Women’s Leadership Conference brings together 150 businesswomen
On June 25 as I walked into the conference room of the Avari Hotel in Lahore and found myself in a room predominantly full of women, I realized that this was a very different experience from what I was normally used to. I am more at home hob-nobbing with men than with women. I didn’t quite know how I should behave or what I should say.
Having been a part of the IT industry for the last 16 years, where most CEOs are men, I have begun to understand how men operate professionally, how they react, how they network. But women are a totally different animal! 🙂
As I looked around slightly unnerved, I noticed that Shahida Saleem was just as much a fish out of water in these surroundings as I was, and so we quickly exchanged notes on how to increase our comfort level and learn from some of the most amazing women business leaders in Pakistan.
The event I am referring to is the Women’s Leadership Conference that was organized by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). Why had CIPE organized this conference? Their rationale was simple. In a country of over 170 million people with over 50% being women, only 3% are said to be involved in economic activity according to the Federal Bureau of Statistics. In addition, the Global gender gap report marked Pakistan 128th out of 10 countries followed only by Saudi Arabia, Chad and Yemen.
I am a little shaken by these statistics I must admit. There must be something wrong somewhere. I see a lot more working women today than there were five or ten years ago and the numbers are growing. In the IT industry alone the percentage has grown from 3% to 13%. Granted the glass ceiling has kept many of them from senior level management positions but even that is changing. Perhaps it is just not being documented to the extent that it should.
Anyhow, so CIPE decided to assist and has been very much involved in helping set up Women’s wings and resource centers in various Chambers of Commerce across the country resulting in bringing about 600 women entrepreneurs into the network of business associations. They have also helped in setting up women’s chambers in the Punjab. The purpose simply is for these business assoications to act as change agents and draw more women into economic activity. A noble mission indeed.
Mr. Moin Fudda, Country Director of CIPE, started off the proceedings by introducing CIPE, the concept of the Conference and by introducing some of the participants including yours truly. 🙂
Maha Rahman of Nur Concepts followed with a presentation about the women of Pakistan. This included women like Fatima Jinnah, Rana Liaquat Ali Khan, Benazir Bhutto, etc. She quoted Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah who said: “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are by your side.” According to Maha, there are at present 20% women in the workforce.
The Chief Guest was Seema Aziz who is the Chairperson of CARE and Bareeze. She is a modest and graceful woman who has achieved a great deal through hard work and because of her passion to excel. She told us that Bareeze started with the concept of creating a quality product in Pakistan. People said it couldn’t be done & even if it was, who would buy it? Such skeptics I tell you! Well, they sure were proven wrong. They now have 75 stores in Pakistan and operate in 5 countries including the Middle East and the UK. The quality of their material was so good that people questioned its authenticity – some asked if it was Pakistani, why was it so expensive; others said that it probably wasn’t Pakistani at all – that they were probably importing foreign fabric and selling it as Pakistani. Talk about conspiracy theories.
Seema said their commitment had always been to quality, to the customer and to being a “Made in Pakistan’ product although the manufacturing could have been done in China at a much lower cost. Bareeze has won the Best Quality Fabric outlet Award in the UAE and are proud of what they produce and the positive image they project of Pakistan.
As she wound up her talk, Seema Aziz was asked by CIPE to launch the CIPE Business Guide for Women – How to Start a Business. I have a copy and I think it would be equally useful for our young entrepreneurs – men or women. It was distributed to all the women who were present. If any of you would like a copy, send me your email address and I will email it to you. I am sure CIPE won’t mind. Their purpose is to assist entrepreneurs.
His presentation was quite extensive but some quotes that he mentioned stuck with me – things like:
- Leadership is accepting whatever goes wrong is my fault. Leadership is acknowledging that whatever goes right is our success.
- Leaders should be good listeners and followers.
- Leadership is being a good servant
- Leaders must inculcate a feeling of trust, a feeling of belonging
- Transformational leadership should have self-awareness, social skills, self-regulation, motivation and empathy
I wonder if our leaders are aware of all this. Perhaps a lecture could be arranged for all parliamentarians :).
Dr. Roomi also said that Social sciences research proves that women have more self-awareness and social skills and men can never have the kind of empathy that women have. Therefore women are likely to be better leaders, he said.
Ms. Despina Pascal, an International Consultant and trainer, then talked about the role of Business Associations in leadership development. She gave examples of the kind of things that had been achieved in other countries due to initiatives that were started by Business Associations.
Her talk was very comprehensive and it is impossible to replicate it all here. I am hoping that CIPE will put up the videos so that many more people can hear Despina’s talk as well as that of Dr. Roomi who interspersed his comments with poetic recitations as well as excerpts from the Quran.
Eric Hontz, one of the few men at the event, talked about some of the major initiatives that CIPE has been involved in internationally and their impact on the business sector. Some of the case studies in themselves provided food for thought.
Then followed the most interesting part of the event – the Q&A session. This gave a lot of the women present there an opportunity to comment, to share and put questions to the panelists.
I was amazed to see that the room was full of high calibre women, many of them at the top of their professions. How had CIPE been able to get them all together in one room. There were women from all over the country – Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Mardan, Multan, Faisalabad, etc.
There were also women like Daniya who is working on the USAID Empower Pakistan program. She spoke about the Gender Program and how women could benefit from it. There would be a focus on Jobs and on Performance. The program is also expected to help women in the area of Product Development. She also said that economic development and expansion is about value addition, it is about innovation, it is about product development.
Shamim Akhtar of the Lahore Chamber was in her element and absolutely delighted at the turnout. She made an offer to non members of the Chamber to come and use the Women’s Resource Center and to benefit from the advice and the facilities provided there.
Hers was not the only offer. Several women – bankers, consultants, trainers all offered their services to the women who were present at the conference – some of these were voluntary services. CIPE will circulate the offers to all participants. There was a fitness consultant who provided some useful advice to women who have multiple roles in society. They were told they had to take care of their bodies and that breakfast was fuel for the day and should not be skipped under any circumstances.
The MC for the entire conference was Sheherbano Burki, Lead Consultant at Nur Concepts, and I must say she did a terrific job. She was clear, concise, witty and in control but yet did not offend anyone – a very difficult task to achieve.
She intercepted with relevant comments and introduced as many of the diverse people in the audience as she could and yet the conference was concluded within the set timeframe. Sheherbano and her team should be congratulated for a job well done. I would like to use them for some of the things that we do in Lahore. Wonder how expensive they are ;). I guess one has to pay for quality services and should not grudgingly do so.
Before I forget, I must mention here that Badar Khushnood, Country Consultant for Google, was also at the event. Google was mentioned by several of the speakers, as being a useful tool. Of course he wasn’t allowed to sit quietly and was asked to share some stories of how technology empowered women to work remotely and thereby be a part of the economy. He quoted examples from Pakistan of young men and women who were earning considerable sums of money by harnessing the power of technology
The unique thing about this conference was that the participants constituted only professional women. They were there because they wanted to network, to create linkages. One person rightly said “We are each others markets. Why not start here?” There were many inspiring stories of women who were leading organizations in the automobile space, in shipbreaking, in banking and financial services, in the health sector, in education, in technology, in training and development, in jewellery, in fashion and textiles and in businesses like Bareeze. It felt good to be a part of such a dynamic group and to listen to some of those women talk about what they had achieved and how much further they had to go. This was not just another event to show the “soft image” of Pakistan. It was a high powered gathering of women who were there with a purpose and I feel honoured to have been a part of it. I microblogged the event and was happy that there was a lot of interest in the proceedings from bloggers and tweeples alike. I missed our live blogger Fariha Akhtar. Next time i must remember to take her along.
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