Multan Sultans will become the first T20 franchise in Pakistan with a female general manager, replacing the departing Haider Azhar with journalist Hijab Zahid. It will make Zahid, who presently works at Grassroots Cricket, one of the only female general managers of a T20 franchise anywhere in the world.
Zahid, 28, will also become the youngest general manager at the PSL. She is currently the director of Grassroots Cricket, a position she has held since the start of the year. Zahid has a master’s degree in Project Management from the University of Hertfordshire, and has previously served as media manager for Islamabad United.
Tareen told ESPNcricinfo that Zahid was “the most qualified general manager among all PSL sides”. He is also committing to hiring three female coaches before the start of the PSL, and plans to institute gender parity at the franchise.
“Hijab was the first person that came to my mind,” Tareen says. “I knew she was much more capable than her current job demands of her, and I knew she was the first person I wanted to talk to.
Zahid said she “only needed to think about it for a minute”, but has no illusions about the challenges the role brings.
“It’s a lot harder to assert authority as a woman,” she said. “It’s culturally harder for men to take directions from a woman. We have people in this industry who haven’t interacted with women in their lives through no fault of their own, especially in this power dynamic.
“So I expect we’ll have a lot of conversations and workshops about having a woman in a management role here. While people are used to having women in such positions in the corporate world in Pakistan, that is less true of the sporting world. In the future, we want to train people as analysts, presenters, media managers. It will open doors for a lot of women.”
While there are a few instances of women who have worked as general manager at men’s T20 franchises, it remains rare, especially outside of the Big Bash League. At the BBL, former English cricketer Salliann Briggs holds a similar role for Hobart Hurricanes, while Sydney Sixers and Adelaide Strikers had Jodie Hawkins and Kate Harkness. In Pakistan, where this provides particular cultural challenges, Tareen says he is aware of the work still ahead of him and the franchise he has recently reacquired.
“I will hire a firm for sensitivity training and media training for the management and the players,” he said. “Beyond just Hijab, we want to have more females in the management team as well. This is not some box-ticking exercise or quota system. It’s about equal opportunity. Normally for these roles, sides only interview men. We want more female candidates to apply for these roles too.
“We have three male coaches, and we endeavour to hire three female coaches. We want to have them in place before the start of the PSL. I expect the female coaches to be foreign coaches for now, and when we have a women’s team, these are the coaches we expect to move on and help us out with the women’s team as well. This season onwards, I hope to achieve gender parity for all seasons as long as I’m owner.”
Zahid praised her predecessor Haider Azhar, calling him a “one-man army” but says she’ll approach the job in a different way, and is unlikely to be seen in the dugout during PSL games. While she said others would have to get used to her, she had some on-the-job learning of her own to do.
“Take our captain Mohammad Rizwan, who I’ve found incredibly respectful whenever I’ve interacted with him. So if he has strong beliefs around any point, I’ll always be respectful of that, and I’m hoping I’ll get that back in return. You don’t always get that back from everyone though, so that’s difficult. But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in the industry. I’m comfortable with dealing with players, the challenge is to make them feel comfortable.”
Ultimately, though, according to Zahid, it’s about the job. “Just because I’m a female GM doesn’t mean I’ll only hire women for certain roles. It’s about bringing our work culture into the 21st century. The vision is not about being a woman, it’s about being a good administrator.”
Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000