Manels, all-male panels, are not a new issue in Pakistan, or the world. Women have been sharing their concerns over lack of diversity in the events, conferences or workshops for a long time but just recently things have started to pick pace.
It all started when influential women in Pakistan started calling out event organizers for the lack of diversity. One usual response received from the organizers was lack of information or a platform to identify women who are in tech, have leadership positions and are willing to speak at events as well.
P@SHA, Pakistan Software House Association, realized this problem and attempted to solve this with their recently launched ProWomen initiative. If you are unfamiliar with the initiative, it is a crowdsourced database of professional women in key sectors of Pakistan. It was designed and launched to help event organizers in gaining access to women to participate as speakers, trainers or mentors at their events.
There is no doubt that the list is a great start and is certainly a step in the right direction. A central database of professional women, without any shred of doubt, will help in providing more exposure to talented female leaders across the country. However, since the list was prepared and presented by ‘Pakistan Software Houses Association’, I expected them to do better.
Once again, I must stress that there is nothing wrong with the idea behind this initiative, it’s just the execution that warranted a bit more effort and dedication.
P@SHA is the flag bearer of technology in Pakistan and is the face of technological advancements going on all around the country. Keeping this reputation in view, I expected more than a simple link to Google Sheets, filled with names pasted from LinkedIn, to be at the crux of all their effort.
A simple tech-enabled platform, with much better accessibility and presentation, would have been miles better and wouldn’t have required heaps of efforts or human resources.
Take Startuplist.pk as an example. It’s a simple, easy to search platform which provides basic information about startups in Pakistan. It allows anyone to add a company and fill out contact details for easier access to its information. It’s a simple idea, with a simpler execution, yet it, surprisingly easily, trumps the hasty effort by P@SHA.
A better idea would have been to follow the simple example by startuplist.pk and build a crowdsourced website where any willing woman professional could add her information, provide necessary contact information and details about her expertise and what are the topics she is interested in speaking about. It would have saved both P@SHA, and the organizers looking to bolster women presence at their events, a lot of time and effort which is currently required to both search through and update the Google Sheets document. The latter being a bigger issue because some of the information currently available at the ProWomen database is obsolete. Perhaps people are not updating their LinkedIn profiles as regularly as someone at P@SHA had imagined, hence the outdated information.
So the question that we are left with after all this discussion is not about whether or not it is a good effort by P@SHA. This initiative was much needed and P@SHA should be commended for taking a much-needed positive step towards the right direction. Will it help organizers in rectifying the long-lasting complaint about lack of female representation? Probably. But could it have been improved? Yes! Most definitely.