With dozens of large-scale studies linking workplace diversity with improved business performance, there should be no doubts about the dire need of bringing more women into the corporate fold.
How women and men bring different perspectives to the workplace and complement each other in overall business processes is making organisations place a greater focus on an inclusive workplace culture.
A common finding of all diversity-related surveys is that an uneven playing field between women and men comes at a significant economic cost as it hampers productivity and weighs on growth. Women in leadership roles, specially, drive greater financial returns as is evident from the data of firms with more gender-equal corporate boards.
The IMF staff calculations also find that closing the gender gap in developing countries with respect to gender equality could increase GDP by an average of 35 percent. McKinsey’s study on gender diversity also suggests that companies with diverse executive teams were 21 per cent more likely to outperform less diverse businesses.
Women constitute about 49% of Pakistan’s population and only 15% are a part of the corporate workforce. But what is stalling women’s greater participation?
Therefore, it is not just the ethical sound of including more women in the corporate culture that makes diversity important; it is the practical business benefits that women bring of being included in the socioeconomic cycle. Yet, companies the world over are struggling to translate their diversity commitments into meaningful progress as per the latest stats. In Pakistan too, women’s corporate workforce participation does not reflect the demographic composition of the country’s labour force and population.
But organisations in Pakistan are putting in greater efforts to add more women to the workplace which translates to positive change in sight with increasing awareness of diversity at work.
The importance of inclusion is also continually highlighted on various Pakistani business forums; the collaboration of Pakistan Business Council (PBC) with International Finance Corporation (IFC) to help improve employment opportunities for women in Pakistan is one instance. Recognised for its efforts towards empowering women at work, Telenor Pakistan won the Employer of Choice Award for Gender Balance in March 2018.
“The reason Telenor Pakistan is one of the top contributors to establishing benchmarks for diversity and inclusion is because of our unique approach to it,” said Lene Gaathaug, Chief Human Resource Officer at Telenor Pakistan. “Becoming one of the best places to work in Pakistan isn’t some accolade that came to us overnight; we had to work hard for it and continue to do so with global best practices in mind,” she added. According to Lene, inclusion and diversity is a continuous process that you work at every day, just as you do on your health and happiness. “The key is to make it a part of your corporate culture and not treat it as a window dressing or buzzword shared on the website and in boardroom conversations.”
A local survey on gender diversity in Pakistan’s business sector tells that many companies have gender diversity as one of their top business goals, however, they face hurdles in attracting female employees.
“When it comes to organisational dynamics, it is crucial for females to have equal opportunities and a level playing field as their male counterparts,” shares Sara Agha from the Commercial Team at Telenor Pakistan. “When seeking employment, women look for a safe working environment, fair and equal treatment from senior management, equal opportunity to grow, support in child care, and flexible work hours to better manage family and job commitments. Telenor is one of the very few companies that offer this much.”
“As an expectant mother, I was faced with some rare and high risk complications with potential impact on my child’s health.” shares Saleha Zafar from the Corporate Affairs team at Telenor Pakistan. “Doctor advised me complete bed rest which meant taking a break from work. But in addition to the flat six-month maternity leave policy, Telenor allowed me an additional six-month work-from-home time during which I was part of the operations virtually. Thanks to this flexibility that I was able to continue my job and give birth to a healthy child. Now the on-site daycare facility is allowing me to focus on my work better knowing that my daughter is under good care,” she adds.
All women who want to pursue their career in fields that are stereotyped as male driven should have greater opportunities to explore and excel in these domains.
“Technology is the key enabler in this information age which has paved way for a lot of opportunities in progressive companies for all prospects,” said Amena Shakil, Senior Expert on Digital Telco Solutions at Telenor Pakistan who is the project head for the company’s recent technological innovations. Further Amena added “However organizations at large are still required to have that diverse & professional culture which particularly support career growth for females. Telenor has been at the forefront to provide equal opportunities for all & particularly for females in Tech by developing a culture of innovation to explore new avenues on the digital front”.
Amena says that organizations need to learn that the way a man works a woman doesn’t and she needs her space and flexibility to grow professionally.
Talking about the benefits of diverse teams, Osman Ahmed, HR Business Partner at Telenor Pakistan said, “It is extremely important and enriching to have diverse teams. Apart from obvious benefits of increased creativity and added perspective, decision-making in diverse teams is balanced and more people-centric because, at the end of the day, we’re all our customers and employees. Our experience has shown that potential is realized when individuals are empowered in their jobs and our focus on making our workplace more diverse and creating growth opportunities for women has really paid dividends for the organization.”
Pakistan’s agriculture sector is a key example here where digital intervention is empowering women and helping them improve their agricultural practices, and raise healthier and happier families.
“Women’s participation in Pakistan’s agriculture is over a whopping 70% of the female workforce in the country and this sector holds a great opportunity to be facilitated through digitalisation,” said Irum Hamid, mAgri Women Engagement Consultant at Telenor Pakistan. “They are receptive to technology, new learning and a considerable 10% of the active users of our mAgri service Khushaal Zamindar comprised of women farmers. This is why we decided to launch a women-targeted version of the service with additional advice on household management and family rearing,” she added.
Tech interventions are empowering women and girls in other ways too. Through Easypaisa’s collaboration with the BISP (Benazir Income Support Program), millions of female beneficiaries have been rid of traditional, tiresome ways of entitlement collection and replaced with digital cash disbursement through the solution.
Similarly, through the revolutionary Digital Birth Registration program in collaboration with UNSECO, Telenor Pakistan has simplified registration of new births providing young girls and boys access to basic amenities of life they are denied being unregistered.
“At Telenor Pakistan we aim at providing new and innovative solutions with the aim of social development and betterment", commented Habiba Sardar from the Sustainability Team. "This inclusive approach goes beyond the walls of our organisation where female inclusion means a far-reaching social enablement that empowers them to contribute more towards the socioeconomic development of their families and the country.”
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