Elevate: a Pakistani campaign for gender balance on panels

If you’re a follower of feminist circles, you’ll know about a fairly recent movement to get more women on panels at conferences, speaking events, and wherever opinion-makers and experts get on a stage and opine about whatever topic is at hand.

We see these types of panels everywhere: in academia, the media, economics and business, science, so on and so forth. Until recently we accepted this as the default, until we realized that the only reason women weren’t being included on panels is good old-fashioned sexism. People starting calling out all-male panels  and even making pledges to not participate in all-male panels.

You might think this wouldn’t be the case in Pakistan, where men are still generally accepted as having more authority and expertise than women. But a new organization, Circle, which works to develop women’s leadership in Pakistan, has started a new initiative led by Circle co-founder Sadaffe Abid. This initiative is called Elevate and works towards the inclusion of women in high-impact panels and key discussion forums.

Sadaffe Abid, who UAE’s The National named as “one of Pakistan’s most successful businesswomen“, spent twelve years working in microfinance for Pakistani women as CEO of the Kashf Foundation. She took a year off to get a masters’ degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School, then moved to Dubai and conducted leadership training for women in a diverse community of Arab, South Asian and European women. Now she’s in Karachi, and has started Circle, which looks to build leadership skills amongst Pakistani women eager to make it big in the professional world.

Circle’s Elevate campaign already has significant support in the corporate world: the CEOs of Telenor, Mitsubishi, the Aman Foundation, and Gul Ahmed have pledged to promote women in the workplace, while companies such as Philips, The Nest I/O, PASHA, and the LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship are partners.

But there’s always room for more. As outlined on the Elevate web site, “Our country, economy and community will be stronger, more prosperous and equitable if we invest in women and ensure that they too can contribute back in a significant way.” And one of the best ways to promote women is to recognize their expertise by putting them on high-profile panels. This creates a very visible cadre of role models for other women to follow.

Go here to sign the pledge: you’ll commit to participating in a gender-balanced panel only if it has at least one woman speaker in a panel of three or more.  Elevate says “the campaign believes that investing in and advancing women is the smartest economic venture of today” but there’s much more at stake than economics.

Promoting women on panels, and by extension in the workplace creates a more balanced, fair, and emotionally robust society. And Pakistan needs that today more than ever.


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