November Issue 2003

By | News & Politics | Published 21 years ago

On a rainy Saturday in October, over a hundred people gathered in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the Pakistani Women in Leadership: Profiles in Professional Success conference, a joint event sponsored by OPEN-US and the South Asia Initiative, Harvard University.

OPEN, an organisation of Pakistani entrepreneurs in the US, conducts similar events every quarter along with a $50000 Business Plan contest each year.

Imran Sayeed, CEO NetNumina, Inc and President, OPEN New England, kicked off the event along with Sugata Bose, head of South Asia Initiative at Harvard University. Dr. Bose emphasised the need to promote joint cooperation among South Asian countries to achieve shared needs and objectives. He acknowledged the achievements of Pakistani women that he had worked with at Harvard and elsewhere.

Shahla Haeri, Director of the Women’s Studies Program at Boston University and author of the book No Shame for the Sun: Lives of Professional Pakistani Women, was the master of ceremonies. The keynote speaker was Shahla Aly , Microsoft’s General Manager World Wide Services, Strategy and Planning. Aly, who earned an MBA from Karachi University before moving to Canada, emphasised her cultural and professional transition to the corporate environment and how she balances her values, faith and family with the needs of a highly demanding profession. She spoke of female role models such as Fatima Jinnah and Begum Liaquat Ali Khan, inspirations during her formative years.

Another speaker, Henna Imam, Vice President Sales at Gerber Products, has an MBA from Wharton and helped to start a Proctor and Gamble venture in Pakistan.

Lubna Khalid, a young entrepreneur, is the founder and CEO of Real Cosmetics. A graduate of the University of California, she cashed in on a void in the market for cosmetic products for Asian and Latino women. In the process, she took on the Goliaths of the cosmetics industry, companies that today actively seek out her professional expertise and product line.

After eleven years at Citibank, Fawzia Naqvi ran into the proverbial glass ceiling and left her position to join the non-profit Women’s World Bank. Through her transition from the patriarchal Citibank environment to the women-led WWB, Naqvi has come to the conclusion that a balanced male-female structure brings out the best in a corporate environment.

Other panelists were Amra Tareen, a partner at Sevin Rosen funds who covers the telecommunications and networking industry and Rosina Samadani. Rosina is the first Pakistani-American woman to become an associate at McKinsey and Company. She holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Northwestern University and is a recipient of the Chicago mayoral award for community service.

The conference panelists homed in on the issues of balance that can arise in conflict between career and family goals. They spoke of believing in oneself and the importance of resilience and persistence as enablers in fulfilling one’s dreams. They shared ideas on dealing with issues of gender politics and sexual harassment. They advised parents and other family members to encourage women to succeed and to be champions of their cause as they develop. Barry Hoffman, the honorary Consul General of Pakistan in Boston, concluded the meeting with a vote of thanks.