Strong, self reliant, yet, well grounded, Miracle Woman Maya Ismail is currently working as the Head of Strategic Investments at Habib Bank Limited. She draws her strength from various people and experiences in her life. Her father bringing her up as an independent woman, her 4 years at Smith College in USA which is known for churning out leaders and her first job at the Karachi Stock Exchange where she had to fight for it at the floor as the only woman, prepared Maya for the difficult playing field life is. Even her grandmothers served as role models for Maya from an impressionable age. “They were always very clear that the girls in the family need to have properties and investments in their names. We all had our own bank accounts from a young age,” she explains. “Now, I preach the same to all my friends, which makes me very unpopular with their husbands,” she says with a laugh.
Maya landed her first set of professional challenges when she joined Karachi Stock Exchange after returning to Pakistan from USA . “At KSE, they had recently turned to automated training, the carryover market was still open outcry so you had to go to the floor. There were around 1500-2000 men and about 3-4 women majority of whom were in secretarial or administrative roles. There had been other female stock brokers but at that time I was one in the market”. Being there, fighting it out on the floor in a man’s world and earning respect from peers and clients was certainly tough for Maya. After years of investing time, patience and hard work in her career, she is content yet striving for greater heights.
Through her work, Maya also aims to empower other women. “At HBL, we are very keen on increasing women within the bank as well as within customers, hence all the new recruitment in the past 12 years, has been 50 % are women. We now have women cashiers all over the country even in rural areas. Our head of retail banking who is, in fact, a fellow Miracle Woman, heads retail banking. We have just launched a women initiative where women in our focus group said they don’t want separate branches, they just want to be treated with respect so that’s what we are doing.”
Maya strongly feels that employers in Pakistan need to follow global standards in today’s evolving world when it comes to women. Female employers should be seen as an active part of the team and treated as equals to their male counterparts. “If they are mothers, employers can make their lives easier by providing daycares. Being a mother is not a hindrance. They just need a bit of support,” says Maya. “Women are more dedicated and focused and have the fantastic ability to manage time as well as demands of the workplace. They earn, take part in committees, and manage finances of the houses.” A little support by the organizations they work in can help them go a long way. Maya also feels that banks can provide the much needed platform for women whereby they become financially and emotionally independent.
For Maya, there have been many Miracle Moments. “The best moments would be when I’d prove all the naysayers wrong, pick up the phone and call my boss to tell him it’s done. Getting those assignments done with all the odds stacked against me would bring me a lot of satisfaction and I look forward to such opportunities still!”
As is true for every person, where there have been highs there have been some lows as well for Maya. Professionally, she would be taken aback by instances where she would sometimes not be treated well by a client but was lucky to have bosses and mentors which always had her back. On the personal front, however, she felt the weakest when she lost her father. “I had to pull myself up quickly since I knew I have to take care of not just my mother but my grandmothers as well.” It is this very sense of responsibility and the strength to move forward no matter what that makes Maya Ismail a Pond’s Miracle Woman.