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Female Disruptors: Salwa Abdul Hadi On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Slow Down. I have a lot to juggle and so I am constantly multi-tasking and squeezing things in. However, multi-tasking can mean our minds are constantly taking in information and we don’t always have time to process that. By slowing down, I get things done to a higher standard. I also now regularly use silence to access my own thoughts and perspectives.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Salwa Abdul Hadi.

An award-winning Empowerment & Leadership Coach and a passionate gender equality advocate, on a mission to empower female social entrepreneurs and purpose driven professional women to step into their power, rise up and grab their seat at the table of change. She is especially passionate about supporting women who face gender equality challenges to embrace their confidence and authenticity and enable them to become Authentic Social leaders of the future, making necessary, bigger impacts of social justice and change.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Thank you for having me.

I am an Egyptian, English, Muslim and a proud mum of 4 children. I was brought up in a patriarchal home in Saudia Arabia, where I had it ingrained from birth that I was inferior based on my gender. My gender role expectation was to be modest, meek, obedient, and sacrificing for the benefit of my husband, father, and brothers. This was my normal and something I, like many other girls, aspired to. I was conditioned to believe that honour and shame were the most important things in life, and it fell on my shoulders to uphold that family honour. However, my normal changed when I moved to the UK with my mother and siblings at the age of 15. This was the first time ever I had experienced not only a different country, but a different world!

I went on to have a long successful corporate career in banking in leadership roles. Yet inside I battled with feelings of shame and guilt, of feeling invisible and worthless. It wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s, I accidentally fell upon personal development and hired a life coach, that I started to overcome cultural and patriarchal oppressive values.

This was life changing, I had spent my life full of shame and guilt for not living up to the repressive social & traditional values and beliefs of what being a ‘good Muslim girl’, ‘a good wife’ ‘a good girl looked like. I am still on that journey as those beliefs are very deeply entrenched.

It was then, in my late 30’s I was finally able to look in the mirror and feel proud of the strong, independent woman staring back at me.

I then started to research Islam for myself, as things I had been taught as part of Islam didn’t sit with me, particularly around the status of women. I quickly realized, what I had been taught was in fact traditions and patriarchal social norms. The True religion respected women as equals and had highlighted women’s rights over 1400 years ago! This led me onto my studies into the acceptance and justification of Violence against women which was very present in the Arab world. Despite my own experiences I was still floored by what was happening within these communities. I then made it my mission to not just stand on the side lines, to use my own experience and learnings to make a change and stand up for women’s rights and reeducate the value of women in true Islam.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Many Muslim women, not all, face challenges within their communities, where the culture is infused with patriarchy and deeply reluctant of female independence.

This combined with the low number of Muslim female role models results in many women, not even attempting to dream and stand out of their oppressive gender role expectations and in many cases gender violence.

I regularly lead campaigns in my bid to challenge the misconceptions of the value women in Islam and to shine the spotlight on Muslim Female Role models. In honor of international women’s day, I created a platform for 15 Amazing Female Muslim leaders and changemakers including local politicians, and rising stars to share their inspirational stories and knowledge with great success and impact. It was a celebration of modern and historical Muslim heroines including the Prophet Muhammed’s (PBUH) first wife Khadija, a pioneering businesswoman and leader.

In another campaign, I used my own story to raise awareness of Violence against women and how this was against Islamic values. I also led many members of the community and the wider community to come together to offer their services and time to help women who had faced oppression and help them stand up powerfully and build their confidence.

These campaigns’ purpose were to break down stereotypes of the role of Muslim women and the challenges many of them face within patriarchal communities and the imbalances of power. They also looked to celebrate Muslim women and raise up the profile of many female leaders as role models for the next generation.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve had a few mishaps on social media. The first few times I went live on Facebook, I made a few mistakes, struggling with technology, even turning a guest of mine off! I learnt from that to embrace it and make light of it. We all start somewhere and it’s a journey not a right to perfection.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I am a big advocate of working to your strengths and reaching out for help when needed. I have had a few Mentors. From my first life coach to business coaches and other mentors they have all been instrumental in my growth and taking ownership of my story and the impact I can have.

My lecturer at university had a big impact on me. He believed in my academic abilities before I did and encouraged me to apply to do my PHD Research. He opened my eyes to the size of effect impactful research can have on policies and changing ingrained beliefs and societal norms.

Another is Choc PR, they really helped me hone in on my mission and how to reach my audience.

And of course, my first Life coach Nic Pidgeon. She opened my world and helped me let go of the Guilt that was eating away at me.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  • Slow Down. I have a lot to juggle and so I am constantly multi-tasking and squeezing things in. However, multi-tasking can mean our minds are constantly taking in information and we don’t always have time to process that. By slowing down, I get things done to a higher standard. I also now regularly use silence to access my own thoughts and perspectives.
  • Trust yourself. We are all the experts of ourselves and our world. All the answers are within if we are open and take the time to explore it.
  • Do the deep inner work first. Its all very well learning strategies of owning a business but if you have things within you stopping you from reaching your full potential you will never fully arrive. This is continual work as every time you go up a level new self-limiting beliefs will come to the surface and need addressing.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Research has shown the only way to make a true impact for gender equality, would be for many areas, including political, social, community, religious and educational to come together and work as one towards the solution.

Through my PHD research I am currently studying the impact of mentoring and education in changing the gender role expectations which are at the root of gender inequality in many communities. I hope to create a system which will challenge and eradicate harmful social norms which can be implemented across many patriarchal societies globally.

However, this is only one of the five areas. My next Challenge is to bring together female social leaders from each of these areas, to work together to define and put actionable steps in place to eradicate Gender inequality within patriarchal societies.

Another dream of mine is to be able to take my work back to my Arab origin and make a true difference in those societies. The women I support within the UK face many challenges within the community, yet in the wider community and society they are many systems in place to uphold the safety and value of women. This is something which is not available in many countries in the world. Even so, personal development is still something new in many societies and mental health can still hold a stigma. I wish to spread the awareness of personal development and open many women’s mind to the endless possibilities and power it can create.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

There are many challenges women disruptors have to overcome in the first place before they even begin to start their work and face the challenges their male counterparts face.

Although more subtle in more progressive societies, in general, girls are still taught to be more reserved and quieter and boys are taught to be brave and forthright.

There is still the onus on the woman to balance the family responsibilities with their own career and interests.

Significantly, women’s experience of leadership is a stark contrast to that of men, they already must overcome so many more challenges and stereotypes. Such as

Women are not as intelligent, they are too emotional, too soft to be effective leaders, Women CEO’s are too pushy and aggressive.

A study showed that women felt they had to have 100% of the qualifications to apply for a leadership role whereas Men felt they would apply even if they only had 40% of the qualifications.

Interestingly, Claude Steel talks about the debilitating fear a person can experience when they go into a situation where their ingrained beliefs and stereotypes are threatened, so much so, the instinct is to not even go there.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Yes! A book called the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

I must admit, I am a recovering people pleaser. I was so attached to what others thought of me I would worry about what a stranger down the road thought of me!

In my corporate career I had a particular incident where a member of my staff accused me of not fulfilling my role as a leader fairly and I was subjected to an internal investigation. I was proven innocent in the end and the member of staff asked to leave; however it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I ended up in hospital a couple of times panicking as I couldn’t feel my baby moving inside me. I didn’t sleep. I took it so personally.

Then, I was recommended this book. It changed everything for me. I realized no matter what anyone says or does it is ALWAYS about THEM. Never me. I love the tone of the book and the way it conveys such important messages.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

It would be to change oppressive Gender Role Expectations being taught in families and then cemented in the communities and societal structural. From my research and my personal experiences, I think this is one of the main foundations for gender inequality in Patriarchal societies. Both genders have it ingrained from birth their ‘roles and expectations’. This puts a great amount of pressure on both genders and even if some individuals do not agree with these gender role expectations, the consequences can be dire if they stray from the societal norms, sometimes they can even be outcast from their communities and families.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

‘Everything happens for a reason.’

It helps me face challenges and have patience and hope that there is a reason this is happening. Even if I can’t see it at the time, there is a bigger plan. This has served me very well and I have on reflection always found the good and lessons from all my experiences.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best place on Social Media would be my Facebook Profile. Salwa Abdul Hadi | Facebook

Also, my website

Salwa Abdul Hadi

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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