A surprise visitor
I was sitting in my office the other day sifting through lots of material – had a number of deadlines to meet – when there was a knock on the door and a young woman in a burqa walked in. She asked if I was Jehan Ara. I pleaded guilty to the charge. She said she needed to discuss something with me. I must admit to being a bit irritated because I was short on time and there was so much to do. I asked her why she hadn’t phoned and set up a time to meet. Wrong question obviously because she told me off in no uncertain terms. Said she had been trying for weeks but my mobile was turned off. I explained that I had been out of the country. Now apparently I was on the backfoot 😉
Anyway, I didn’t want to chase her away because she did look extremely worried so I told her to take a seat and tell me what it was I could help her with. She said she had a Masters in Computer Science from the Karachi University, had expertise in Oracle and had worked in a local software company for about a year and a half until their project was complete which is when they showed her the door.
She was now looking for a job and wanted my help and advice. I told her I would check with some Oracle shops to see if they were hiring. With the financial sector hit so badly I wasn’t sure if in the short term people were hiring as much as they had been earlier.
Then she asked some very strange questions which I answered very frankly but it worried me that this was the perception amongst young women who were looking for work in the IT sector. She said that she had heard that IT companies did not want to hire women. I said that was not true and that in fact the percentage of women in the IT sector had trebled in the last few years according to research conducted by P@SHA.
She looked at me a little quizzically and then asked if it was true that companies didn’t want to hire women wearing hijab or burqa. I told her to step out the door and look at the team outside. There were several women – all dressed differently – one in shalwar kameez, one in a hijab. I told her that some companies might prefer women who interacted with customers to be dressed a little more progressively but even that was not the norm. It was their brain power and expertise that companies were looking for. Since she was a programmer, I told her that her programming capabilities and her ability to work with the team and deliver on time and on budget was what was important to IT firms, not how she dressed.
She then asked, “Do you think it is because I am slightly older and I started working after taking a little time off, that I am having trouble landing a job?” I looked at her. She must have been in her late 20’s or at the most in her early thirties. I smiled and told her that I didn’t think she was over the hill – that there were many more years before she would be considered too old to be productive in an IT organization.
She then talked about the government and its lack of focus on providing a nurturing environment for young people and for their development. I let her talk and listened. It was really all I could do to help her. I promised I would check with the Oracle development houses and get back to her if there were any vacancies.
She left feeling better than when she had arrived, a little less burdened, a little more hopeful that life was not all doom and gloom for women in the workforce. How many more young people are out there who just need to talk to someone, who just need an outlet, who need some advice and guidance. What can we do to help them, to give them a fair hearing if nothing else?
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