PC: WOW360 – Misbah Naqvi Co-Founder & GP at i2i Ventures
The discussion on gender equity in the workplace and leadership positions for women has been ongoing. While attitudes towards women in leadership have changed over the years, much progress remains.
Women continue to face challenges, including being underestimated, categorized as ‘soft’ or ’emotional’, and at times overlooked for the top positions.
We recently spoke with Misbah Naqvi, Co-Founder & GP at i2i Ventures, a venture capitalist firm that invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups and helps take their businesses to the next level. Pakistan has a young population, with almost 60 % below the age of 30 making it an attractive place for startups.
Women in Start-Ups
According to Misbah, there are some outstanding female founders in Pakistan, but they still constitute a significantly smaller percentage in comparison to male founders.
As a reference point. women founders raised 34% of all startup funding in 2021 however, in 2022 this fell to a mere 8%.
In Q1 2022, international angels accounted only for 9% (8 investors out of 89) of total investors across disclosed deals. In Q1 2023 they comprised 26% (7 investors out of 27) of total investor activity across disclosed deals. There were 22 deals across Q1 2022 and 7 across Q1 2023. claims Misbah Naqvi.
Unfortunately, in Q1, no-female-founded companies announced funding and one mixed-gender-founded company announced funding with an undisclosed amount – all 6 deals were closed by male founders.
While the number of women entering the startup space is increasing, many of them are opting for more traditional businesses that can be easily operated from home, sometimes on a part-time basis.
For women founders seeking to establish investment-worthy businesses, initiatives like Invest2Innovate’s sister company, WeRaise program is fostering a robust pipeline of women entrepreneurs and assisting them in preparing for investment opportunities.
Identifying Challenges Faced by Women in Leadership Positions
We asked Misbah to identify some of the challenges she feels women face in leadership positions.
Women are often underestimated and labelled as “soft” or “emotional,” as if these attributes have a negative connotation. Consequently, they are overlooked for leadership positions.
Additionally, although employers may not explicitly state it (and in most places, they legally cannot), they may assume that women’s responsibilities at home will distract them or take away their focus from work.
Furthermore, women in leadership positions are sometimes viewed as “too aggressive,” while their male counterparts exhibiting similar traits are acknowledged and rewarded, shares Misbah Naqvi.
Evolution of Societal Attitudes Towards Women in Leadership
As we witness an increasing number of women joining and staying in the workforce, there has been a shift in societal attitudes towards women with careers. Male colleagues have become more accustomed to working with and being supervised by female bosses, especially in industries where women are more prevalent.
This change in attitude can also be attributed to the organizational culture established and maintained within the workplace. In Pakistan, we are also observing a slight shift in attitudes towards women spending time outside of the home without being stigmatized, states Naqvi.
Although there is still a long way to go before we achieve an equal representation of women in senior positions within companies and on boards, we are making progress.
Effective Strategies for Increasing the Number of Women in Leadership
Misbah shares that it is crucial to assess both men and women based on merit when it comes to promotions or placement in leadership roles. However, we must consciously eliminate biases when evaluating women since these biases are still prevalent, often being subconscious, says Naqvi.
In a corporate setting, HR can play a role in ensuring that interview and evaluation processes are evaluated to encourage gender-neutral decision-making. It is also essential to encourage women to enrol in programs such as the Pakistan Institute of Corporate Governance Director Training, which offers discounts to women seeking certification so that they have access to opportunities to qualify and potentially be considered for board roles.
Additionally, having women role models can inspire others to consider positions they may not have thought themselves qualified for.
Advocacy for Women Leaders & Their Organizations
As women, we often refrain from bragging about our accomplishments, as we prefer to let our work speak for itself, states Naqvi. However, throughout her 25-year career, she has learnt that it is crucial to advocate for oneself and be one’s own best advocate at times. It’s also essential to seek out mentors who can support , both within and outside of the organization.
I’ve learnt over the last 25 years of my career, that it is important to speak up for yourself and sometimes we have to be our own best advocates
As women, we should lead by example and become change agents. Naqvi believes that we can play a positive role in mentoring other women, offering guidance, and sharing the perspective we have gained over the years. Women can also influence organizational policy and advocate for other competent women.
Ensuring Fair & Equitable Pay for Women in Leadership
It is crucial to have robust legal measures in place to prevent discrimination and wage disparities says Misbah Naqvi. Regular surveys within organizations can help identify any gender-based pay disparities and prevent them from becoming systemic.
Naming and shaming organizations that engage in such practices can have a far-reaching impact on promoting pay equity. A Twitter account even calls out organisations for the unfair pay gap.
Men’s Role in Advancing Gender Equity in the Workplace & Leadership
Having male allies is crucial in promoting gender equity in the workplace. Men can lead by example by modelling respectful and supportive interactions with women.
In organizations where men vastly outnumber women in leadership positions, men must advocate for gender equity and create opportunities for women to advance. By doing so, male allies can help foster a more inclusive and diverse work environment, shares Naqvi.
Common Misconceptions about Women in Leadership
In Misbah Naqvi’s opinion, women in leadership positions often face stereotyping and are often categorized as either too soft or too aggressive. This binary perception can hinder their growth and success.
There’s also a common misconception that women expect preferential treatment or handouts, which is far from the truth. Women just want equality and fairness, and given access and opportunities, they can rise to the challenge and achieve their goals.
Misbah Naqvi on Encouraging Girls & Young Women
It is important to have visible role models who demonstrate through their actions that women are capable of excelling in any area. By showcasing women leaders, we can inspire young girls and women to believe in their potential. As Brené Brown noted, sometimes the most courageous and significant act is simply showing up.
Take action today to support gender equity in the workplace and leadership positions. Start by learning about the challenges that women face in these roles and advocating for policies and practices that promote fairness and inclusivity.
The articles, podcasts, and impact videos by WOW360 (in strategic partnership with SEED Ventures ) serve as additional learning material for the British Council Women in Leadership (WIL) Programme. These materials provide a local context that is essential for participants to have a deeper understanding of the content they have learned. They also offer diverse perspectives on how leadership is reflected at the grassroots level, and at higher management and are designed to benefit both facilitators and participants of the WIL Programme