According to The World Bank, 2.4 billion women of working age are not afforded equal opportunities as their male counterparts- and localized to Pakistan, only 20.65% of the workforce is made up of women. As Pakistan’s fledgling entrepreneurial ecosystem grows and flourishes, it’s essential to not just acknowledge but encourage diversity and inclusion of all genders, setting a strong precedent for women’s economic participation and empowerment.
As always the first step and perhaps the most crucial step, is to hear these women and their stories and to provide a platform for their voice so that it may inspire and empower other women. This is why Daftarkhwan has introduced its new Fireside Chats series Fierce and Fearless, highlighting and celebrating trailblazing women leaders who have paved the path to success in their sectors:
The series has been kicked off by Dr Saira Siddique, Founder and CEO of MedIQ, Pakistan’s first Digitally Integrated Hybrid Healthcare Platform serving B2B2C customers. MedIQ provides a customisable technology stack, comprehensive networks of virtual pharmacy and laboratory services backed by general physicians, specialists (across 32 fields), nursing staff and dedicated home care teams, reducing long wait times in hospital queues. With the use of data analytics, AI and Machine Learning Solutions, MedIQ aims to make healthcare more accessible and personalized, especially for those in Pakistan who are reluctant to get check ups like women from the working class.
According to Invest2Innovate’s End of Year Funding Roundup of 2022, male founded startups raised a total of $325.7 million while female co-founded raised only $25.5 million and solely female founded, a stark $2.8 million. While the gender disparity is obvious, we’re also seeing the first strides being made towards bridging this gap. Dr Saira Siddique, managed to raise $1.8 million in pre-seed, the highest investment by a female founder in the history of Pakistan. “I thought ‘yeah I have an investment ready product so it’ll be easy, I’ll go out to the investors and they will start showering me with money’…soon I realized it’s not that easy, you know, being a woman and then coming from a developing country where the ecosystem isn’t as developed, it’s not a level playing field at all,” stated Saira, “I pitched to 166 investors before my first cheque of $200,000 came in while for men it’s around 52 to 55 pitches, so I had to put thrice as much effort.” To date, MedIQ has served over 2 million people, and continues growing steadily.
Unlike the unfair dichotomy perpetuated by society, where a woman can either be good at and give time to either, her career or her family, Saira, understanding the struggles working women face asserts it’s essential to lay down some hard boundaries, “There’s always a struggle between ambition and your personal obligations in Pakistan. I had the same struggle, the struggle between being a perfect wife and mother and at the same time being a perfect working woman, but sometimes, you know, you have to learn to say no- on both fronts.”
“You can never please everyone,” says Fatima Asad-Said, our second guest for Fierce and Fearless, CEO of Abacus Consulting, pioneers of the business transformation services industry in Pakistan, “You need to have faith you’re chosen on merit to be in that moment. Once you walk into that room, define yourself through that performance, irrespective of gender.”
For Fatima “it’s not about us vs them, it’s about how we can collaborate to build an environment that is conducive and allow each gender to grow with respect and dignity.” Much like the International Women’s Day official campaign which emphasizes on how equal opportunities aren’t enough anymore, Fatima encourages organizations to embrace equity at all levels of an organization. According to her, it’s essential for the leaders of organizations to be conscious of the realities of a woman’s everyday life. It’s not enough to just give them a maternity leave and call it a day.Leaders need to be aware of, and weed out systematic biases on all levels from recruitments to promotions to workplace cultures.
In order to ensure women’s advancement, we all need to ally ourselves with women and their cause, generating change and forging workspaces that are safe, inclusive and equitable- for as Mercer puts it, “when women thrive, businesses thrive”.