Pakistani Women in Tech – Maheen Noor Soomro

In our latest series of articles, we want to highlight the wonderful women from Pakistan who are the movers and shakers of their tech scene. Pakistan is a country which earns a reputation for all the wrong reasons. However, it is full of amazing and talented people. In this article, we focus on Maheen Noor Soomro. Read more about her below.

Tell us a little about yourself, your background, your work and your motivations.

I wear many caps. But people know me for my Talent Acquisition/Recruitment Skills, Human Resource Policy & Process specialization and Career Coaching. My Family and friends know me for my art and maddening Energy.

I try juggling as much as I can but here’s a tiny list of titles I have carried over the years or expertise I am known for. An HR Professional, a Career Coach, an HR Process & Policy Consultant, Business Strategy Consultant, a Talent Acquisition Specialist, an Entrepreneur, a self-taught Artist and Women Empowerment & Youth Development Activist.

People in various industries and countries know me for something completely different. But people almost always get in touch with me for Talent Acquisition, Human Resource and Personal Development Advice.

I have a BBA and an MBA degree in Marketing and Human Resources from College of Business Management (CBM) also known as the Institute of Business Management (IoBM) in Karachi, Pakistan. I did my intermediate education from DHA Degree College for Women in Karachi, Pakistan. My Majors there were Fine Arts, Psychology and English Literature and I scored a distinction in Fine Arts in Pakistan. My Primary and Secondary Education is from PECHS Girls School also based in Karachi, Pakistan.

I am very proud of each institute I went to because they made me the person I am today. It added a bit of me, to me.

I started my career a decade ago in an Oil and Gas company as an HR Generalist. My first stint in the ICT industry was as the Manager HR at Wavetec FZCO and then a series of Senior Positions in HR at Systems Limited/TechVista Systems. I was the head of a department within the first four years of my career at Wavetec. Wavetec introduced me the to IT industry of Pakistan and then there was no turning back. This industry showed so much potential and challenged me every day, gave me opportunities to learn something new every day and break stereotypes every day.

I broke the glass ceiling when I became the fastest growing Female Manager at Systems Limited, Pakistan’s first and largest IT Company.  Within my first year at the company after handling their Karachi Operations I was given the opportunity to take over Employer Branding and other initiatives for Business Expansion including leading their UAE operations and starting their Middle East & Pakistan Resource Outsourcing Models.

During my career, I was fortunate to work with teams all over the world, Pakistan, UAE, China, Africa, USA, India, Australia and the UK. During my exposure in the Corporate World, I also had the opportunity from time to time to work as a consultant for various companies on HR, Training and Organization Re-structuring Projects in the Pakistani and UAE markets.

I did not take up consultancy as a full-time gig until 2016 when I left Systems Limited. It wasn’t something I planned, but it was something I wanted to do. Mushawar Consulting was a goal that I just had not fully realized. When some ex-clients and employees heard I had left my position at Systems, many of them approached me and gave me the opportunity to work for them on Talent Acquisition and HR Consultancy projects.

Over time, I had made some strong networking connections in the IT Industry who were aware of my capabilities and my forte. People’s trust in me gave me the wings I needed to rise. I launched my first entrepreneurship as a partnership project in 2016 by the name of Mushawar Consulting, a process and policy consultancy company based in Karachi, Pakistan. We undertook HR policy & process, Business Re-engineering, Career & Business Coaching, Recruitment and tech development projects from clients in Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom. I started this company as a co-founder and I am now leading this company as the CEO with a very young but brilliant team.

In 2017, exactly one year after launching Mushawar Consulting in Pakistan, I am busy launching my first solo entrepreneurship venture Mushawar UK Ltd in London, United Kingdom. Even though as a business this is not very different from Mushawar Consulting, Pakistan but this is by far the most challenging project I’ve undertaken for a while because of my role as the Managing Director and CEO.

The primary services that we are currently offering to our clients in the EU, UK, Australia and UAE include Talent Acquisition & Recruitment Solutions, Web Development & Designing Solutions and Content Writing Solutions. Our Office is located at Kingdom 2 Street, Central Paddington, London and I cannot begin explaining to you the feeling every day when I walk into the office knowing its now or never. It’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s so much responsibility but such an amazing opportunity. I can’t thank God enough for the blessings I have.

What motivated me to get here? Honestly? I always thought that I just wanted to outdo myself again and again and again. I always thought that I do this for me, my satisfaction that I compete with myself. But over the last year, I have realized that I do it for the people I love. I LOVE it when I make my parents’ eyes pop out because I did something they LOVE or are proud of. I am a puppet waiting for applause from them or from my siblings. Added to this bunch now is my very supportive and profound Husband. It’s a very different kind of thrill to make my people happy.

I try not to run away from confrontations and challenges as much as I can. My people are and will remain the biggest reason why I push myself out of bed every day. I fight for them to not just survive but to thrive in life.

Every day I tell myself when I am down & out when I am getting up, when I am walking to work, that Living is a blessing. Being Alive is something to be thankful for. Whatever we are, whatever we will be – all of it is an opportunity.

Do you think Pakistan has changed as a society, in terms of letting women take on jobs?

It’s a Constant paradox; the country, our economy, our people, all of it.

In almost all disciplines and Universities, Women are becoming 50% of the population if not the majority.  However, even then not all women who graduate end up taking on career and utilizing their degrees. This is a problem and then it’s not. I believe educated women mean more educated children and a better future for the country. However, I know it also means lesser doctors and engineers on deck, in actual jobs and there is less talent available and more jobs to close. This causes an imbalance in the demand and supply of fundamental municipal services because of lack of skilled resources and even deteriorates economic growth.

In other news, we have more women entrepreneurs coming out with brilliant ventures, sometimes working merely out of the confinement of the four walls of their homes. Improving the financial stress on the middle-class segment of the society in Pakistan.

We also have more career-oriented women in the workforce leading companies and departments. It’s not a lot, handful actually, but I believe in always having a positive outlook and therefore, even one stone cast is a foundation for the future.

Understanding a very simple factor would help our politicians and our strategy makers, to do better for the country. It is this; women in the workforce outside of the house walls are no longer an option. They are a necessity. The more equipped they are to handle life as an independent individual; the better will be the trajectory of our society.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

Women are held accountable for too many things at the same time. They are expected to be expert homemakers, raise children, attend to social requirements, take care of the elderly and now it is expected that they must also contribute financially to manage household finances. With so many expectations for them lined up as sisters, daughters, wives, mothers and daughters in law, when do we ask them what do they want to do?  They do not have a say in their own lives.

However, I also believe that a lot of times, its women themselves who become barriers to their own leadership. Women keep second-guessing themselves, they will keep excuses for others, and they will hide behind insecurities. A lot of this is because of their upbringing in the society that I have just discussed above. But now, with so many outlets available, so many women out there breaking stereotypes and glass ceilings, it’s rather unfortunate that they will not stand up.

I know nothing is possible without an extra step taken, without making the extra effort and without going an extra mile. When as women we are constantly told to go an extra mile when it comes to compromising with life and situation. Then why can’t we go an extra mile to do something for ourselves?

So, we have to stop being lazy, stop-expecting people to give us a platform, stop expecting and do things ourselves. Make our own way up.

What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?

I have come to believe and know this. NO decision I ever made was the worst decision in my life. Why? I am still alive. Every decision that I have made in my life may not have turned out to be in my favour BUT I am sure that it was a great lesson learnt.

Survival is essential. Survival of the fittest. If I survived and thrived during the course of this life then it was worth living it. Every decision made was worth it.

Of all the decisions I made, there were a few that changed the course of my life. Simple yet not so simple decisions like switching from studying medical to Fine Arts during my intermediate to studying business instead of fine arts for my degree. Even the decision of leaving the Marketing industry to pursue Human Resources as a specialized domain was a decision that made a difference to how I developed as an individual. But just beginning exposure I had to sales and marketing in this short period made me a better Human resource professional. It made me focus on Business strategy before HR Strategy and therefore helped me link my HR decisions with business decisions.

The decision of leaving the very heavily regulated and structured Oil and Gas industry for the IT industry, which was still in its infancy phase. It challenged me every day; it made me reinvent my skills and most importantly myself. I became a quicker decision maker, it made me better at firefighting every day and it definitely helped me improve my recruitment & people assessing skills.

The decision to leave a full-time job in 2016 at a great company and a great title for my own gig – perhaps was the biggest decision I had made for my career and as a person. I became more aware of my strengths; it made me see my weaknesses up close and personal. I could not blame anyone else anymore for my mistakes, my decisions or my life. I also learnt how to become a stronger decision maker. It pushed me outside my comfort zone and I had to restart my career from scratch. I was now not representing as an employee of a company fitting my job description. I was now representing my ambitions, my skills, my own gig and myself.

The move to the United Kingdom in 2017 just when my entrepreneurial venture was doing well and spreading its wings to fly higher was perhaps a very difficult decision for me personally and professionally. Imagine having to recreate your life again from scratch. But I am determined and I am focused and I have reasons. Most importantly I am alive.

What woman inspires you and why?

Why would anyone say anyone else’s name except for their moms? By now as you can well imagine, my life and my ambitions and my motivations are centred around my personal life. I have seen her so close, every day, all the time. I know exactly who she is now. I know exactly who she was. And now I can see what she’s been through to be where she is.

My mother, her patience, her sacrifices, her pains and her wins – all of it has taught and inspired me more than anyone. If you have to learn something, if you intend to learn – you can find the most profound lessons in life from the simplest of things.

Shes taught me the value of family, the value of myself, the value of doing something with my life. She is someone who has always told me that I need to go the extra mile to do something more rewarding in life. She never tells me to quit. She tells me I can take it and do better. She never lets me give up. She says my responsibilities at home are just a quarter of what makes me, me.

Do we have any role models for women? If not, what can we do to create them in Pakistan?

SO many women in our past history have made an impact but like most things in our history books, they have been ignored and deleted. How can people forget the role of Fatima Jinnah and how strong she was for the QUAID and in turn for us?

Haseena Moin, Fatima Surraiyah Bajiya, Parveen Shakir, Abida Parveen, Muniba Mazari, Sharmeen Obaid. The list is endless. From such great names who people can still recall rising heroes like the Lyari Female Boxing team, our talented female cricket & hockey teams. Every one of them has broken stereotypes to be true to themselves. To be the real them.

We have super-women; we just need to give them more credit. Don’t let media and social media trolls bring them down because these women have their own opinions and identity. We need to have more positive reviews of them and their achievements highlighted repeatedly by media outlets to reach masses. This will help enable change of our society’s thought process. I know for a fact that most of these women would not hesitate for a second if they were asked to reach out to people within communities and teach what they know. But it’s not them who need to do more, it’s the men, our society that needs to be educated that these women are not a threat to our traditions or culture. Our male chauvinism is no longer required to run the state of affairs.

Is there a neutral platform or forum for women to discuss their career needs?

I think we have great support groups on facebook available now that also have events and sessions happening where women can get together and get advice not just online but also in person. WomeninTechPK is such a great example.

There are many incubators for women now working for launching successful women powered businesses and startups in the country. For example the WomenX program.

I was an independent consultant offer Women Empowerment Courses and training to not just Corporates but also Independent women that help women identify their life focus. I also offer Women coaching as a service on my website (which unfortunately is under construction and revamp at the moment www.mushawar.co.uk) but you can always find me on Linkedin or Facebook (I’ve shared links to those profiles for you at the end of the interview)

However, the need for a professional forum/formal forum for women to discuss their career needs is still felt and definitely more can be done in this case.

What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

I would say the prevailing society expectations from women to not just be homemakers now, but also generate revenue and become partners in the financial well-being of the household and also raise children side by side. That’s a lot of work and it’s unfair that men will not share some of these responsibilities with women.

Also, I feel sometimes the growing rise of extremism in everything in our personal lives. From political fascism to strong religious uncompromising views not makes the entire country’s future unstable and uncertain. It also makes the rights of women, children and minorities as a whole very uncertain.

What needs to change to help more women come forward?

The basic understanding that a family is NOT just a woman’s responsibility, homemaking is not just a woman’s goal. When Men and our society understand that it’s a dual role and responsibility the chances of a more successful economy are more likely for Pakistan.

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

If we cannot give everyone access to Quality Global Education, then we should be able to give access to Basic Life skills & Ethical Code Education for everyone.

In fact, there should be a fixed curriculum on Life skills and Ethical Code of Life as a part of all the schools, Colleges and Universities curriculum. I feel our society lacks awareness, respect and neglect of ethics & moral values which can only be injected back into the system through consistent feedback, dialogue and awareness sessions.

How can OxGadgets and its readers help you and other women of the industry?

As I said before, work with men and the general society to educate them about how will they prosper if their women prosper. Only when they are convinced that they can actually benefit themselves can they be convinced to let the women reach their true potential.

SO perhaps blogs, events, any two-way communication that would help Men/Society to open up, come out of their comfort zones and see a new perspective, to see the women in their lives as intelligent & capable beings. Inspire respect. Unfortunately, respect is something that’s quickly eroding from our society’s fabric.

You can find out more about Maheen Noor Soomro by visiting her professional and social profiles:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maheenNsoomro

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BaberMaheen

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maheenbaber/

Websites: www.mushawar.co.uk and www.mushawar.co.uk

 

 

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