The female workplace experience is a topic very close to the Katalyst cause. Therefore, it was only fitting that the team’s first in-person event was a redefining conversation on it.
Transitional periods are challenging; therefore, despite the experience the team brings from the NEST I/O, in many ways the talk on equity and equality for women in workplaces felt like a new start, not just for Katalyst Labs, but for the narrative on women in the Pakistani work culture.
Hence, prior to the big day, the air around Katalyst Labs HQ was filled with anticipation, excitement, and a hint of nervousness.
The event itself was open to limited participation, and the turnout did not disappoint – the crowd consisted of budding entrepreneurs, professionals, and those with a keen interest in the start-up world.
“Ham beej nhi, khwab botay hain” – Humaira Ahmed
Humaira Ahmed’s closing statement on Syngenta’s unspoken ideology mirrors those of Katalyst’s and these sentiments were echoed through the halls of Unilever with our panel of experts from MNC and start-up backgrounds:
- Amir Paracha, Chairman and CEO, Unilever
- Umber T. Ansari, Head of Marketing and Corporate Communication, Engro
- Azima Dhanjee, Co-Founder and CEO, ConnectHear
- Humaira Ahmed, Country Head of HR, Syngenta
- Raza Afzal, Co-Founder, Truck It In
It goes without saying, Unilever’s futuristic and well-equipped office space also made for the perfect location as it complimented our illustrious panel.
Rounding up said panel, Katalyst Labs’ Founder and CEO, Jehan Ara, took the mic as moderator and got the conversation started.
Amir Paracha began proceedings by highlighting the role women played in laying the foundations of his own organization, Unilever, crediting their “pro-culture” environment and delving into the achievements of former CEOs, Musharraf Hai and Shazia Syed.
Through his deliberations, the need for the “right culture; the right policies; the right framework” became one of the primary talking points of the talk. However, it is never that easy. There are lingering issues in Pakistani society that may be seen as roadblocks in this pursuit; in the words of Umber T. Ansari:
“This is a mindset issue, not a policies and frameworks issue alone”
As is apparent, we commenced with quite a few insightful and constructive back-and-forths on the topic. Moving on, the conversation evolved to accommodate others who have fallen prey to this mindset issue.
The argument on equality and equity in the workplace is globally relevant, but other than women, it also applies to other marginalized segments of the workforce. Azima Dhanjee, a staunch advocate of deaf accessibility expressed this through an astonishing statistic: “An estimated 15% of Pakistan’s population has some level of limitation or disability… (hence) 15% are missing out on a better quality of life because we are not ready to welcome them into our spaces.” This highlights how important it is to partake in a progressive discourse on neglected topics, as they can act as eventual catalysts for change.
Meanwhile, in the background, the Katalyst Labs team worked hard to avoid technical mishaps (great job, Asghar!) and make sure everything went smoothly.
With a team primarily comprising strong, capable women, Katalyst Labs’ systemic execution of the event reflected the day’s narrative and supported Raza Afzal’s statement:
“The phrase ‘it’s a man’s world’ (is) changing and evolving”
According to Mr. Afzal, his start-up, Truck It In, wants to “challenge the status quo”, and they are on their way to accomplishing this, promoting women in an industry that is seen as primarily male-dominated.
But that wasn’t all! There is no point in bringing together a room of change-making professionals if the conversation was meant to be one-sided. Therefore, the talk culminated in a fiery and constructive Q/A session between our panelists and participants.
Among other things, the questions routed some much-needed attention towards the topic of returnship, as the global workforce reels from a mentally and physically exhausting fight against a global pandemic.
This was perhaps best explained by Humaira Ahmed, who spoke about how you can take a corporate break without having to take a career break! She expanded on it by explaining how women responsible for multiple children often have to leave their jobs, but can still stay relevant to the industry.
However, one of the greatest aspects of curating a room of like-minded individuals is that they can learn from each other and fuel positive change. As the mics were turned off and the stage emptied, the Unilever floor buzzed with interactions between participants, panelists, and the organizing team, networking over shared ideas and planning collaborations in the efforts towards equity and equality for women in the workplace and beyond!