WOMEN BREAKING BARRIERS

Women in Non-traditional jobs/businesses

For many years, women have not been associated with, or considered for, jobs in male-dominated industries. We always assume that ‘women’s work’ is to be found in areas such as healthcare, education and retail only.  A decade ago, the female business ownership was primarily limited to retail service industries, where businesses tend to be small, as opposed to high technology, construction, services and manufacturing, generally associated with male-owned businesses. The majority of women entrepreneurs tend to work in traditional sectors, such as boutiques, parlours and bakeries, along with apparel, handicrafts, jewelry and other similar businesses.

“The glass ceiling that once limited a woman’s career path has paved a new road towards business ownership, where women can utilize their sharp business acumen while building strong family ties.” – Erica Nicole

I consider myself lucky that I and many women of my generation have now better opportunities and work environment than the previous generations. Time has changed now and slowly we are accepting women in non-traditional careers. Women of the 21st century do not want to settle for anything but the best. They understand that success is a journey involving personal growth, savvy optimism and the tenacity to be the best. Leadership in business has been slowly evolving with more women stepping in leadership positions each year.

One of the reasons that influenced my decision to move to Pakistan 2 years ago after spending 14 years abroad in KSA and Dubai, and invest here was that Pakistani women in the present day and age have thrived immensely in all walks of life, including the corporate world and that the situation is much favourable now. Pakistan had well established employment and equal employment opportunities laws.The constitution of Pakistan specifically mentions human working conditions and equal employment opportunities regardless of sexes.

Pakistani women are now getting a fair chance to establish a business with relative ease. The inner passion and much suitable investment scenario made me establish a nanotechnology based surface protection company, NShield Solutions. I started off with the Automotive sector, providing nano ceramic glass coating services to automobiles and quickly expanded the network to 4 cities in Pakistan. It was a purely non-traditional business field for a Pakistani woman. Leading an all men team to all men clients, the journey was challenging. This means being able to delegate efficiently and mindfully and set an example too for other women to follow. However, it is important to note that it takes a mindful approach for both men and women to create genuine connection and clear communication and we can not entirely put this responsibility on men. Though initially my target market was all men car owners but soon I realised the value of reaching to the women car owners hence launched a campaign exclusively for women drivers that resulted in a greater brand visibility and an effective social service. I followed what Gloria Steinem said, “Like art, revolutions come from combining what exists into what has never existed before.”  Since women drivers were never previously offered any targeted discounts and services, NShield Solutions, became the pioneer of revolutionizing nano services by launching campaigns for women. After doing some research, I found out that women are affecting the automotive market more today than ever before. From buying new vehicles to deciding what services they need, women are multiple markets in one. When you think of the role of a female in her household, more often than not she is taking care of children, watching over the needs of extended family, and selecting everything from school clothes to groceries, she is driving her car to fulfill these obligations. Another factor that I considered was that women feel more comfortable buying from women hence I worked on just not training my staff to be extra courteous towards our women clients but I personally practiced customer intimacy with them so they feel comfortable.

NShield's campaign for the Women Drivers in 2017
NShield’s stand out campaign exclusively for the Women Drivers in 2017

 

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.” —Sheryl Sandberg

The world made headlines when the head of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, hired Google’s employee Sheryl Sandberg to become the COO of Facebook. Developments like this have shown that in careers that have been traditionally male-dominated, are shortly providing more and more opportunities for women.

The fastest growth has been in businesses typically thought to be owned by men. The number of construction firms, factories, even garages now owned by women grew more than 17 % from 1997 to 2002 in USA. Fortunately, Pakistan now follows the trend set by the developed countries. The 2011 Pakistan Employment Trends Report compiled by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, says that the percentage of working women in Pakistan has increased from 16.3% in 2000 to 24.4% in 2011. This means that an additional 7 million female workers have joined the workforce in a period of 11 years. According to United Nations’ Human Development Report, an overwhelming majority of economically active women in Pakistan are working in agriculture (65 %) followed by services (20 %) and industry (16 %). According to the Economic Census of Pakistan, women-owned businesses represent about 2.4 per cent of a total 3.2 million enterprises in Pakistan. This may sound depressing but we need to understand that we are a society in transition and it will take years of efforts and struggle to see a significant change.

graduation
Women breaking barriers – More women becoming successful entrepreneurs. Women of the 21st century do not want to settle for anything but the best. They understand that success is a journey involving personal growth, facing challenges boldly, savvy optimism and the tenacity to be the best.

 Challenges & Breaking Those Barriers:

Technology is one of the key drivers of female economic empowerment, but the fields that women choose to participate in are still decidedly gendered” – Weili Dai

 The biggest challenges women face in non-traditional jobs/businesses are:

  • Social Acceptance: Due to social pressures and taboos, women are hesitant to take up the challenge of exploring non traditional business sectors. Successfully bringing more women into non-traditional roles will require cultural evolution. A lot of roles like engineering, computing, law, and medicine, are being much more welcoming to women. The Govt. and influencer organizations need to develop nationwide awareness campaigns that promote the women-led businesses and increase social acceptance of women in non-traditional sectors.
  • Role Models: Lack of role models and mentors. There is a need to highlight and acknowledge the women in non-traditional career path, and to learn about their struggles and rewards along the way inorder to inspire other women to follow their steps and succeed. They need “Sheroes” not heroes for drawing inspiration. (She + Hero = Shero)
  • Girls Education: There is empirical evidence that girls are discouraged from developing their skills in maths and science from a young age. This is in large part associated with gendered stereotypes. This needs to change. Such under-representation of women continues to affect gender equality, industry performance and our nation’s economy. The female literacy rate, for example, is alarmingly low, that is, 36 per cent. Furthermore, only 6.6 per cent of girls enrol at the high school level, reducing further to 1.2 per cent at the university level. This diminishes the chances of women emerging as entrepreneurs and senior executives in organizations.
  • Skill Training Programs: Due to limited support available for women in non-traditional sectors to establish and grow their business, women are hesitant to take up non-traditional businesses. A well-designed and implemented skill training program for women can create a major breakthrough.
  • Safe Environment: Women are willing to work in all sectors and in difficult conditions, provided they are given an enabling environment to function. The fourth Asian CPA conference estimates that 90% of women working women are harassed from home to office or at their work.
  • Financial Insecurity: The usual sources of seed capital for women entrepreneurs are personal savings, income from the sale of personal jewellery, or loans from family members and relatives. To help women business owners become financially self sufficient’, we need to provide them the interest free loans coupled with 1-on-1 mentoring. Another suggestion is to help small businesses grow by providing loans when traditional bank loan financing is not an option.
  • Credibility: Another gender related challenge for women is to prove their credibility to the suppliers and customers. Especially, if they work in the non-traditional sectors, neither suppliers nor customers take them seriously and doubt these women’s ability to achieve their business targets.
  • Representation in the Trade Markets: The majority of women entrepreneurs tend to operate within the same markets, with only a few extend their business to national and international level. Unavailability or limited opportunities to develop institutions such as associations to represent women in the trades and to market their sectors is still a challenge. There is a need to develop a training program action plan, to ensure women’s fair inclusion and opportunity in all trade fairs and exhibitions. Fortunately, due to the dedicated activities of women chambers across Pakistan in particular and the world at large, we are seeing more opportunities and inclusion for women led businesses to represent themselves in trade delegation visits to different countries.
  • Networking: Since not many women opt for non-traditional jobs or businesses therefore they have a limited circle to get connected and network. These women need active platforms to facilitate an interactive dialogue about how to increase women’s representation in male-dominated industries and to provide an opportunity for employers, government, community, and organizations to think about the contribution women can make and share strategies for how best to attract, recruit, retain and develop women in traditionally male-dominated fields.

 

Catalytic Initiatives:

The Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority (SMEDA) was established in 1988 by the Government of Pakistan to develop SMEs in the country. In order to meet the needs of women entrepreneurs, SMEDA established the Women Entrepreneurs Development Cell (WEDC) in 2002. The following is an account of the key projects undertaken by the WEDC:

Women Business Incubation Center (WBIC): This project aims to provide practical support to women entrepreneurs including help in developing the infrastructure. The infrastructure support includes, for example, the provision of fully furnished, air conditioned offices/display area along with administrative support.

Women Entrepreneurs Information Network (WIN):  SMEDA launched Pakistan’s first exclusive women entrepreneurs’ web portal, Women Entrepreneurs Information Network. The Network has been designed to bridge the resource gaps for women in business through ready access to information, export markets and increased networking opportunities.

mou ICCI
Women in business – breaking barriers. Signing my 3rd MoU with ICCI in 2018.

Looking to the future, I would advise the women seeking a non-traditional career path, to set their sights high. Challenges may cross or trip you along the way, but keep the courage to proceed and the motivation to convert problems into opportunities. Do the work. Show the value that you bring. Let’s not forget that equality for women does not fall entirely on women’s shoulders. It takes everyone. Men need to believe in women. They can make a huge difference. Fathers need to believe in daughters. Brothers need to believe in sisters. Nations need to believe and invest in their women. Everyone’s an influencer.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Zia S. Hasan is the Co-founder and Director of NShield Solutions, a Nanotechnology based surface protection company in Pakistan and UAE. She is the first and only woman in Pakistan who is leading the Auto Detailing and Ceramic Glass Coating business, breaking barriers and setting an example for other women to follow. She can be reached at:   zia.hasan@nshieldsolutions.com

 

References:

  1. “Women Breaking Barriers in Non-Traditional Job Roles.” TODAY.com, TODAY.
  2. Media, Business Woman. “Powerful Women Making Waves in the Digital Business World.” The Business Woman Media, 13 Sept. 2018.
  3. “The Working Women of Pakistan – HerCareer.pk | Jobs in Pakistan.” HerCareer, 16 Oct. 2014.
  4. SMEDA (2006), SME-led Economic Growth – Creating Jobs and Reducing Poverty, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority, Government of Pakistan
  5. Photo credit: Special thanks to my friend in Dubai, Aisha, for NShield’s first women drivers campaign.
  6. The graduation ceremony of Womenx Entrepreneurship training, cohort 2, Islamabad in 2018. The program was funded by World Bank and executed by Enclude.

 

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