Since 2005, I have been living in a bubble called Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) which is beautifully protected by its custodians. The best part about it is the empowerment that women receive in this environment. The environment is not perfect, but it is not less than perfect either.
When my daughter turned three, I started my first full-time job at this very institution. At my first interview (in 2005) with Dr Javed Ghani, the former Dean of the Suleman Dawood Business School (SDSB) at LUMS, I asked him for two things. I asked him for flexibility on the job and for a facility where I could keep my daughter after school. Both were offered to me as I started my humble career and relationship with LUMS as a Research Associate.
During my three years as an employee at LUMS, before I left for my PhD in 2008, there wasn’t a single incident where I felt any sort of hurdle because of my identification as a mother of a young child. Whatever I wanted to do, in whatever form I wished to do it, I managed it.
It was in these three years that I not only conducted research in my field of interest, but also applied for a PhD program at the University of Cambridge and subsequently received the Commonwealth scholarship. It is important to note that regardless of the fact at the time there was a lack of female professors at SDSB, I felt completely supported and encouraged to pursue my goals in a career that seemed all together male-dominated at the surface.
Till date, my fifteen years of experience at LUMS, suggests that LUMS DNA possesses three major elements that are required for women empowerment. Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity.
Inclusivity. In the ecosystem that is LUMS, no matter the limitations and constraints one feels, the institution protects you. It does not matter where you’re from, what your orientation is, how you choose to dress or how you choose to speak: LUMS provides an environment that is inclusive. For example, a student wearing the niqab and another, wearing Western attire, both are provided the same liberties and opportunities. These are two extremes that can co-exist in LUMS.
With the norms and values present inside LUMS, individuals are provided the opportunity as well as the space to speak. Even if one does not agree with others, one is given the liberty to hold onto their opinion and openly express it. Many of the discussions and debates LUMS has held over the years, if they were to take place in any other place, surely there would be more court cases and disputes than any actual conversation.
LUMS provides such inclusivity, that people from different schools of thought can exist simultaneously, converse and agree to disagree.
Diversity. Within LUMS, one can find individuals from across Pakistan, making it a true representative of the country as a whole. From Gilgit Baltistan to Karachi, all can be found and are given the opportunity to maintain their diversity. In addition, religious diversity can also be found. Muslims can pray in the mosque on campus at all times; Hindus are given the freedom to celebrate Diwali and Holi on their respective days; a Christmas tree is also put up in December for the Christians present in this ecosystem.
Diversity is in the social fabric and spirit of LUMS. It does not matter what your social, political, or religious background you hold. For any student, this environment helps them in becoming a capable resource and how the institutions and its faculty can help them reach that goal.
Though there may be some issues that can come up from time to time, there is a mechanism which allows for them to reported and solved immediately. Even at the high level, the management including Syed Babar Ali Sb, Mr. Razak Dawood, the Vice Chancellor and all the Deans of LUMS, are all on the same page. They form a LUMS family that is so diverse, showing that beauty lies not in similarities, but in differences.
When it comes to women, LUMS has a special focus in helping to empower them. Head of Department (HoD) positions are open to faculty members regardless of gender, encouraging female faculty members to lead programs throughout LUMS.
Equity. There is no doubt that people have different capabilities across the board. Giving them an equal opportunity is simply not enough, they also need to be provided with equity: an equal path for preparation. LUMS makes sure that such people, who possess the intelligence and passion to succeed but lack the capacity, are given a helping hand to develop them. LUMS NOP (National Outreach Program) is one such great example. LUMS specifically target women in its drive to equity.
While understanding that in our society, women do not have the necessary savings to pursue a higher education and that spending on the education of a woman is highly unlikely, LUMS helps in financing these women not only through scholarship, but also a fee waiver for any female candidate wanting to pursue a Masters programme. In the scholarship programme recently introduced in SDSB for MBA and EMBA, 50% scholarships are reserved for women.
Furthermore, female faculty members who request for a more flexible timetable because of their children, households and family members, LUMS is always there to help them. Everyone at LUMS makes sure that women do not get disadvantaged due to prevailing social, cultural, and household norms.
Though within LUMS, the community has made sure that its four walls are the safest one can feel in, incidents do take place. But it is the institution that then makes sure that these cases are taken up, investigated and brought to justice. I have been a part of the sexual harassment standing committee at LUMS and there is one specific case that never seems to leave me. A girl, scared to be identified and ridiculed by her parents, wanted to stay anonymous throughout the proceedings and it was this sexual harassment committee which did not allow the girl’s identification in any form to be brought up within the case or its paperwork.
This was a unique case at LUMS, setting a precedent for subsequent cases to make sure that the women within this community; within this ecosystem were allowed to thrive and were protected. This model of justice and protection is what needs to be replicated within Pakistan as a whole.
In addition to everything this institution has done for its faculty, students and staff, it has done a lot for me as well. When I wanted to start my business, EDTechWorx, it was also LUMS that encouraged me to pursue my goals. Not only did they provide me with a space to work out from, but they also gave me the space to do things the way I wanted to. The former Vice Chancellor, Dr Sohail Naqvi, was the one who nurtured the idea that NICLahore would be a part of the LUMS ecosystem, and it is this enterprise within which I got incubated. I had the facility of my own office, as a faculty member, and also of a workspace at NICLahore where I could further conduct my business.
Once I made the decision to leave my tenure track and focus solely on my startup, it was LUMS once again that came forward and held my hand, making me an Executive Residence. And Vice Chancellor Arshad Ahmad and Dean Alnoor Bhimani were the ones who had supported and have come to support me even today in this shift.
There is no doubt that if this ecosystem did not exist within LUMS, was not protected and promoted by the LUMS faculty, then I, as a female entrepreneur, would never have been able to fully thrive. Without this ecosystem on a national scale, never will our women be able to grow and nurture themselves to be at their full potential.
We can only hope that the steps LUMS has taken are replicated across the region by its very own graduates and its very own individuals.
About the Author
Dr. Farrah Arif
With a PhD from University of Cambridge and a distinguished career as educationist, corporate trainer, strategic thinker and marketing consultant, Dr. Farrah Arif, Founder & CEO EDTechWorx and LUMS Executive in Residence, has helped many organizations optimize their business strategy to drive sustainable revenue growth and profits. Her areas of specialty are Business Digital Transformation Strategy, Marketing in the Digital Age, Consumer Data Analytics and Simulation, and Design Thinking.