Reducing the bottlenecks to increasing gender representation in your business

When we undertook the ‘Baseline Survey on Gender Diversity in the Business Sector of Pakistan’, we identified that gender representation in 50% of the larger business concerns surveyed is below 10%. In the discussions which followed through the Practitioner Workshops and the IFC –PBC Partnership event on International Women’s Day , a couple of action points have been repeatedly highlighted: safety and security both in the workplace, and to and from work; need for a change in the cultural mindset; enablers such as child care and (sometimes) parental care; and a change in the cultural mindset.

When we talk about policies which enable safety and security, most companies have robust anti-harassment policies – which include speak up measures and a committee to review any complaints. It is also a general practice to have ‘a termination policy’ for any misdemeanors.  Here, it is also important to ask if there is a practice for gender sensitization for employees in companies. A recent survey by Dawn newspaper highlighted a general complaint of sexual harassment in all types of workplaces. The question here to be asked is – is there a need to focus on defining what constitutes as harassment in the workplace?

Similarly, safety and security to and from work is an important challenge.  At a recent conference on women empowerment, a presentation on labor force participation revealed that female participation in Pakistan’s urban hubs is even lower than in rural locations. Lack of safe transport to and from work is a key issue which needs to be explored further.  Whilst issues will typically be region specific, documentation of both the issues and solutions can help build the knowledge base to tackle this bottleneck.

Another issue which exists as a barrier is the time taken in traveling to and from work. When women reach home, there is still a commitment to the household. This can be in the care of the home, children and elderly parents. An hour’s travel in itself is draining and the loss of time can be very stressful for women. Globally, this concept is recognized as unpaid work and to date   Flexible hours – or a work from home opportunity can lead to better outputs as by just avoiding the rush hour – so perhaps the need of the hour for increasing women representation is for human resource teams is to identify which job descriptions can be ‘flexible’ or off-site.

On the other hand, the provision of child care facilities can be an enabler. It is unfortunate that whilst many top schools in Pakistan are encouraging enrollment from 18 months of age, but there are few child care facilities. Child care requires full time trained personnel and an adequate availability of space per child. A recent discussion with both an employer and a reputable child care company identified there is a dearth in trained teachers willing to work the full work hours required for child care. Perhaps there is a need to look at this at a policy level for developing a vocational training programme specifically for child care. As part of our engagement with IFC, in the course of the next few months, we will be holding webinars to further the discussion on the current options available for childcare and anti-harassment.

All in all, 22 companies made pledges for both internal and external commitments for improving gender representation in the IFC-PBC event on International Women’s Day. We will be supporting and documenting how these companies move forward on these pledges – honoring the companies which move forward with pledges and announcing the ‘Employer of Choice’ Awards Conference in November.