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Participation of women in corporate sector abysmally low, policies need major overhaul

More than 650 companies are listed at Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX), but the number of women occupying the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) can be counted on the five fingers of a hand. This looks all the more pinching because more than half of population of Pakistan comprises of females. The prevailing dismal situation can be attributed the myopic vision, which consider female an inferior breed that required handholding and patronage and on top of all should never be allowed to become the decision maker. This is not unique to the third world countries; the similar mindset also prevails in many developed countries. Gender discrimination and female harassment at work places is omnipresent. In some of the most developed countries women were given ‘voting rights’ lately. In many oil rich countries located in the Arabian Peninsula women are neither permitted to own property nor allowed to drive car.

In the Indian subcontinent Muslim women like Razia Sultana got the opportunity to rule and Queen Noor-e-Jehan was a big helping hand of Mughal ruler Humayun. During Pakistan independence moment Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah was the biggest and most trustworthy companion of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The first assail prime minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan was joined by his wife Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan. In the recent time Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto became the first lady prime minister of a Muslim country. She was elected prime minister of Pakistan twice but both the times her government was dismissed prematurely. Fahmida Mirza was elected Speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly and Shehla Raza rose to the position of Deputy Speaker of Sindh Provincial Assembly. All these ladies became icon because of the support of their family as well as their hard work, leaving male competitors far behind.

If one looks around in male-dominated society, the mourning starts with the birth of baby girl, as she is considered a big liability. Gender discrimination starts from home by girls offered inferior quality food and education. In most of the rural areas girls hardly get a chance to complete basic education. The number reduces drastically in colleges, universities and professional colleges. According to an academician the number of female seeking higher education is on the rise now because many families don’t have boys and girls have to assume the role of ‘sole bread earner of the family’. Another one said that now a boy prefers to marry a working girl because she can help him in fulfilling some of his dreams.

Though, it may look a little divergent, this subscribe recently heard the story of a couple working in one of the leading commercial bank. Prior to marriage both of them were in the same grade but after the marriage wife got quick promotions and the husband failed in getting the corresponding rise. He got so frustrated that after having strangulated relationships for some time decided to divorce his wife. It was not just a separation but virtually disintegration of a family. The husband refused to provide money for the maintenance of children. The mother is now working as well as taking care of children as ‘single parent’. The husband is also facing hardship as wife’s income is no longer available.

 

It may not be wrong to say that in Pakistan’s corporate sector, there is great resistance against entry of females and their promotion in the hierarchy. Most of the men don’t feel comfortable working under the supervision of a female. They say that it appears that these females are looked down by their families; therefore in the office they are often bitter. A female manager in mid-forties but still a single said, “I have to be a little harsh, against my nature, in order to keep male coworkers at a distance”. She went to the extent of saying, “I have earned this position after very hard work, but at times I feel that I would never get a companion of my choice”.

As stated earlier gender discrimination is common in the corporate world, contrary to the claims of the owners and/or management. According to a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a public limited company, “Most of the females prefer to work in ‘number two position’ and refuse to become Head of Department or rise to the position of Chief Operation Officer (COO). Their common complaint is that working in these positions severely affects their family lives and it becomes all the more troublesome if they have to travel within the country and abroad”.

One of a female CEOs of a public limited company showed no hesitation in admitting, “I am able to work long hours and travel extensively only because of the support of my husband and in-laws. My mother-in-law has been taking care of me just like my own mother. Working while the children were young was a bit difficult but she extended all the possible support. Now the children are grown up, but I strongly believe that giving time to my family is one of my major obligations.

According to an expert of corporate affairs, “Many of the public limited companies are dignified ‘proprietorship’ where the owners wish to retain decision making powers with them. In case a female is promoted to the position of CEO, she is a daughter/niece. In many private limited companies the CEO is a female because the owner doesn’t have a son”. He also said, “In Pakistan there is no separation of ownership from management, despite clear regulations issued by Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). Unless these regulations are implemented in letter and spirit, only the family members will continue to hold the key positions in the corporate sector”.

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