What Women Can Do To Succeed in the Pakistani Workplace

1.3This is the last blog on my Women@Work special. Over the past weeks I shared with you a number of insights on the state of gender diversity in corporate Pakistan; what female employees want from their employers, how Pakistani companies are living up to their expectations and how they can create more female friendly workplaces. In my last edition, I focus on what women can do to succeed in the Pakistani workplace. Can’t wait? Find out now by reading our full report or watch our 4 minute summary presentation.

As part of our Women @ Work study we also interviewed 30+ successful female managers and executives across all participating companies. Although each story is different there were some striking similarities. Some highlights:

Family Support is the Cornerstone of a Female Career
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Almost all women mention that support from their spouse and family is the key to their success. Spouses have to be progressive enough not only to support them in their endeavors but also to make a larger than normal contribution to the household and in some cases take over looking after the kids to facilitate their wives to travel and fulfill the sometimes required long hours.
3.1

Mentors Help Navigate Tricky Waters
Every woman no matter how successful she has been has landed in situations that needed careful maneuvering. Mentors, either from within the company or sometimes from previous companies have been instrumental in managing these situations. All successful women interviewed could identify a person who they regard as a mentor and who have helped them through difficult career patches.

4.1Building a Network
Being able to build a strong network in the company of both female and male colleagues has paid successful women strong dividends. Networks are there to support, ask for advice, help to step in and create a larger support structure for a person to succeed. Successful female executives have stressed the importance of not letting the man run the “old boys’ network” but to go out and build a strong network in the company.

Focus on Delivering Results5.1
The most striking discovery was that all these successful women we interviewed condemned women who conformed to pre- conceived notions of a man’s view of a woman! Pakistani society cultivates strong opinions and biases towards working women and it is only your own performance that can change these views. Women should not be distracted by difficulties and should be willing to get out of their comfort zones and work in situations and jobs that make them uncomfortable and blow off everyone with their superb performance. Because at the end of the day it is only your performance that matters, not gender!

Women @ Work: What’s Next
Having completed the first ever gender diversity study in Pakistan you might be thinking ‘what next’?  We would love to hear your ideas as this is what we plan to do:

  1. We want to support companies in creating female friendly workplaces,
  2. Support women in maximizing their potential, and
  3. Understand drivers of gender diversity in more detail.

We do so because we believe that the world will become more tolerant and fair if more women have executive and leadership positions. But more importantly we do this because it just makes business sense! How so?? Read our full W@W report and find out! Or watch our 4 minute summary presentation.

– Paul Keijzer

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How To Become A Female Friendly Workplace

Today is the third blog of the Women @ Work series. We spoke about how Pakistan has a long way to go in driving gender diversity, what women are looking for and how Pakistani companies are scoring against these expectations. Today, it is all about how organizations can create a Female Friendly Workplace, a workplace that genuinely believes in the value of a more gender diverse workforce and is committed towards creating it. Our research, backed by findings from all over the world, has provided us with a clear 5 step recipe:

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Step 1: Visible and Genuine Executive Commitment
The first step is for the organization’s leadership team to be convinced that having a more gender-balanced organization is simply smart business. It is not about being politically correct, or morally doing the right thing. It gives better returns.

In doing so the executive team has to be able to focus on the long-term benefits and not be swayed by the ‘naysayers’ that focus on short term issues such as maternity leaves and all kind of other gender related performance biases. The stronger position it takes on this the more successful any gender diversity initiative will have.

The executive team has to build a business case for gender diversity, set themselves an audacious goal (like doubling the number of women in 3 years at management level), come up with a solid actionable plan with key performance indicators and then go public. The last element is important as public commitment increases personal commitment levels, as well as it creates a platform for change in the organization.

Step 2: Setting the Foundation
As soon as the executive team has made a public and genuine commitment to enhance the participation of women in their organization, the company has to set its foundations. This includes:

  • Creating policies on matters such as equal opportunities, reward and sexual harassment to solidify their commitment
  • Adjusting HR processes on hiring, development, promotions and succession planning to ensure at a minimum that gender bias is reduced and possibly that women candidates are at least included in people decisions
  • Creating a safe and female friend work place by providing facilities that ensure the safety of female staff at all times and enables them to perform to their ability
  • Helping male colleagues and specifically male line managers to become aware of specific gender related barriers and how to create a supportive and female friendly work place

Step 3: Enabling Female Employees to Combine Work and Home
Pakistani society has not progressed to a point where it is acceptable for a woman not to be a home maker. As a result she always has to be able to manage the pressures that come with managing both home and work. For companies in Pakistan to be successful in their gender diversity initiatives it is important for them to extend their support in enabling women to do so and not make it a reason for women to leave after they have gotten married or have had children.

Companies should as much as possible create flexible work arrangements and allow, if required, employees to work from home allowing them to fulfill personal commitments. This flexibility should not only be offered to women but to all employees alike as to not create a visible distinction between gender in the organisation.

This approach also applies for the matter of maternity. The more a company is able to support women during their maternity leave and upon their return to the workplace the more women will stay. Providing child care facilities will not only support women in focusing on their work and therefore be more productive upon their return it will also create a tremendous loyalty from working mothers and be a ‘attraction magnet for other working mums.

Step 4: Maximizing potential
With the foundations and enablers in place it is time to focus on providing high performing women with specific support and opportunities. This can be done in the form of:

  • Assigning executive mentors and coaches
  • Nominating women for specific training and development opportunities
  • Creating networking occasions (with other women) in the company
  • Omen talent review sessions in which the senior leadership team reviews and agrees development interventions for high performing female talent

Step 5: Influencing the Outside World
The final step is to come out in the open and use the traction and success that you have generated inside the company to influence other companies and society. This can be done through:

  • Sponsoring of gender diversity initiatives and events,
  • Specific female candidate outreach and sponsoring programs,
  • Taking ownership of specific female friendly initiatives such as:
    o– Supporting women to came back to work after a long maternity break
    o– Launching part-time work or job-sharing initiatives

By publically supporting gender diversity initiatives you will not only position yourselves as the employer of choice for female talent and positively influence your company’s reputation, but you will also be able to influence society and more specifically spouses whose support is essential for any talented woman to go out there and join the workforce.

However, be aware, you can only do this if your house is in order and females in your company are indeed recognizing you as a female friendly workplace. Based on our survey of 14 leading companies in Pakistan only two companies would be able to do that at the moment. Others still have some way to go in creating the environment where women unequivocally will recommend their company as a female friendly workplace.

Read more about our Women @ Work Study 2013 or watch the 4 minute summary presentation.

Next week is the last blog in our Women @ Work series. In this we will focus on how women can drive their own success in managing their career. Keep on sharing your views and comments!

– Paul Keijzer

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Only 2 Out Of 14 Leading Pakistani Companies Are A Female Friendly Workplace

BusinessPeopleSilhouetteWomanLast week we launched our Women @ Work Pakistan 2013 report. We had some great responses and would like to thank you for your interest and support in moving the gender diversity agenda in Pakistan forward.

One of the key objectives was to find out what women in Pakistan are expecting from their employers and how some of Pakistan’s leading companies do against these expectations. The answer was almost a Maslowian pyramid of needs, with more than 50% of all women indicating that their first and foremost concern was a safe work environment and a strict enforced sexual harassment policy. Followed by the ability to look after personal and work commitments and being given equal career and development opportunities. 

More so, than in many other societies around the world, Pakistani women are supposed to be the homemakers. No matter whether she works or not this expectation doesn’t change. Due to these expectations she is looking for an employer who can provide flexible work arrangements. This doesn’t only include the possibility to have flexible start and end timings, but also the opportunity to fulfill personal commitments during the day and maybe work in the evenings or work from home. 

So how are Pakistan’s leading companies doing? First of all, female employees of the different participating companies gave their own employer significantly different score cards with the difference between the best and the least female friendly workplace a whopping 35%. Only 2 out of the 14 leading companies in Pakistan can be described as female friendly workplaces. 

Guess which element was the largest difference between the best and the worst…guess again…No, it was commitment from their leadership team in driving gender diversity. The best company got an A+ with 87% of the female participants agreeing and the worst scoring company got an E grade with only 27% of their female employees stating their leadership visibly supports gender diversity. 

The good news was that all female employees indicated that they were happy with the safe and secure work environment their companies provided them. They were significantly less positive about their employers’ ability to provide flexible work arrangements (only 50% have some sort of flexible work arrangements, mostly flexible office hours). Another issue raised by female employees was the lack of support from companies to help women transition back to the workplace after their maternity leave. This did not only focus on the absence of physical facilities (i.e. child care facilities close to the office) but also on more subtle attitude shifts towards returning women from the line managers and employers.  

I will be back next week sharing some best practices and insights in what Pakistani companies can do to become a female friendly workplace. If you don’t want to wait till then you can read the Women @ Work Report 2013 and watch a 4 minute summary presentation

See you next week and do share what you have done this week to advance the role of female leaders in your organisation

– Paul Keijzer

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

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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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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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Are Women Their Own Worst Critics?

imagesDiving into our research and immersing into how to enhance gender diversity in Pakistan through our Engage Women initiative and the Women@Work Study, is like peeling an onion. Every time you think you have one insight, it leads to a deeper layer with even more profound insights. The more I learn, the more I go jumping from and connecting one thought to another.

While surfing the web I came across Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches initiative and was blown away by this social experiment. I don’t know who came up with the idea, but the concept of letting an artist make two sketches of the same woman, one as she sees herself and one how she is seen by a stranger, is utterly genius and mind boggling. The results were fascinating; only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful. The dove website says it all; “women are their own worst beauty critics.”

While I was thinking over on this insight, my monkey brain leaped to Sheryl Sandberg’s, Ted Talk video on Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders (she has recently translated these thoughts in her best selling book: Lean In.) In this, Sandberg explains that amongst others, one of the main reason why women progress less in the corporate world is that they are the own worst critics. According to her, when a man achieves a certain task, he screams it from the roof tops and gives high fives all around, whereas when a woman achieves a similar task, she still wonders what she could have done better.

So maybe women are not only their own worst beauty critics but also their own worst career critics. Maybe a boost of confidence is all they need, or maybe they need to see their achievements through the eyes of another. What do you think; are women getting in their own way by being too critical?

– Paul Keijzer

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Help Us Pull Unilever Over The Line

tug_of_warTwo weeks ago, Engage Women (an initiative of Engage Consulting) launched the Women@Work Study. We invited 20 companies to participate, in hopes to get better understandings and insights into what enables the participation of working women in Pakistan. To date; Pepsi, Engro, GSK, Nestle, Shell, Phillip Morris, Mobilink, Ufone, PTC, Novartis, ICI, Reckitt Benckiser and Telenor have all confirmed their participation. That’s a pretty good result! 6 companies still have to come back to us and only one company has declined…

Strangely, Unilever was the one that decided not to participate. I am surprised as I was always under the impression that gender diversity is really important to them. They were role models and pioneers, with Musharaf Hai being the first female CEO and Chairman of a multinational company in Pakistan. Even now, they have two high potential female leaders in their management team.

I know from their HR Director, Ali Zia, that they have implemented a number of work-life balance initiatives in order to support female participation and career progression within the company. Not only do they promote gender diversity in the boardroom, but are also constantly working to find a gender balance internally. They provide security-guard staffed housing for female engineers that work near their remote facilities, promote flexible working hours to benefit all managers and even have a day care center to help working mothers.

So, I am not sure what their reason is, but maybe with your help I can pull them over the line! If you are interested in understanding Unilever’s position and best practices on enhancing gender diversity in Pakistan then email me at paulkeijzer@engageconsulting.biz to sign my petition. I will collect all the responses and present them to Ehsan Malik, Unilever’s highly successful Chairman and CEO. I will try my best to convince him of Unilever’s social responsibility in this matter and to share their experience and heritage in driving the participation of women in leadership positions.

– 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

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

What Women Want … At Work

Female-workfoce-640x480There has been a lot of talk in the past about how to motivate ones employee to perform better and whether the motivational factors for women are different from those for men. The number of women being added to the workforce in Pakistan has increased considerably, enough to ask – how many of us actually make it to top ranking positions and stay there?

Employers may argue that they don’t have enough qualified and developed female employees to promote to top level positions. If that is the case, it should be the responsibility of organization leaders to invest in the female workforce and to create a corporate culture that appeals to top female performers. However, the question still remains: What appeals to the top female performers? What Do These Women Want… At Work?

According to an article by Dr. Romila Singh, “Corporate America has made huge strides in attracting top-notch female talent to their workplaces, but they rapidly lose them – not for gender-specific reasons, but gender-neutral reasons. Retention is closely tied to advancement: same for women as it is for men. What is Corporate America doing to close the revolving door for women?”

After decades of research, the question is no longer what women want or even whether their needs are similar or different from that of male employees. The question is: How do organizations ensure that they are indeed offering women the same things as they are offering men?”

Speaking to some of the top female talent in Pakistan’s corporate world, here are a few factors that came to light:

My Work Arrangements Should Be Flexible:

Flexibility is about an employee and employer making changes to when, where and how a person will work better to meet individual and business needs. Being in charge of work arrangements is something that greatly appeals to women. When balancing their personal and professional lives, women tend to favor having flexible options on how to manage their time.

According to an article I read in the economic times, written by Saundarya Rajesh, “Being able to allot some time to home-related activities even during the regular working hours, is the biggest ask from the side of the woman manager. Multiple flavors of flexible working abound – part-timing, flexi-timing, job-sharing, job-splitting, staggered work hours.”

My Work Should Be Meaningful:

In today’s world women are studying, pursuing their careers, raising children, running households and taking care of their spouses. It’s important for working women to feel and to know that what they do is meaningful. A female employee needs to feel that her time away from home and family is something that will yield her extravagant results in the future and is not going to waste. She also needs to feel that the organization depends on her and that she is valuable resource.

My Appraisal Should Be Fair:

One of the most important factors in understanding the right way to attain and retain female talent, is to understand that women don’t like to be discriminated against. The principal thought is “I am a woman, but don’t you dare hold that against me.” It’s important to note that every female in the corporate world wants to know that they are taken seriously and the playing field is leveled. A future pay raise, promotion, transfer, etc… should not be held back because the employer feels that being a woman, the employee needs to be tried and tested more.

“Never make the cardinal mistake of paying a woman less than her male counterpart.” According to Romana Khokar, Director at Engage Consulting, it is very important for a woman’s work to be appreciated by her family, colleagues should recognize the contributions and the organization should aim at consciously remove glass ceiling which prevent career progression.

Anushey Matri
(Marketing Manager, Engage Consulting)

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