Google’s ‘Women Will Lead’ Conference, held at Avari Towers Karachi on July 5, had a stellar panel of female leaders who have proved to be unwavering powerhouses in their respective fields. From banks and media to marketing and insurance, these steel magnolias have proved their mettle and displayed fortitude despite the odds. The panel included Sima Kamil, President & CEO, UBL, Dr Ayesha Khan, CEO, Acumen Fund, Sultana Siddiqui, President, Hum Network, and Shazia Syed, CEO, Unilever Pakistan.
The Q&A session kicked off with Farhan Qureshi (Country Manager, South Asian Frontier Markets, Google) sharing his own and industry insights on diversity at the workplace and how women can help companies achieve optimum growth. Qureshi stated that Google’s philosophical underpinning is based on three key pillars: Respect the user. Respect the opportunity. Respect everyone. In his opinion women play a significant role in bringing much-needed diversity to the table. “Inclusion creates ideas,” he said, explaining that synergy between people from different backgrounds spawned groundbreaking ideas at Google. Qureshi’s insights pumped the crowd up for an equally engaging and ‘real’ conversation with the four women. The following are excerpts of a conversation with these four women.
How does gender diversity help workplaces?
Sima Kamil: If you don’t have women on your team, you are ignoring half the market! You need to have them in the workplace to be able to gauge your customers’ interests and activities.
Ayesha Khan: We switched men for women in Lagos, Kenya and Pakistan. And let me tell you, women were kicking a**! Investments went up considerably… I feel businesses are not just about making money anymore. They are about the environment, policies and the company culture – and that’s what women bring to the table.
Sultana Siddiqui: I have an ‘at least 30% women HR policy. Women today are clear-headed, artistic and patient and I have always felt that a diverse set of individuals brings out better stories for my dramas. My channel mirrors society, and for this it is extremely important to have women from different schools of thought working for me.
Shazia Syed: We make sure women in stereotyped roles (such as sales) succeed because they hold the door for future female workforce and become a source of inspiration for future female employees. We should also educate people around us to get rid of the guilt that women feel when they choose to have a career and add longevity to our careers.
What measures are you taking to facilitate women in your workplaces?
SK: Women can enter the workforce by 35; we give them that kind of leverage. We also do ‘blind hiring’ so that there is no unconscious bias.
AK: I noticed that men were earning 30-35% more than women and would ask for a raise after six months. Women never came with such requests; when they did, they were apologetic about it. Women need to ask for the things they want and not feel guilty about it. I see women holding themselves back and I tell them ‘why do you care?’
Sultana S.: I have an open door policy for everyone.
Shazia S.: We have an employee who, after having a baby, felt perpetually exhausted; now she comes in for a few hours, works on a few projects and leaves...and she has never been happier. Other organisations should customise their policies.
Why are women bosses often considered to be ‘difficult’ and ‘temperamental’?
SK: Women tell it like it is; I feel people are much more accepting and comfortable receiving feedback from a man rather than a woman. Our societal expectations have made us grow bigger egos when interacting with female bosses.
AK: Absolutely. When a man shouts he is seen as powerful but when a woman shouts the respect for her decreases. These workplace stereotypes and biases are real.
Shazia S.: We were in a meeting and things didn’t go as planned, so I calmly explained to the concerned party what I wanted for the project. On our way back, my brand manager looked at me and asked: “Why didn’t you shout at them?” That is when I realised that people expect women to scream and shout to get their point across. The key is to bring out your authentic self and that is when people start respecting you.
Do you have any tips for aspiring women leaders?
SK: I depend on my EQ more than my education; rely on your instincts and see if things will work out or not.
AK: I never pay attention to “you can’t do this, you can’t do that.” I look at something and I go for it. Also, I’m very thick-skinned. I let my skin stretch out and I don’t fear rejection.
Shazia S.: We need to get out of the victim mentality and communicate.