Women and their fight for the right to go to work is a century-old struggle, and while it is disappointing to realize that the fight still isn’t over, we have seen women rise to claim their right to work over the past few decades, especially in Pakistan. Being a developing country, Pakistan is thriving in finding opportunities to expand the economy every single day – and this fact opens more doors for women to work.
Currently, female labor force participation in Pakistan is at 29%, well below rates for countries with similar income levels. However, the current boom gives our economy a chance to change this statistic. COLABS is one such initiative in Pakistan that not only provides working access for women, but also hopes to redefine what it means for women to work. It’s not just a redefinition of the working experience, COLABS plans to redefine it for women in every aspect. It all starts by curbing any and all sorts of gender biases and incorporates a holistic approach by providing women with top management positions to become role models for other females, introducing detailed sexual harassment policies, flexible working arrangements, equal pay, and much more.
It is important to understand what the workplace reality in our country really is and to question perceived ideas and gender roles that exist in workspaces in order to truly learn about institutionalized sexism. To see how genders differ in terms of their leadership, we asked about some of the major contrasts usually witnessed at traditional workspaces by the women at COLABS.
It was noted that male counterparts in workspace settings are usually more comfortable while females tend to be a little more on guard, taking care of how they speak, dress, or act in case it is perceived negatively. Women also have to assert their authority in a very visible manner.
Shameen Imran, an artist working with COLABS, puts it very nicely when she says that for women, “To get the respect that you deserve, that takes being a little stern with people.” A defendable claim could be made that women tend to have higher EQs than men generally, being more participatory in nature, empathetic, and understanding than men. Most importantly, it is seen that when women do lead, they are called to be women leaders or “women in leadership”. Fatima Mazhar, COLABS very own COO articulately mentioned in her interview, “A leader is a leader regardless of gender and should be addressed as such.” Since we let our workspace speak for itself, we candidly interviewed our women employees at COLABS to evaluate their perspectives about being leaders, their thoughts on COLABS and its working culture. From primary leadership to the working culture here at COLABS, these women are pioneers of what Pakistan’s future of work would look like in a couple of years.
“A leader is a leader regardless of gender and should be addressed as such.”
Fatima Mazhar, COO COLABS
Here are a few questions about women, leadership, and femme-based experiences of workplaces in general and how COLABS is redefining them. Do you think there is a constant effort needed to prove yourself as a woman in workplaces in general?
Rubab Zahra Naqvi, our Marketing Lead reveals articulately when she says, “It’s innate for women because it has been ingrained in us through socialization and our upbringing. At a place like COLABS, there is no such thing, but as women we have this need to constantly prove ourselves and if we don’t do extra-well, we start doubting ourselves. We are over-compensating unnecessarily.”
Fatima Mazhar, our Chief Operating Officer says “Yes, as a woman you definitely need to prove yourself again and again and there is no room for error. When a woman is selected, she has to be the absolute best in everything, for the same position if a man is hired he can be average and still get the job.”
Sayyeda Hameed is the Head of Growth at COLABS and has been a very strong backbone of COLABS ever since its initiation. Her conception in regards to how you should view work tells all you need to know about COLABS’s mindset too. She says, “Regardless of gender, you may be an individual contributor or team collaborator in the workplace, you may be working well as part of a hybrid-office arrangement or completely remotely, but you must never forget that, ultimately, you are part of a wider team.
So, it’s important that you always remind yourself of that collective end-goal in the back of your mind. I believe you would not require a conscious effort to prove yourself if you have the ability to demonstrate your commitment through your work and with a focus on the bigger picture.”
Alina Dar, our Strategy Lead says, “I don’t think so, for me personally. I think my work speaks for itself. Women should not be constantly proving themselves because their work should speak for themselves. But in other workplaces, I believe that some women probably do have to always prove their worth because of the work environment. But now the world is recognizing women as a whole so it’s getting better.
How do you feel like working here at COLABS?
Ayesham Aftab Butt, Community and Sales Lead at Johar Town said, “Working at COLABS is a unique experience in itself, I get to meet people from all walks of life, from CEOs to Administrators. Working at COLABS has provided me with the unique ability to grow, in a way that I have become more confident in the way I communicate, as well as present my ideas.”
Sayyeda Hameed said, “A professional work environment is always full of challenges and it’s never easy, but a collaborative working environment gives you that boost of energy you need to sail through such obstacles. Effective collaboration allows all members to share their talent and find the most optimal solution to every problem. It’s always challenging but fun, here at COLABS! I think I’ve grown tremendously as a professional here during the last 2 years of my time here.”
Maria Sadaf, our Growth and Partnership Lead said, “Working at COLABS is an entirely different experience for me. I never faced any gender biases here. People evaluate the other person’s performance absolutely on the basis of its quality and do not gender discriminate against you. Also, our gender ratio is also near equal.”
Fatima Mazhar said, “COLABS is the one place where I feel like I can be myself and not be labeled as a woman leader/woman in the workplace – COLABS is the most gender-neutral place I have worked at and I LOVE IT.”
Shameen Imran, “For me, it has been the most refreshing work experience I have ever had. Because it is a coworking space, there are a bunch of people and I have spoken to more people than I would usually do in an office space because the people here are more than willing to interact with you and network.”
Alina Dar, “I love it! Its really nice here. I love the work that I do, I love the people around me and the work culture is nice. Our similar age bracket makes working together a lot easier.”
Roheen Ghauri, “At COLABS, there is a lot to learn because of the opportunities that you get. There are people from different fields who would help you grow and you don’t feel stuck doing the same thing every day.”
Does COLABS provide equal space for work for all genders?
Ayesham Aftab Butt says, “COLABS is a place where I believe equality is provided. I have never been passed up for a task because I am a woman. The women-specific advantages while working at COLABS are as they should be in every firm; equality-based and unprejudiced.”
Sayyeda Hameed, “COLABS ensures equality in almost every aspect; women are given equal opportunities to excel, along with a conducive environment in which we can flourish and our personal growth and development is made a priority. I think in Pakistan, women are given these opportunities in an organization only if the top management’s mindset is progressive and open-minded. I think I’ve been lucky to have been working alongside a founder who truly values my expertise and input.”
Maria Sadaf, “Yes. COLABS has empowered the women working here by giving them ownership of the work they do. They are more flexible toward women considering their gender challenges. Also, have given a secure and safe environment to work in.”
What is it like working at COLABS as leaders of your departments?
Sayyeda Hameed says, “We’ve been conditioned to think that leadership at work can only be attained through a position of power. The truth is, real leadership can come from anywhere and perhaps it can be developed as a skill. It’s not your job title that allows for strong leadership – it’s the commitment to creating positive change in yourself and in others. I try to be assertive where necessary but I focus on encouraging team work within the department. Being a manager at work is a heavy hat to wear, but it can benefit you in remarkable ways. When my team members look up-to me, it boosts my confidence and gives me that kick of optimism. Instead of grinding along waiting for each day to end, I try and extract greater results from the same hours or minutes, cut through the clutter of to-dos for the team and focus on how we can get real results.”
Maria Sadaf says, “I work in partnerships and strategy. This includes a lot of communication across departments and also to the external community as well. I believe working in COLABS helped me overcome the fears I had been a woman working in communications, interacting with different people on a daily basis and boosting my self -believe which eventually enabled me to lead the firm in a much more effective manner.”
Fatima Mazhar says, “My team is the best. They are hardworking and so passionate about what they do – and as with all my previous teams, I listen to them and do what needs to be done, they respect me so much, hence I barely ever have to say anything! A leader’s job is to serve their team and help them achieve the best results and that is what I do, I listen to them, learn from them and serve them!”
Alina Dar says, “I would want to lead better like there is always room for improvement. It’s technically just me and Umer (Strategy Associate) so obviously, that leadership aspect will come in the future. As far as the whole COLABS team is concerned, I feel listened to and my advice is always taken at merit.”
Roheen Ghauri says, “I love working as the creative lead in marketing, not just because of the title but the creative freedom that has been given to me by the team. I am free to set the mood for our creative design layouts as I want. I’m pretty sure that only COLABS can offer this liberty to be as creative as I can be.”
But how exactly is COLABS redefining the women’s work experience?
Rubab Zahra Naqvi: The entire design of COLABS is women-friendly and redefines the space for women overall. The COO, top management, and our head of growth are females and we can see the glass ceiling does not exist here; that is very motivating and it is redefining how organizations and cultures work. Women are out there at all levels and we are acknowledged for that as well. For our members, we have a very safe space and we act on complaints very quickly. As long you are decent and you know how to carry yourself, the environment is not very narrow-minded, in terms of what you are wearing, and is very inclusive. If we could expand on these lines, COLABS can become an example of redefining spaces for women. Plus, the community team is mostly female.
Ayesham Aftab Butt: COLABS is redefining the future of work for women in a way that, it has promoted women to step up and take the lead, in various departments. As a Community & Sales Lead, I truly feel that I have the support and confidence of the administration to deal with situations on my own. In a way, COLABS doesn’t just provide me with a set of goals I need to achieve rather it empowers me to blaze my own path.
Sayyeda Hameed: COLABS has aimed to redefine the future of work for women since its inception in 2019 by not only providing an inclusive, secure, and safe space for women to work from but also promoting a culture in which they feel empowered. We take great pride in knowing how comfortable our female community members feel coming to our space. In Pakistan, a lack of such spaces and uncomfortable workplace experiences become the reason why women give up on their careers and sit at home. One reason, to have a women-centric community team is to promote a culture where they feel welcomed and safe. The COLABS team itself is super inclusive and has about 45% women overall.
Apart from this, COLABS actively tries to support women leaders and entrepreneurs by holding events that are more women-centric and gives them opportunities to learn, explore, progress and share knowledge in their domains. For instance, we hold the SheLovesTech conference every year with our partners, CIRCLE, to support women entrepreneurs in the tech industry. We’ve also held successful events like GBG Womenswill Leadership Summit – where we brought on prominent women leaders from all industries to talk about and share their experiences, challenges, and journeys. In addition to this, we’ve held workshops and trainings for women on how to start their own home-based businesses.
The COLABS team itself is super inclusive and has about 45% women overall. – Sayyeda Hameed, Head of Growth
Fatima Mazhar: COLABS has a female COO, has 45% of their workforce are women and this is happening because COLABS hires for talent, experience and passion as opposed to setting quotas on the number of women we want. COLABS has been successful in creating a safe space for women which is why we get an equal number of men and women applying for all roles.
Alina Dar: As a whole, I believe COLABS is making it safe for women to work. Given the uncertain circumstances in this country and how women just don’t feel safe anywhere, COLABS is giving women a platform from where they can just come and go easily without feeling like there is someone watching them, or having them looking over their shoulders constantly, where you can dress however you like and no one will bother or judge you.
Shameen Imran: So far, from everywhere I have worked, I have felt the safest at COLABS. I like to dress up and in a lot of workspaces a lot of women hold back because they feel like they might enter and everyone would kind of just turn and look at them. Those are just an unsafe environments. Whenever I walk into COLABS, I feel safe enough because a) there are enough people who work here, who don’t really care how dressed up you are or what you’re doing and b) I feel like that comes with the culture that’s promoted at COLABS because if the management wasn’t open to people being themselves and doing whatever they want, there would be a trickle-down effect.
Roheen Ghauri: COLABS is paving the way for redefining the future of work for women by giving them an equal platform. An intimidating environment can hamper productivity which COLABS discourages strongly. Women play a very important part in our team. Guess who our COO is? A woman. The Head of Growth is also a woman. They are one of the reasons why COLABS is doing an amazing job.
45% of the COLABS Team consists of women right now, with more and more of them taking up leadership positions. Alongside this breaking of the glass ceiling, COLABS is now catering to women and their needs in all our facilities, making sure we set the industry standard of what a future, modern Pakistani workspace should look like. For example, we have private spaces for women only, we make sure we have successful women entrepreneurs in our community and we support incubators and encourage all coworking spaces to support ‘women’ entrepreneurs. We also have a very strong detailed Zero Tolerance Anti-Harassment Policy which outlines every type of harassment and is insured by the HR department.