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Areej has shattered barriers and broken biases for 17 years: This is her secret to success

9 minute read


Enabling participation for all

Include means that Telenor is committed to equality, by enabling connectivity for all and driving greater societal inclusion through it.

“The greatest asset I’ve been given is empowerment.” Here are five ways Telenor contributes to breaking biases in society.

As Vice President of Digital in Telenor Pakistan, Areej Khan is in charge of digital products and growth in a mobile operator with almost 50 million subscribers.

But it wasn’t always like this.

“I joined Telenor Pakistan in 2004 as a Communications Executive. As with many tech and IT companies then, and unfortunately still today, female representation was low. I don’t consider myself an expert on diversity, but I hope my actions over the years have contributed to paving the way for more females in ICT positions in our company,” she says.

Areej Khan, VP Digital of Telenor Pakistan.
Empowerment: “As a working mother, I’ve been no stranger to the challenges that come with combining family and a professional career. This has made me realise that the greatest asset Telenor Pakistan has given other women and me is empowerment,” says Areej Khan, VP Digital of Telenor Pakistan.

Pushing boundaries

Through her 17-year long journey in the company, Areej has constantly faced challenges and tough tasks. Or opportunities, as she calls them.

“The ‘secret’ to a lot of my success, a recipe I strongly encourage all young women and aspiring female leaders to follow, is that I refuse to limit myself. Instead, I embrace risks and push my own boundaries.”

Areej's mindset has brought her to a role in Telenor Pakistan's executive-level manager team. She also credits the company’s work culture for making this possible.

“Telenor Pakistan fosters a culture of mutual respect, and we have men in the organisation that supports women every step of the way. Over the years, I’ve witnessed a strong emphasis on inclusion through various gender diversity initiatives. As a Telenor employee and a female, I can vouch for the fact that this gives out a powerful message of change, inspiring others to follow suit.”

Five ways Telenor breaks biases in society

1. Offering Pakistani women on career break a new beginning

Naya Aghaaz means ‘new beginning’ in Urdu, which is exactly what Telenor Pakistan’s Naya Aghaaz programme aims to give females who have been on a career break to support their families or for other personal reasons. Since launched in 2014, the program has onboarded over 116 Naya Aghaaz associates, with a successful internal placement rate of 40 per cent collectively on different positions at Telenor Pakistan. Graduates of this program continue to work at different corporate sector organisations.

2.Encouraging more girls to pursue a career in tech

It’s a concerning fact that the world of technology and IT is still heavily dominated by men. And studies show that people believe that girls and women considering a career in technology are faced with negative gender stereotypes. To inspire more girls to consider a career in tech, Telenor Norway and Plan International in 2019 launched the Girls Create Tech Academy (GCTA), connecting girls to female technology coaches at Telenor. 61.6 per cent of the girls attending the GCTA said it would be quite likely/very likely that they would study tech subjects in the future compared to a baseline of 29.4 per cent.

Girls Create Tech Academy

3. Granting six-month paid maternity leave

In 2015, a major step in creating an equitable work-life balance for Telenor female employees in Asia was taken. Apart from in Bangladesh, female employees were at the time entitled to less than six months of funded maternity leave per local regulations and personnel practices. This could lead to women deciding to leave the workforce to have children. An internal Telenor survey also revealed that some women might not return, resulting in lost leadership opportunities and staff turnover cost. Therefore, and in line with its corporate vision of advocating diversity and developing more female leaders, Telenor Group adopted a six-month paid maternity leave policy as a minimum standard across all its markets.

4. Striving for a more gender balanced workforce

Over the last years, Telenor has undertaken several initiatives to make its workforce more gender balanced. In all its business units, Telenor has established Women Inspirational Networks, conducted gender pay equality analysis, and standardised paid paternal leave, as mentioned above. In addition, it has instituted a committee to ensure that attention is paid to the diversity and competence in senior management. Backed by equally important local gender balance initiatives in the respective business units, Telenor has experienced an increase in female employees from 33 in 2016 to 38 per cent in 2021. During the same time span, the percentage of women leaders has grown from 26 to 32 per cent while women in senior leader groups have risen from 22 to 32 per cent. In the Telenor Group’s General Executive Management, the percentage of women has increased from 25 to 50 per cent.

5. Inspiring our peers

At Telenor, we ‘Create together’. This is also evident in the way we work to break biases. By joining forces, we believe we can inspire and motivate change at a greater scale than we can do alone. This year, we led the development of a guide published by the Nordic CEOs for a Sustainable Future that sets out concrete steps on how businesses, organisations, and governments can promote a more diverse and inclusive workplace. This group of CEOs from leading Nordic businesses, which includes Telenor Group CEO Sigve Brekke, have also committed to several gender balance driving ambitions. They are also calling on the Nordic governments to enhance overall diversity and inclusion in the Nordic region with an emphasis on gender equality and women’s empowerment. In 2021, Telenor put diversity and inclusion on its top 40 suppliers’ agenda by asking about their policies, targets, and future ambitions for a well-balanced workforce. Telenor also remains committed to the United Nations Women Empowerment Principles, which requires compliance with seven key gender equality principles.