Nwal Gareeb, currently the Head of Distribution & Expansion at Burj Bank, has been in the field of banking for over 2 decades. She has always been unconventional with her approach – joining an industry which was pretty male dominated at that time and even now by being the only woman Islamic banker in a front end leadership role.
As is true for female bankers, Nwal had, and still has various challenges to face and many barriers to break. “When I started off 20 years ago, there weren’t many women in this field. The old boys club was very much there and it was difficult to reach that glass ceiling. I knew my entire career development would be plagued by it if I didn’t work hard and prove my worth. I had to put in a lot to earn credibility and to reach the point where I am today. Now, I see a lot of working women, especially in the banking field and they definitely have it a little easier than we did,” proclaims Nwal with a smile. She explains further how being involved in Islamic Banking is slightly more difficult than conventional banking. “The kind of customers you deal with here have a different background. Islamic scholars are part and parcel of this type of banking. They sometimes feel more comfortable having men handle their financial issues. Sometimes, lack of education also effects their perception of a woman’s abilities.” However, slowly, she does see the perception changing. As of now, only 3% of her customers are female, but as financial penetration and inclusion in Pakistan continues to grow, this number will increase, she believes. In addition, she hopes that many other women follow in her footsteps and join this industry.
Nwal says that she cannot stress enough on the importance of financial independence for women. “It certainly gives them more self confidence,” she explains, “but with the rate of divorce going up in Pakistan and the life expectancy remaining low, a woman must be self reliant for her own security.” The ups and downs a woman faces at the workplace allow her to become more self aware and acquire the skills to deal with life. “When I started banking I didn’t even know how to fill in a cheque or make a deposit!” she laughs. “But I learnt how to and a lot more.” Financial independence gives women the freedom and power to combat any issues that plague their life, even issues as gruesome as facing domestic violence. Women who are educated and empowered enough to earn their own livelihood, will always have the choice to take steps to protect themselves. Nwal is a firm believer of equal opportunities for both sexes and emphasizes that females should have the liberty to choose any career or lifestyle for themselves. “Whether they want to become a fighter pilot, a business person, or a scientist, it should be up to them and they should be compensated accordingly. It is good to see social media playing a great role in creating this awareness and to see women transform from being the shy, reserved beings to those who know how to grab the right opportunities.
Rather than having a Miracle Moment, Nwal sees a miracle personality in her father. “From a very young age, he taught us the value of self belief, independence and ability to go through difficult situations.” The bond between a father and a daughter definitely plays a crucial role into shaping the future of any woman. If the young women of our society are allowed to dream and given the motivation to keep dreaming, Pakistan will see a more strong set of confident females like Nwal enter the workforce and make our country a better place to live in.