In this latest series of articles, we are publishing interviews of women working as a professional or a student in the technology sector. The objective is to highlight their work and contribution to the industry and the community.
In these interviews, you will find women working in technology to solve real-world problems, break stereotypes, and create the next big impact on the tech industry. This series of interviews shows that even with the lowest rate of women participation in the labor market in Pakistan, there are still many smart women who are creating and using technology to work wonders.
Today, we are featuring Nadia Iqbal. Read on to learn more about her work and get inspired.
1. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, your education, and your work.
I was born and brought up in Lahore and did my O-levels & A-levels from Convent of Jesus and Mary & Lahore Grammar School, respectively. For my undergraduate degree in business administration & finance, I decided to go to Sabanci University in Istanbul, Turkey. Going to Turkey was a bold move as I knew no one who was or had studied in Turkey but one that paid off! I graduated second in my batch in 2017 and then worked for a while in Istanbul before returning to Pakistan. Living in a country where the first language wasn’t English brought on its own set of adventures and exploration. I traveled to 20 cities within Turkey as well as a semester abroad in Milan, Italy, where I explored over 40+ cities!
I never had any intention of moving back to Pakistan and worked hard to get a job & apartment in Istanbul and settle down. Fate has its own way of defining my path, and due to some medical reasons, I moved back to Lahore. At that time, I didn’t have much knowledge about the startup space in Pakistan or even really what sort of career path I wanted to follow. By chance, I applied to Cheetay where I started my career in business development & sales, and so began my journey in the startup world. From there onwards, in the past six years, I’ve helped grow and blitz scale startups, including Cheetay, Brandverse, Chikoo & most recently Colabs where my role has revolved around sales, operations & strategy. The reason I’ve always loved working in startups is that there’s always a smart problem to solve that’ll impact a diverse range of people over a relatively short period of time. That whole roller coaster of ups and downs and learnings and eventual impact is what really excites me and makes me feel that I’m doing something worthwhile with my time. My drive has always been to do something that can produce a tangible result, and I have been so fortunate to interact with numerous people along the way who have taught me one thing or another. I’ll give an example, through Chikoo, I came across this young boy of around 8-9 years who sold Donuts to support his family in a far-off location in Karachi. Through the platform, we got him to at least triple his earnings! These small stories are what add up to create value and ease for others.
2. What are your future plans/aspirations? What impact will it have on the community/society/your team/your project?
I think the question for most people on their entrepreneurial journey is the courage to take a leap of faith and start their own company with a problem to solve that excites them as much. Pakistan is still so far behind in the tech space, and there are so many areas to explore. Me, I love seeing what startups are doing in the region and how they are completely disrupting the space, whether it’s through podcasts, traveling abroad, or following different startup journeys online. The worst kind of fear for me is to have “free time” on hand and nothing to be passionate about / believe in. I want to diffuse my energy toward the people I interact with on a daily basis and get them excited and make them truly believe in the problem at hand. I have 100% believed in the companies I have worked at so far and have grown them as if they were my own. I don’t know yet when or what the idea is that’ll really make me switch one day to start my own company, but I have enough faith in my intuition and ability to wait and see as it unfolds.
I’ve had leadership roles at a very young age, and I want to encourage other people as well to challenge themselves and not let society or gender roles, or age hold them back and doubt themselves. Once we let go of that fear and realize that it is okay to take a bet on ourselves, we can unleash so much potential and growth.
3. Please brag about your career accomplishments. What are the things you are really proud of?
I think one of the biggest accomplishments for me is to be heading a department, let alone the sales & operations department at Colabs (the biggest department of 60 people), and being the only female HoD and under 30. As someone who’s headed sales & operations, this is always the most crucial and critical part of the company as all the projections/revenue depends on our performance. This is what both excites and challenges me to push forward constantly.
I’ve always been fortunate enough to exceed targets & expectations. I think it’s also very special for me because the amount of effort and hard work required to prove yourself and not give up no matter what happens is something that doesn’t get highlighted enough. What makes me proud of myself here is that for women like me to have this opportunity and to succeed in such roles is what will really help change the narrative around topics such as young leaders and women in critical roles. It’s the 50-60 people I interact with on a daily basis that will create that ripple effect as they grow and go to various organizations. That’s why it’s so important to send the right message and set the right tone and to build a culture to empower others and make them realize that you’re there to support them (as, fortunately, all my bosses in my career have done for me).
The other part that really makes me feel proud is in terms of the impact created. From the start of my career till now, there are so many people I’ve interacted with, helped, stayed in touch with, fought & learned from. So many of them have always personally reached out and said how we’d made a difference in their lives or helped them earn a little more or live a little better. That, for me, is my biggest success.
Also, I’m a black belt in Karate 😉
4. What has been your best education/career decision, and why?
I have done all my internships in corporate companies, whether in Pakistan or abroad, and that’s usually the mindset for a stable & secure career or at least what we are made to believe. I think when I switched or decided to pursue a career in startups, it was a risky bet but one that I feel very satisfied with and proud of.
5. What’re the best lessons you’ve learned?
You can learn something new from everyone, from an office boy to the CEO, and no matter how much one has achieved in life, there is always something new to learn. One just needs to be willing to observe, pay attention and ask questions.
Another super important lesson I’ve learned, experienced, and truly believe in is that consistency is key, and that hard work always pays off.
6. Which woman inspires you and why?
I think my late grandmother has really inspired me to believe in myself and to work hard towards achieving my goals. She moved to a different city around 40 years ago to pursue her career in medicine and practiced throughout her life while managing her children and at the same time consulting for free for the poor as well. I think all three things are a very good mix and are what really define a person’s life, and it’s essential to maintain a balance between all three.
7. Do you think Pakistan has changed as a society in terms of accepting career-oriented women? What needs to change to help more women come forward?
I definitely think Pakistan has changed and improved for the better, not only in accepting women but in providing them with the opportunities and accessibility to learn and grow, whether this is in the form of education, grants, transport, or courses. I think it’s also a lot about normalizing things such as equal pay, maternity leave & period leaves to name a few. Women shouldn’t be made to feel special for getting basic rights or getting the same rights as men. Once this environment of equality is further fostered, it will automatically encourage more women to progress. Another important factor, I think, is also women supporting other women – for example, I’ve always seen strong women in the startup field and used them as a source of inspiration to grow myself as well. In conclusion, I think yes, there has been progress, but there is still a long way to go, and we all must play our part in changing that narrative.
8. What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
I think with a lot more flexibility around working from home & timings, and it’s important to remember to have that work-life balance and give sufficient time to both family & work. Women also need to learn that there will always be pressure or competition to succeed, but it’s very important to keep your own pace and define your own path to success.
9. If you could change one thing about the tech industry/business, what would it be?
Roles should be given based on competence and not gender. While we’ve made progress, I feel it’s a lot harder to make men “believe” that women can do the same job in a C-level role (or even better!)
10. How can WomenInTechPK help you and other women?
As I said above as well, women really do inspire other women. To have a platform to learn, connect & grow with other women is really a blessing and is really what drives other women to grow as well.
You can follow Nadia Iqbal using her profile below, and please do not hesitate to hire her for your next project.