With almost two decades of experience to her credit in the banking industry, Amber Paracha has evolved into a strong, confident woman with much to pat herself on the back for. She comes from a family of professionals and started her journey with the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, from where she graduated with a Masters in Business Administration in Finance. She landed her first job at ABN Amro Bank, which was one of the best banks back in 1997, as a management trainee in Credit Risk and that’s where she began climbing the ladder of success. “The culture there focused on training and development and the mentoring I received led me to pursue a career in banking,” says Amber. She is currently heading the Credit Risk Management function at Pak Brunei Investment Company Limited.
Overcoming the challenges thrown at you at the workplace is part and parcel of the path to success. “You have to prove your metal and the fruits come your way with time,” explains Amber. When she entered the work force 19 years ago, the work habitat was much different from today. “The perception about women was that they are working only to find a suitable partner for marriage and once they find one and have children, they will quit. So, opportunities that yielded higher pay and challenging roles ended up getting passed on to men,” she says. “There was a constant juggle of late sittings because in our culture it’s a lot about you only go home when the boss is leaving, not when the work is done.” Therefore, proving herself and ensuring she was taken as a serious professional was a challenge for Amber. She also warns that in a male dominated field like banking, if women are good at their work and are succeeding, sometimes men resort to character assassination because they don’t know what else to pick on. For that, women must develop thick skin, stay focused and ignore the noise.
However, Amber adds that now she sees a lot of women enter the workforce. She advises young women to not give up on their dreams and not pay heed to people who discourage them. They must look around at all the women who are doing it and are successfully juggling family and work. “Just go for it,” she says, “there doesn’t have to be a choice, one for the other. You can manage both simultaneously. If you are a good time manager, everything falls into the right place.”
Standing up on your own feet gives a working woman a great deal of strength but life creates a fair share of weak moments for everyone. “There was a time when we had to ask people to leave ABN Amro Bank. The organization was downsizing. But to tell some that from today onwards, you will no longer be employed by us knowing how many dependants the person has on him is very difficult. When the same thing happened to me some time later, I realised what they must have gone through,” Amber recalls. But, being a working woman has given amber financial and emotional independence. “You need to be self-sufficient not just for yourself but also to improve the quality of life for your family. There are so many fields in which women are more competent, intelligent and far ahead of men and they should know their capabilities.” Working has allowed her to be more self-aware, to be less emotional and to be a more stable person. That, however, must not mean that taking care of yourself should take a backseat. To stay mentally and physically healthy, Amber ensures she works out at the gym regularly. “I have a different set of friends there and seeing them at the gym takes away the stress of the entire day.” Plus it’s always great to have a different set of social groups to wind off with from a hard day at work.
Amber identifies her Miracle moment to be the time when she was handpicked by her organisation to be sent as the youngest female from Pakistan to Singapore for a 3-month secondment. “I got a very good recommendation which led to other future international assignments,” relates Amber with pride. The transition from being a young, inexperienced management trainee right out of college to assuming a senior key management role has been full of challenges for Amber but being on this path has given her various opportunities and a great sense of achievement as well. Where there are minor lows, there are also highs, as Amber’s journey shows, and with hard work and determination, a woman can ensure there are more roses in the garden than thorns.