October 30, 2018

In this world, in every aspect of life, every person has to face challenges whether he/she likes it or not. For women, obstacles are abundant and many a times excessive. We cannot deny that certain factors are there to make women’s lives harder than it should be. These obstacles follow women into their career lives as well. From familial hindrances to social obstructions, women are forced to make extremely tough choices to continue working. The aim of this discussion of Women In Leadership (WIL) Fest was to address this extremely intricate yet undeniable topic.

Panelists for this session were Ratanawadee Winther, Chairperson, AIP Foundation, Thailand; Afreen Huda, Vice President, Engagement and Culture, Robi Axiata Limited (designated while attending this panel); Nazrana Yusuf, Senior Specialist, Project Office, Transformation, Grameenphone Limited and Lead in Women Inspirational Network (WIN); and Zeenat Zahir, Head of Talent Management and HR Strategy, Grameenphone Limited. To moderate this panel discussion was Ayreen Khan, Founder, iCan Foundation.

Ayreen Khan begins the discussion by talking about how the age-old rules and restrictions that women are told to follow from a young age to maintain a feminine character, are redundant in the real world. Women are told to be polite and gentle whereas politeness is considered to be a weakness in the corporate world. She shares her own experience in the workplace where she found it really challenging to unlearn such traits and relearn how to be diplomatic and strategic.

Zeenat Zahir has a mixed opinion on this regard. She agrees with Ayreen that these kinds of traits indeed don’t work in the corporate culture but she believes that no one should compromise on their own personality traits just because they do not fit in the corporate image. She explains why work can be done regardless of being intrinsically gentle or stern.

Among the different challenges of women, one is that they have to juggle different priorities in different places, be it in the workplace or at home. Zeenat advises that women should at first determine what their priorities are and work accordingly. They do not need to worry about their character traits, they just need to be themselves.

Nazrana Yusuf believes that challenges will always be there but it is how we deal with it that matters. Social values can be considered challenges but not always. It actually depends on how one defines these social values.

Ratanawadee talks about the difficulties of having two identities and how women can balance these dual identities. From her own experience, she explains that after she became the wife of an Ambassador, she had to make tough choices. She sacrificed her job in Canada to live with her husband. Her actual struggle was to start anew. She believes that for women to take on these challenges, they have to understand the concept of owning. Before committing to anything, a woman has to see that if it is right for her. She should not compromise to have something that goes against her skills and knowledge. Sometimes, the identity of being the spouse will overshadow her own identity but that is the reality. Despite such overshadowing, she believes that women should keep working for their own cause.

Afreen Huda shows a way to tackle the challenges of women. She recognizes men and women as very different yet complementary genders. She advises that women do not have to be equals, rather, women should focus on their uniqueness and play to their strengths. It is only women who can nurture and create and she should do so by standing strong in the face of trials and tribulations. For that, women need to, at first, believe that they are capable.

Afreen further digs into the root cause of why women work. To her, women work because of survival. Although to be successful, women not only need the hunger to survive but also an indomitable spirit.

One vital challenge for women that Nazrana addresses, is the conflict of motherhood and professional identity. From her own experience, she describes that, even if a woman is given the most supportive working environment, it is still an extremely hard decision to leave the kids and come back to work. She had to battle self-doubt a number of times before coming back. She fixated her belief that this emotional conflict in her was just a phase that she could eventually pass through if she could learn how to balance and prioritize properly.

Sacrifices are required to maintain this balance but it is still possible to continue working if one has the zeal to work. Although she says determination is key, she insists that women set up a support system to help them through difficulties.

On the contrary, Afreen believes that external support system is not needed. Only the hunger to survive is required. If a woman has that hunger, she will find, not only a way but also that support system and that solution. Everything depends on how we have been built.

The panel further discusses about the other struggles of women. For example, the troubles of visibility or availability of counselling to which Zeenat Zahir explains that the former happens solely because of the fear of the uncertain. So to solve this, women should act on their part and stop being afraid of risks of being in the spotlight. For the issue of availability of counselling, she argues that in this world there is no one who has never received counselling. Even talking to one’s mother after a long day and asking her for advice is a mode of counselling. So,according to her, there is no woman who has not received any counselling.  

After discussing on various challenges women face, Ayreen Khan wraps up the session by asking for recommendations to tackle these challenges from all four panelists. Zeenat suggests women to make their own decisions. Advices are welcome, but women should make sure they are following the dream they want to follow. Nazrana says that ultimately if women want to succeed, they have to want success so badly that they never give up. Afreen emphasizes that women should always play to their strengths and help others grow. Ratanawadee encourages women to support each other in every aspect because if they do, there will be more women in positions everywhere who will eventually bring positive changes in the world.

Regardless of the circumstances, challenges will be there for everyone. In the face of such challenges, women need to build up their courage and keep moving forward. Only then will they become the best version of themselves.

Written By Nafisa Nawal Khan

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