhaka last week. Bangladesh has a similar penchant for calling strikes for big or small issues. It’s the favorite political arm wrestling game. Businesses there have responded differently to the frequent ‘hartals’ (strikes). However, my client’s business didn’t stop because of the unrest. The company has adapted and found various solutions around these issues. For example, they had set up a whole system to transport foreign visitors and expats in ambulances to and from the office.

-1Furthermore they have developed a policy in which employees are given the following options:

  • If there is a strike you have the responsibility to come to the office
  • If you are not able to come to the office or if you think it is not safe to do so, you are obliged to work on a weekend day
  • If this is not possible then you have to take a personal holiday day
  • If you have consumed all your holiday days then you can apply to work from home

I think such a policy would make more sense as it puts a level of responsibility on the employees and balances the consequences of situations that neither employer nor employee can influence. We can debate whether the ‘work from home’ option should be the only solution, but organization leaders and employees should have a discussion on the topic as to not just let the employers take the brunt.

Let me know what is happening in other countries in these situations.
As always, I am open to your views!

– Paul Keijzer