Talking to Javaria Malik is in itself an inspiring experience. She is a single mom who began her career in education just over ten years ago and is now the Country Head for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants in Pakistan. She is also a mentor for Unilever’s Advancing Women Empowerment project. She is upfront about the challenges young women face when starting their careers in Pakistan. “One particular challenge that I want to mention is ‘unconscious bias’. I have faced it in my career from the onset and I know it is not a conscious choice by any organization. However, just because a professional is a young female there is an unsaid understanding that she cannot take up challenging and senior roles.”
Javaria proposes that the HR departments of companies need to develop and implement transparent talent processes that ensure that talent decisions are taken on merit and not on any biases or stereotypes. “Only then will women reach their true potential and contribute effectively to society,” she says. While the systems will eventually come to ensure merit, it is critical for women to acknowledge and understand their weaknesses so they can work proactively to improve upon them.
Javaria believes that independence is essential for everyone in today’s day and age, both in terms of financial independence and emotional independence. “There is no bigger satisfaction in life than knowing that you are in a position to pay your own bills,” asserts Javaria. “Emotional independence is important because while it is good to have a social support system, one needs to be in a position to take important life decisions themselves without any influence. You need to know that all consequences of your decisions, good or bad, are your own to face.”
On work life balance Javaria quotes Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who she looks up to as an inspiration. “Sheryl says that there is work and there is life and there is no balance. I agree with her school of thought. It is extremely tough to juggle between being a mom and maintaining a high power position at work but there are some things that you need to do consciously. Once my son asked me whether he is more important to me or my phone. Ever since that day I make it a point to unplug technology and be with him completely when I’m home.”
A woman will always face tough decisions Javaria exclaims. In her case she got offered international roles a few times but she turned them down solely to not unsettle her son’s life. She believes she would have been in an even better position today if she had taken them but there are no regrets when you make difficult choices for the family.
Javaria talks about her mother at the end and how nothing could have been possible without the support of her mother. “Especially after my father passed away it has been her who has enabled me to continue. I am sometimes out of the house for twelve thirteen hours and she is the one who looks after my son.” For Javaria, her miracle moment was the birth of her son. She states that she feels pride in herself for managing all the roles in her life to the best of her ability. Being a mother, daughter, sister, friend, and co-worker, she believes she manages all relationships well. And according to her, all of this is possible because she is a woman. “Women are much stronger than men because they can smile when the chips are down. I thank God every day that he made me a woman,” Javaria says with a lot of passion. And with that statement she leaves no doubt for anyone that she is, indeed, a miracle woman.