KARACHI: While most speakers at the day-long International Women Leaders Summit on Wednesday agreed that corporate culture for women had generally improved in the country over time, a strong difference of opinion emerged during different panel discussions as to whether gender bias still existed in boardrooms across Pakistan.
“We didn’t face any gender bias in the past 22 years. Not even once. In fact, female managers can get away with a lot more than their male counterparts in our society,” said Safinaz Munir of Sana Safinaz, a leading fashion brand, during a panel discussion titled “Local entrepreneurs success stories: Can local go global.”
Agreeing with the view of Munir, businesswoman Saulat Salahuddin, who runs an international promotional products company, said she never felt the need to play the gender card. “I received tremendous support from everyone. Women can do all that men can do. And a lot more,” she said, adding that women should simply stick to strong work ethics and remain steadfast in their professional careers.
However, their views were in contrast to the general consensus among the participants of another panel discussion titled “Role of business organisations to promote gender diversity.”
“The reason few women get to the top of a corporation is that the entire corporate structure is built around the way men lead their lives,” said Engro Corporation Limited President Asad Umar.
He said annual performance appraisals were originally devised keeping in view the corporate leaders of that time. “Who were those executives? They were 99% men. So there’re structure biases in the way we appraise performance of female employees,” he said.
Umar said diversity in boardrooms always led to better decision-making. He called for “constructive engagement” of the corporate sector with NGOs like Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASHA) to get rid of the harassment element at workplace.
Speaking on the occasion, Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) President Mian Abrar said the participation of businesswomen at KCCI increased phenomenally in the past eight years. “KCCI is the 8th largest chamber of commerce and industry of the world. Yet the role of businesswomen was almost non-existent from 1934 to 2004.”
Saying that two out of eight board members of his company were women, GlaxoSmithKline Pakistan CEO Salman Burney said it was about time gender stereotypes were done away with. He said women should draw inspiration from global and Pakistani corporate leaders and overcome the barriers to growth that restricted their success in the business world.
Addressing the summit, Pepsico’s country manager for Pakistan and Afghanistan Jehanzeb Qayyum Khan said female representation in the company at the global level was low until 10 years ago. Khan said Pepsico had only one female employee when he joined the company 13 years ago. “Today, our worldwide CEO is a woman. The head of our Asian Pacific business is also a woman. 30% of our employees are women and 25% of employees in senior positions are also women.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2012.