Women in Non-traditional jobs/businesses by Zia S. Hasan (Founder, WOWPK)

For many years, women have not been associated with, or considered for, jobs in male-dominated industries. We always assume that ‘women’s work’ is to be found in areas such as healthcare, education and retail only.  A decade ago, the female business ownership was primarily limited to retail service industries, where businesses tend to be small, as opposed to high technology, construction, services and manufacturing, generally associated with male-owned businesses. The majority of women entrepreneurs tend to work in traditional sectors, such as boutiques, parlours and bakeries, along with apparel, handicrafts, jewelry and other similar businesses.

“The glass ceiling that once limited a woman’s career path has paved a new road towards business ownership, where women can utilize their sharp business acumen while building strong family ties.” – Erica Nicole

I consider myself lucky that I and many women of my generation have now better opportunities and work environment than the previous generations. Time has changed now and slowly we are accepting women in non-traditional careers. Women of the 21st century do not want to settle for anything but the best. They understand that success is a journey involving personal growth, savvy optimism and the tenacity to be the best. Leadership in business has been slowly evolving with more women stepping in leadership positions each year.

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.” —Sheryl Sandberg

The world made headlines when the head of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, hired Google’s employee Sheryl Sandberg to become the COO of Facebook. Developments like this have shown that in careers that have been traditionally male-dominated, are shortly providing more and more opportunities for women.

The fastest growth has been in businesses typically thought to be owned by men. The number of construction firms, factories, even garages now owned by women grew more than 17 % from 1997 to 2002 in USA. Fortunately, Pakistan now follows the trend set by the developed countries. The 2011 Pakistan Employment Trends Report compiled by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, says that the percentage of working women in Pakistan has increased from 16.3% in 2000 to 24.4% in 2011.This means that an additional 7 million female workers have joined the workforce in a period of 11 years. According to United Nations’ Human Development Report, an overwhelming majority of economically active women in Pakistan are working in agriculture (65 %) followed by services (20 %) and industry (16 %). According to the Economic Census of Pakistan, women-owned businesses represent about 2.4 per cent of a total 3.2 million enterprises in Pakistan. This may sound depressing but we need to understand that we are a society in transition and it will take years of efforts and struggle to see a significant change.

Challenges & Breaking Those Barriers:

Technology is one of the key drivers of female economic empowerment, but the fields that women choose to participate in are still decidedly gendered” – Weili Dai

 The biggest challenges women face in non-traditional jobs/businesses are:

  • Social Acceptance: Due to social pressures and taboos, women are hesitant to take up the challenge of exploring non traditional business sectors. Successfully bringing more women into non-traditional roles will require cultural evolution. A lot of roles like engineering, computing, law, and medicine, are being much more welcoming to women. The Govt. and influencer organizations need to develop nationwide awareness campaigns that promote the women-led businesses and increase social acceptance of women in non-traditional sectors.
  • Role Models: Lack of role models and mentors. There is a need to highlight and acknowledge the women in non-traditional career path, and to learn about their struggles and rewards along the way in order to inspire other women to follow their steps and succeed. They need “Sheroes” not heroes for drawing inspiration. (She + Hero = Shero)
  • Girls Education: There is empirical evidence that girls are discouraged from developing their skills in math and science from a young age. This is in large part associated with gendered stereotypes. This needs to change. Such under-representation of women continues to affect gender equality, industry performance and our nation’s economy. The female literacy rate, for example, is alarmingly low, that is, 36 per cent. Furthermore, only 6.6 per cent of girls enroll at the high school level, reducing further to 1.2 per cent at the university level. This diminishes the chances of women emerging as entrepreneurs and senior executives in organizations.
  • Skill Training Programs: Due to limited support available for women in non-traditional sectors to establish and grow their business, women are hesitant to take up non-traditional businesses. A well-designed and implemented skill training program for women can create a major breakthrough.
  • Safe Environment: Women are willing to work in all sectors and in difficult conditions, provided they are given an enabling environment to function. The fourth Asian CPA conference estimates that 90% of women working women are harassed from home to office or at their work.
  • Financial Insecurity: The usual sources of seed capital for women entrepreneurs are personal savings, income from the sale of personal jewelry, or loans from family members and relatives. To help women business owners become financially self sufficient’, we need to provide them the interest free loans coupled with 1-on-1 mentoring. Another suggestion is to help small businesses grow by providing loans when traditional bank loan financing is not an option.
  • Credibility: Another gender related challenge for women is to prove their credibility to the suppliers and customers. Especially, if they work in the non-traditional sectors, neither suppliers nor customers take them seriously and doubt these women’s ability to achieve their business targets.
  • Representation in the Trade Markets: The majority of women entrepreneurs tend to operate within the same markets, with only a few extend their business to national and international level. Unavailability or limited opportunities to develop institutions such as associations to represent women in the trades and to market their sectors is still a challenge. There is a need to develop a training program action plan, to ensure women’s fair inclusion and opportunity in all trade fairs and exhibitions. Fortunately, due to the dedicated activities of women chambers across Pakistan in particular and the world at large, we are seeing more opportunities and inclusion for women led businesses to represent themselves in trade delegation visits to different countries.
  • Networking: Since not many women opt for non-traditional jobs or businesses therefore they have a limited circle to get connected and network. These women need active platforms to facilitate an interactive dialogue about how to increase women’s representation in male-dominated industries and to provide an opportunity for employers, government, community, and organizations to think about the contribution women can make and share strategies for how best to attract, recruit, retain and develop women in traditionally male-dominated fields.

Looking to the future, I would advise the women seeking a non-traditional career path, to set their sights high. Challenges may cross or trip you along the way, but keep the courage to proceed and the motivation to convert problems into opportunities. Do the work. Show the value that you bring. Let’s not forget that equality for women does not fall entirely on women’s shoulders. It takes everyone. Men need to believe in women. They can make a huge difference. Fathers need to believe in daughters. Brothers need to believe in sisters. Nations need to believe and invest in their women. Everyone’s an influencer.

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