Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Creating ‘Equal’ Spaces

Creating woman-friendly networking spaces.
Updated 26 Apr, 2024 12:04pm

Ever pondered why men seem to have smoother paths up the corporate ladder compared to women? It’s not because women lack ambition or competence. In Pakistan, the female literacy rate stood at 60% in 2019–20, according to the UN Women National Report on The Status of Women in Pakistan 2023. Globally, the numbers are higher, as is the number of women in leadership positions. Yet, within Pakistan’s corporate realm, only a scant few women hold executive positions. They are so few in number that, depending on the field you are in, you would know the names of those who have made it to the C-Suite level.

So, what’s holding them back? They face more hurdles at each step. One of these is the opportunity (read: freedom) to utilise networking opportunities or the ability to be at the right place at the right time to get a shot at moving ahead. Picture this: corporate gatherings are usually dominated by male voices, be at buzzing smoking lounges or local chai spots. Amidst this sea of suits, women are a rarity, often having to seek solace in each other’s company.

The reasons behind this absence of women are not complex. Women juggle familial responsibilities alongside their careers, especially in cultures like ours where caregiving responsibilities are primarily seen as part of a woman’s domain. Then there is the transportation dilemma: who will drive you, or if you drive yourself, are you allowed to attend networking events solo? The time and venue of these events make a huge difference as well. Due to societal norms, women may be unable to participate in after-hours networking events or informal gatherings where important connections are often forged.

At ‘Investing in U’ a mentoring pop-up organised by the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) in collaboration with Unilever Pakistan and Circle Women, a similar question was asked. ‘Why are women left behind?’ questioned the chief human resource officer at one of Pakistan’s leading e-commerce brands. The event was aimed at fostering connections between aspiring women professionals and industry leaders. Despite a room full of women sharing their perspectives, the speaker’s response boiled down to one phrase: ‘build your brand.’ But do all women have access to the same avenues to cultivate their brand? Not quite. Some are tied by domestic duties, while others lack education or the financial means for what are now considered basic necessities like internet access or a laptop.

The question remains: are industries providing equal visibility opportunities for women? Equity is possible when those in leadership positions recognise the many hurdles women face. There’s a pressing need for institutional reform, where policies ensure equal opportunities for women to be seen and heard beyond just Women’s Day events. Because there is clearly a thirst for it, 950 women registered for the mentoring pop-up held in March, but only 300 were accommodated due to space constraints. Among them were students, early-career professionals, and women ready to re-enter the workforce after a career break. These overwhelming numbers emphasise the fact that through concerted efforts challenging existing norms, dismantling systemic barriers, and creating more inclusive environments, women too can shine in the right place and at the right time.

Nisma Chauhan is a freelance journalist and head of corporate communications, OICCI.