Coping with the challenges of traditional South Asian attitudes to women and work

I’m a British born Pakistani Muslim girl from Yorkshire. Most women from this background don’t leave their maternal home until they are married. You only move to live with your husband and/or his family so when I told my parents I’d rather study than get married you can only imagine how awkward that conversation was….

After graduating from the University of Bradford in 2011 I joinedIMG_1136 Enterprise Rent-A-Car on the graduate scheme and within the space of a few years had progressed to become a Branch Manager. In October 2014 I was one of five branch managers in the UK to achieve UK Elite Club status within seven months of taking the role and won numerous awards from highest income branch to number one branch on the group’s balance analysis however, it hasn’t been plain sailing. I struggled culturally to keep my job.

My parents do support my career however they expected me to become an accountant. From a typical Asian perspective, the majority of traditional families would expect a university graduate to become an engineer, a dentist, a doctor, or a lawyer.

My mum wanted me to be married at a young age as this is what culturally the norm in the Pakistani community however for me education and a career was vital as I saw some of the struggles my parents faced due to a lack of education.

When I was 16 I told my dad I wanted to get a job. My dad said you don’t need a job but I wanted a job so I could have some financial freedom, without having to rely on my parents all the time.

I broke the rules in my family. I wanted to go to school, complete my A levels, go to university and have a career. My parents would introduce me to people and I had a lot of marriage proposals whilst I was at university. I told my parents that I wanted to finish my degree and get my career on track before I thought of marriage.

It’s a lot easier in this day and age for Asian males to succeed. Women get to level one and two, and then we disappear. I would get told every single day: get yourself another job, your hours are too long and you’re over-working yourself however I had to stick to my guns. I wanted to change my experience compared to my parents. I wanted to be educated enough to be able to support my children through a British university.

I love telling people that I work for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. My then City Manager had nominated me for the Asian Women of Achievers Award in May 2015. I never made the shortlist but it felt good to work for a company that actually recognises the hard work that I’ve put in and even considered me for such an award.

I’m still with Enterprise rent-a-car but in a different capacity now. Based at our regional head office I now deal with the Credit Hire side of our business and the company have allowed me to make changes to my career that suit my personal requirements.

My message to other Asian female students and recent graduates is to pursue your dreams but always stay true to yourself. The perception of a supposed “glass ceiling” only exists if we allow it to. Someone wise once said that ‘you have to be the change you want to see in the world’, this also applies in business. If you want to change something you have to lead the way, there will always be knock backs in life and in business but no one is telling you it’ll be easy. Stick to your guns and have the “yes mentality” and you WILL succeed.

By Arooj Jamil, BSc Accounting and Finance (2011)

3 Comments

Martin Graham

Hi Arooj. My name is Martin Graham. I graduated from the Management Centre in 1984 with a degree in Business Studies. At that time most of the students were white men. I loved living in Bradford where the community was so positively affected by the Pakistani population. One of my friends who studied engineering, Sushma, sometimes suffered as an asian woman but inspired me by her courage. I now live in Paris where I run a coaching company. At the heart of our values is inclusivity and respect for each other. It is inspiring to see how Emm Lane has evolved and your story is exceptional and beautiful. I am going to repost it as part of an article I am writing on Coaching women@work. Thank you for sharing your story. Peace and Prosperity to you and your family. Martin

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Arooj Jamil

Martin – thank you very much for your kind and positive words. Please do share your article once it’s completed I would be very interested in reading it. Find me on linked in (Arooj Jamil) regards.

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Monica Fowler

Arooj,

Your article is inspiring and I hope all woman and men from all backgrounds read it and take away your important message .I have the pleasure of working with you and I can’t thank you enough for being such a great role model, especially to other woman going through similar challenges you face. Keep inspiring and keep up the great work!

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