GENDER EQUALITY IN PAKISTANI ORGANISATIONS
Gender equality and women employment are fiercely contested issues, especially in countries like Pakistan which are characterised by patriarchal attitudes, weak policy implementation, and societal norms that weaken women’s positions in workplaces. Unfortunately, despite the mushrooming of national policies and international conventions that prohibit discrimination and incorporate gender equality in the legislative framework of Pakistan, there is a huge gap between policy and practice — Pakistan recently ranked second lowest on a list of 145 countries being evaluated for gender gap. Authors Faiza Ali and Jawad Syed highlight the multilevel issues related to gender equality in the workplace, i.e., macro-national, meso-organisational and micro-individual. Using qualitative interviews, this study reveals the challenges faced by female employees within and outside organisations at all three levels.
The authors argue that gender is a social construct. Thus a context-specific and localised approach is necessary to understand why gender equality has so far been difficult to achieve in Pakistani organisations. At the macro-national level, gender segregation restricts women’s mobility outside the house and resultantly, limits their economic and career opportunities. This is exacerbated by sociocultural expectations of a woman’s main role as a homemaker, inequitable distribution of household responsibilities, and lack of facilities in the workplace (transportation, childcare). Female employees often struggle to be taken seriously by clients, who prefer dealing with male employees; similarly, male employees often do not treat their female colleagues with the same respect they may give to their male colleagues. Even women with career success sometimes find themselves unable to avail opportunities for career growth that require them to move away from home without a male guardian.
At the meso-organisational level, sexual harassment is often a vaguely discussed topic in workplaces — employees are usually clueless about the procedure of filing such a complaint. Staying silent or informally contacting a supervisor are the actions commonly taken by the victim. Unfortunately, if she complains about sexual harassment by her own supervisor, she faces career obstacles, e.g., being overlooked for promotions. Another problem is that while women don’t usually face problems being recruited, they confront issues when it comes to promotions and training opportunities, often being ignored in favour of males. Similarly, female managers may find themselves working with males who resent being “ordered” by a female. Perhaps most surprisingly, income inequality is not uncommon, with women earning only 61% of a male’s pay for similar work.
Micro-individual issues vary according to individuals. Women with families may prefer more flexible hours, especially if they have children. Interestingly, some gendered practices are perceived by women themselves as favourable, e.g., being excluded from assignments that involve fieldwork, or letting a male colleague deal with a “problem” customer. Agency is an important feature, with many women recognising the power of education and financial independence, and making efforts to obtain both.
All three levels of issues overlap. For example, a meso-level issue like income gap or sexual harassment has its roots in broader macro-level subjects like gender segregation and sociocultural restrictions on women; sociocultural issues are linked with interpretations of religious aspects like female modesty. It would be beneficial to utilise tools like media, education, and legislation to deal with matters of purdah, female inhibition, and modesty at the societal level — the impact of which would seep into workplaces as well. Discrimination in the workplace takes many forms. While managers need to consider matters of pay equity and career growth seriously, they also need to realise the importance of providing a flexible work environment that enables women to meet both job and family commitments.
Despite these hurdles, female employment has been on the rise, due to multiple factors like rising female literacy, awareness of women’s rights, urbanisation and introduction of laws and policies emphasising gender equality. Practitioners and managers, in both public and private organisations, need to develop a comprehensive and contextual understanding of the multilevel issues women face in workplaces and other domains of life. This may reduce the gap between policy and practice and help design policies more suited to the Pakistani society. Understanding these challenges allows the development of realistic models of gender equality, and provide policies that are well-informed and practical for working women.
Ali, F. , & Syed, J. (2017). From rhetoric to reality: a multilevel analysis of gender equality in Pakistani organizations. Gender, Work & Organization, 24 (5), 472-486.
About the Authors
Faiza Ali is Assistant Professor at the SDSB, LUMS. She teaches principles of management and organisational behaviour. She is co-programme director for the executive programme on Advanced Leadership. Her research interests include diversity management, gender equality at the workplace, international HRM and leadership. Her research has been featured in the Asia Pacific Journal of Management, International Journal of Human Resource Management and Gender, Work & Management.
Jawad Syed, PhD, Academic FCIPD, is the Dean and Professor at the SDSB, LUMS. He teaches courses in organisational behaviour, leading organisations, and philosophy of administrative sciences. His research interests include gender, race and diversity in organisations, international human resource management, business ethics, and organisational knowledge. He has edited/authored seven books and written more than 75 journal articles and book chapters.