By: Myra Iqbal
ISLAMABAD: Patriarchal bias, woven into the fabric of social order, is beginning to come undone. Organisations, it seems, are finally beginning to recognise the corporate might of the woman.
“Women are intrinsically loyal,” shares Sadia Haroon, an HR consultant at a Karachi-based company. “They are more inclined to stay at their jobs, provided their needs are met.”
The Women@Work report, the first-ever study of gender diversity in Pakistan’s corporate sector, launched by Engage Consulting earlier this month, reinforces this embryonic, though notable shift in the number of women that make up the workforce.
According to the report, women are: 7% more likely to stay with their company, 8% more energized to outperform their targets and 10 % more likely to recommend the organisation to their friends. However, in order to achieve these successes, women need to be motivated through greater support from their organisations.
Currently, women occupy only 5% of corporate leadership positions in Pakistan, compared to 12% in Europe. This reflects a deep-seated partiality towards male-dominant work environments where the hesitancy to hire females stems from the experience that socio-cultural pressures will more often discourage working-women whose roles as wives, and then mothers, take precedence over their career goals.
For Sadia, the answer is simple: “Daycare facilities. Most women will not leave their jobs if they knew that their children will be looked after while they are working.”
“Unfortunately, only three of the fourteen companies we interviewed have this facility for working mothers,” expressed Sanober Ahmed, the driving force behind Engage Women, an HR initiative to encourage women aspiring towards leadership and management roles.
Mohsin Rahim, an assistant manager in the human resources division of a major fast-moving consumer goods organisation, feels while employee retention is a problem at large, the turnover for women tends to be higher because of social pressures.
“Facilitating female employees might be costly but it is an investment that begets long-term advantages,” he explains.
According to Rahim, flexible timings, child-care facilities and the elasticity to combine annual and maternity leave at his organisation, serve to motivate and engage working women for longer periods. “Our female workers are allowed to arrive late and take a longer lunch break if they need to drop and collect their children from school,” he shares.
Not an entirely rosy picture
However, not all is moving towards more gender inclusion. While most multinationals have a quota to ensure gender diversity, a large number of firms are less devoted to the cause. More than half of the women surveyed for the report related this lack of commitment, saying that their leadership sees little real benefit in hiring more women to balance gender ratio.
With a sprawling career in HR, Sadia, who has conducted over 18,000 interviews, holds that while women are often hired to fulfill quotas, a larger number of women feel the need to supplement household incomes. The dismal percentage of women at top-tier positions is a culmination of several problems.
“If women want to get to the top, they need to make a choice,” she expresses. This choice is often one that requires challenging societal moulds and sensitising families or in-laws towards greater support.
A chosen disparity?
According to Umer Farid, an HR manager at a telecommunications company with creditable gender diversity – including six women holding top managerial positions – male-to-female ratios at entry-level positions tend to relay healthy participation.
“Although not all women choose to forgo their careers when they get married, the talent pool reduces significantly by the time these entrants move up to top-ranking positions,” he states.
Farid believes that while there is a commitment on the part of most responsible firms to groom female employees, more often the predefined roles of women in the South Asian region tend to overwhelm these efforts.
Over a thousand female workers from 14 different organisations were selected for the study of which 92% revealed they felt secure at their place of work and a third of the interviewees felt that conditions could be further improved.