AS a leader in its field, global pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has provided a platform for many employees to realise their talents. Fariha Salahuddin is one such person, a woman who has risen to the top in her field. Fariha is a Human Resources Director for the company living and working in Pakistan. Her story is inspirational and it is fascinating to get a woman’s perception about what it’s like to work in unstable, socio-political conditions. She also talks about the misconceptions people have about Pakistan. Fariha has kindly allowed us to reproduce this article about her from the GSK website and we thank her and her company for this.
‘There is never a dull moment in my life. Every day I wake up knowing that there will be an exciting new challenge for me at work. And I know that I have been empowered by GSK to tackle that challenge, and therefore to play my part in building a successful, sustainable business.’
These are words that could have been spoken by any number of employees across the Emerging Markets Region. But they have particular resonance given that they come from Fariha Salahuddin, Human Resources Director for Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, whose individual challenges are perhaps greater than most.
On the one hand, Fariha needs to make sure that her activities are aligned with GSK Pakistan’s aggressive growth agenda. On the other, she must operate in a complex business environment where unstable socio-political conditions, the war on terror, and almost daily threats to personal safety are also key concerns.
While Fariha is busy developing and implementing human resource strategies aligned with business needs, therefore, at the same time she has to help meet the basic security needs of employees.
‘Outsiders are often surprised by the resilience and strength of spirit of people in this part of the world,’ she says. ‘These qualities have helped GSK become industry leader in Pakistan, and contributed significantly to the prestigious awards we have received, such as Best Place to Work in Pakistan among all corporates and Employer of Choice within the pharmaceutical industry.’
Fariha admits, however, that she doesn’t really appreciate the organisation’s spirit and resilience until she steps outside Pakistan. And that is why a recent opportunity to attend a programme on Sustainable Human Resource Enterprise at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) centre in Italy proved such a valuable experience.
She received a fellowship from the ILO to represent the Employers Federation of Pakistan at the event, which aimed to give those taking part an insight into the modern concepts and practices in human resource management and workplace practices that can raise productivity and improve enterprise performance.
‘I had the chance to interact with fellow professionals from other countries across Europe, Asia, Africa – heads of HR, union leaders, government representatives and so on,’ she says. ‘While they all recognised GSK as a company that had good values and management practices, many of them couldn’t believe I lived in Pakistan and was still so positive. It took me a while to explain that, besides terrorism, we are also known for scrumptious food, good cricket, a rich culture, fantastic scenery and high quality talent!
‘Some of them also wanted to talk about gender equality, asking if I felt “liberated” to be there on my own. I told them that nothing was different, and that I was fortunate enough to work for an organisation where the only criteria for progression is merit: each talent gets the opportunity to flourish and grow.
‘I got back home with a real sense of accomplishment. Besides learning a lot on the programme I was able to clarify some of the misconceptions about my country and, at the same time, highlight the best practices of my company.’
At the ILO programme, sustainability was defined as a company’s ability to achieve its business goals and increase long-term shareholder value by integrating economic, environmental and social opportunities into its business strategies, Fariha explains. Participants were taken through the areas in which HR can make a contribution to support human capital for the sustainability of the organisation.
‘At its heart, sustainability is an issue requiring organisational and cultural change,’ she says. ‘Areas in which HR professionals can potentially make a strong contribution are in organisation development, especially for their facilitation and conflict management skills, change management, culture change, and alignment of human resource and other systems and processes.
‘In my view, empowerment also plays an integral role in creating a sustainable organisation. To me it means doing the right thing with the right intention. It also means being responsible and accountable. And it means constantly upgrading yourself so that you are prepared to face the challenges with minimal support.’