KARACHI: It is our time as women, let’s go for it. Let’s be present. Let’s go for challenges. Let’s be ambitious.
This was Standard Chartered’s Regional Head of HR, Africa and the Middle East Millicent Clarke’s message to all women on International Women’s Day.
Women and men who are specialists in their fields conducted 30-minute master classes on their professional development journey for over 100 school girls at Runnymede, British Deputy High Commission (BDHC) in Karachi on Thursday. The event was a collaborative effort between the BDHC and Standard Chartered Bank to celebrate and promote gender equality.
With female students from the British Overseas School, Indus Academy, Foundation Public School and Bay View College in attendance, the idea of the event, according to British Deputy Head of Mission Mark Rakestraw, was to enlighten the girls and provide them access to successful women and men by exposing them to stylists, TV anchors, architects, political advisers, chief finance officers and entrepreneurs.
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The topics for the master classes were women and branding, women and leadership, women and entrepreneurship and women and finance.
“If we look at the top three positions holders in schools, they’re usually girls, but unfortunately, such is not the case in workplaces. We have to change that,” remarked Standard Chartered Chief Executive Officer Shahzad Dada, adding that it was a shame for any organisation not to take advantage of the female workforce.
Applauding the students for attending the event, Dada told them they were the future leaders, prime ministers and CEOs of the country.
British Deputy High Commissioner in Karachi and Director of Trade Elin Burns – a title as scary as it sounds, she believes – let down her guard down in a short session with The Express Tribune to discuss the importance of gender equality and her experience of living in Karachi.
One would think a woman as accomplished as Burns would always have a plan. But she didn’t and says she still doesn’t. “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” she revealed. So how did she make it?
“You have to be ambitious. You may not have a plan, but you need to be driven,” she shared with the roomful of young women.
“I never wanted to be in the foreign office. I hated the idea of being a diplomat,” Burns unexpectedly remarked. However, she loved the idea of travelling and meeting new people. Her idea of a diplomat included being boring and saying very dull lines and that wasn’t her.
Responding to a question about her change in perception of Pakistan since she joined last October, Burns said, “One of the challenges for Pakistan is that outside there are a lot of negative things said about the country and for me, one of the amazing things since arriving is seeing the sheer amount of diversity and talent people here have, women in particular.”
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Commenting on whether it is difficult being a female diplomat in Karachi, she said, “I don’t think so. I have been treated with absolute respect and kindness. I like to think of being a female diplomat as something different.”
There’s a small, but nice group of female diplomats in Karachi, Burns told The Express Tribune, taking the names of US Consul-General Grace Shelton and Italian Consul-General Anna Ruffino.
“We don’t always have enough women represented in many fields and I think you can choose to see that as a handicap or an opportunity,” she pointed out.
“In Karachi, I have not in any way experienced being treated differently because I am a woman,” she continued.
Burns emphasised the importance of educating girls and believed all individuals needed to be empowered. “Girls who are educated are likely to marry a little later. When they are economically empowered, they are likely to have better outcomes for their families. We know that in conflict situations, peace processes are more likely to succeed when women are involved,” she highlighted. It is not just equality for equality’s sake, but economically and in terms of peace and prosperity, when you engage women you have better outcomes, she said.
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“I have seen absolutely amazing women in Pakistan and been overwhelmed to see the engagement and talent of the young women I’ve interacted with so far,” Burns shared.
She believed it was important when individuals obtained positions of leadership, to share their story and struggle with others so people would see those positions as accessible. “We see people in power and put them up on a pedestal,” she said.
Giving a message to the young women of today, she said, “Be confident, be brave and be who you are and you’ll be fine.”
Talking about what it means to a woman in a position of leadership in one of the master classes, ‘women and leadership’, Clarke shared that in the beginning of her career, she wanted to prove she was the best, but soon realised she was drowning in work. Meanwhile, she noticed her male counterparts were great at delegating.
“If you can do it, others can too,” she emphasised, saying that as a leaders, we should have the confidence to say ‘I don’t know’.
“Don’t be shy to say you don’t understand something. Ask questions,” she advised. Her third tip was to know the kind of person you are.
Giving her own example, Clarke said her idea of a leader was associated with concepts of stiffness and sternness, which it is not. “Be your authentic true self,” she said, stressing on the need to concentrate on the positive aspect of any situation.
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“As you go up the ladder, be a mentor to others who want to be in your position,” she said.
Sharing a story, Clarke said, “I moved to South Africa at the time of the apartheid. I used to teach and we had separate staff rooms for whites and blacks. But I drank my tea in the room for whites. Be daring and take risks. Find the motivation to change the world.”
Answering a Foundation Public School student’s question on how a woman should deal with discouraging men at the workplace, Burns responded there are always men in the room who can be our allies, it is up to us to find them.