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Women in Business Conference 2009

“As we enter the global market place today we see a changed face of business. Where women were initially invisible within organizations, an increasing number of women are now working in various roles in different organizations and industries. Our society now greatly values and promotes gender diversity. Women today inspire other women in the society and have been successful in breaking down corporate barriers and also glass ceilings, proving their mettle in all spheres of business, government and social leadership positions. WIBCON will serve as a platform where professionals will be provided with an opportunity to share their knowledge and skills to succeed in today’s diverse business scene.” – (Mr. Salman Burney President Pakistan Society for Training & Development)
Mr. Farrukh Khan (Founder BMA-Capital) made the opening remarks underlining some of the major advantages of a gender balanced working environment. He first stated that 49% of Pakistan’s population are effectively excluded from participating in the development of the country on the basis of being women. An organization that can attract and retain top talent in women participation creates an advantage and that is because it is a well known fact that women are committed: they represent a more stable category of employees but at the same time it must be taken into account that a family-work balance brings qualitative aspects to the workplace.
As the President of Pakistan Women Bank, Mrs. Shafqat Sultana represents a powerful role model for all the women. She addressed the issue of the glass ceiling that limits women participation in the economic process but at the same time she brought actual facts into discussion as a proof for this glass ceiling existence:
The Glass ceiling represents an invisible barrier preventing women from ascending to leadership positions. For instance the fact that:
-          only 5.2% of Fortune 500 top earners are women
-          or only 2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women
-          or that only 14.7% of the Fortune 500 board seats are represented by women,
Mr. Riaz Khokkar, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary, brought into discussion the background of the women issues in the region such as the political, cultural or social aspects and how can these affect women’s journey of empowerment. Mr. Khokkar identified three main reasons specific to this part of the world, including Pakistan, for the gender disparities that women face especially in the rural areas:
-          The misuse and misinterpretation of
-          The patriarchal nature of the society that we live in
-          Customs, norms, traditions or tribal affiliations.
However, in spite of all these problems steps are being taken by state institutions towards bolstering women participation.
The Panel Discussion consisted of leaders from different fields to identify state solutions to increase women participation in the business environment. The panelists came up with different solutions to different problems but at the same time all of them are aware of the necessity of empowering women in taking an active role in their own lives. The Panel Discussion concluded:
  1. A shift in attitude is required at all levels of the society (both men and women). Steps must also be made towards increasing the  participation of women in the educational process.
  2. Women must learn to make personal choices and decisions.
  3. Women must identify and believe in their inner strength.
  4. Stop feeling like a victim; make changes in your life – a guideline for all the women.
  5. Investing in better infrastructure is also necessary. .
  6. Women must have the courage to find solutions to their own problems.
  7. Identify the things you need to change and make a start.
  8. Challenge the status-quo! Get better organized. Mobilize and speak up to change your organization — as you are also a part of it.
Mrs. Sania Nishtar (Founding President, Heartlife) focused her message around ways to reduce the gender disparity in the economic progress of the country. She emphasised that state policy must be amended to facilitate the inclusion of women in the workforce. She stated that Pakistan has the legal grounds for an equal based society — for instance  it has ratified the statutes and the policies of UN but the implementation is still waiting. She highlighted that very few women entrepreneurs are emerging out of the private sector as the financing system, providing grants and finance to the SMEs still represents a challenge. She called for the state machinery to be strengthened to promote women’s access to credit and finance and also the removal of institutional impediments.
The second Panel Discussion discussed the “Workplace of the future”. The panelists under the inspired coordination of Mrs. Huma Baqai, Assistant Professor Institute of Business Administration,  debated the topics of family and career – how to balance these competing priorities, workplace harassment and working environment regulations.
Companies can attract, retain and promote women talent if they are able to ensure a minimum set of facilities allowing them to balance their lifestyle: day care centers, flexi-time and counseling The various conclusions reached were all oriented to a better workplace for women, a workplace that can permit them to balance their job responsibilities with their personal life and family responsibilities.

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