Be Bold for Change

The month of March has been a very special time of the year for me since many years. Apart from my late father’s birthday, this month also marks the arrival of International women’s day & Mother’s Day. For me it’s a very exciting time, almost as celebratory & festive as Christmas, Eid, New Year or any other festival for that matter. Almost a decade ago, I started marking this occasion by celebrating special events for women at the company I worked for. I organized these events as I felt the need to do something exclusively for women as- at that point in time, most of our company initiatives; sports tournaments or concerts were more male dominated or let’s just say less inclusive for women. The first year’s theme was Stress Management and I called the program De-Stress & Revitalize. It became a popular annual program for working women at our company and we continued to run it year after year. When I moved to Dubai and started my own training & consultancy practice, I carried forward the tradition of women’s day celebrations and held annual events at many companies, sometimes even at beaches and parks. Each year we followed different theme and taglines. Apart from stress Management, we covered topics like Emotional Intelligence, Women in Leadership & Women Empowerment. As a trainer and coach, I loved providing value by facilitating the growth of the participants and helping these women overcome personal & professional challenges.

When I moved to London, I was aware that apart from setting up my business from scratch, another challenge that I may have to face will be regarding my religion and background. Being an Asian Muslim woman, working as an immigrant on a foreign land would not be easy and expose me to many limitations and prejudices. To my surprise I found out, that it’s not just me or in London alone. Women worldwide are facing a plethora of prejudices, limitations, and stereotypes. In my Interview for Women Killing It I discuss this in more detail. Yes, being an Asian Muslim woman, I have to face more stereotypes and biases as compared to women belonging to other ethnicities; biases that are attached to women from my faith and background alone; wherein many people unknowingly hold the common misconception that we are are backward, degraded and suppressed. (When in reality, innumerable examples can be quoted of women from my faith and background doing brilliantly both as entrepreneurs and as working professionals.) However, on the whole, the rest of the challenges for all of us across the globe remain universal. Having trained and coached women from three different countries, I realized that no matter who we are and from where we belong, women inclusiveness is a goal even the most progressive countries are still struggling with.  And that’s when I pledged to play my part. I along with a group of coaches from Dubai, Pakistan, and London launched a global training & mentoring network called Revitalize and Rise which aims to provide voluntary help and support to women that seek help in advancing their careers, resuming work or starting their own businesses.

According to a report published by Ernst & Young, gender parity (meaning an equal number of men and women) at work will take another 170 years, 5 months and 2 weeks. Whether that goal is even realistic is another question. Though I am a feminist who strongly advocates the idea of women inclusiveness and equality, I feel the latter goal also needs to take into account that no matter what,  many women will always put family ahead of career and choose to opt out of  the stressful life that usually comes with being on the top. And these preferences might make achieving the gender parity goal more tricky than it seems. On the other hand, the 21st century has witnessed an explosive growth in women owned businesses and research has evidenced staggering results of how these businesses have contributed to the economy in many countries. So perhaps, instead of achieving gender parity in top positions, the goal should then be to achieve parity in number of men and women contributing in a given economy be it via working for self or working for others?  Having said that, whether women pursue top positions or opt to run their own show they must be supported in all ways and that means not only providing women equal opportunities in terms of advancement and remuneration but also providing a conducive and flexible environment especially to those that that  are juggling home and work life simultaneously. And I did that by supporting this year’s theme for International Women’s Day which was #Beboldforchange. The website encourages men, women and non-binary people to take bold and pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity. To support the above themes and play my part in Taking Back Feminism I supported many initiatives  which included the following

  • Offered complimentary coaching & mentoring sessions to women desirous of professional guidance in their lives.
  • Supported a Teens Girl Empowerment Conference in London
  • This month, I also released my Stress Management Video filmed by Enterprise Tap and based on my article published earlier in the Huffington Post and Ellevate Network called 11 Revitalizing Stress-Busters for Working Women
  • Attended the Women of the World Conference where I volunteered to support several non profit organizations that are working towards the betterment and advancement of less privileged women out there especially the refugees.
  • Wrote several blogs to support and empower women better
  • Plan to organize an event in April for over  100 women called Revitalize and Rise IWD’s Special with the objective of helping women make positive and bold changes in their lives through de-stressing, revitalizing and reenergizing.

My call to action is based on an article I wrote earlier for Women Marches. Dear Girls, We Have Your Back and which was originally published by Ellevate Network as well.

I urge all those who are genuinely interested in being bold for change and in taking back feminism to pledge to support and inspire women world over just the way they are; Feminism is not only about equality between men and women but also equality amongst women themselves. It’s about looking at ALL women in the same way and not treating some more specially and favorably or otherwise on the basis of what they look or believe in. Whether they cover their head or not, whether they belong to this side of the wall or the other, whether they are born in your country or have immigrated, whether their skin color is different from yours or not, it shouldn’t matter. Believe and champion the rights of every girl irrespective of where she is from, what she wears and what she looks like. After all, we are in this together!

My own #boldforchange actions entail ensuring equal opportunity of advancement for all women, irrespective of who they are, where they come from, what they look like, what they wear or what they believe in. I am a Muslim. I am an Asian with brown skin. I am an immigrant working in a foreign land. I am a woman. I am a mom. And, I am proud to be all of these. I wouldn’t let any of these be a cause of prejudice or racism.  Being these will not stop me from realizing my dreams. I believe we must rise above ethnicities, backgrounds, and beliefs and promote advancement for all women. Read How (you can overcome feelings of self-doubt or lack of confidence in this regard) I will not allow myself to be labelled or treated differently. March is long gone but let’s continue being bold for change for ourselves and for others, shall we?

 

The Who, When & How Of Sharing Your Pregnancy News At Work

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post

Congratulations! You are expecting a baby. Whether it was planned or unexpected, whether it’s your first baby or the fifth one, each woman experiences a surge of emotions on finding out the news. Among many other things that are involved in the preparation for the baby’s arrival, breaking the news to your boss is one which requires a lot of deliberation.

You should be thrilled to share the news, but be prepared for your boss to panic on hearing about it, even if it’s (hopefully) just momentarily. Here are some ways that can help you in communicating the special news.

Who to First Share the News With

No matter how tempted you are to reveal this news to your work buddies, avoid falling into the trap of telling everyone else before your boss. The latter should be one first one to know.

Anticipate your manager’s reaction, especially if this is the first time they will be working with a pregnant employee. If your company has had little or no experience with pregnant employees, it might help to provide them with information on your legal rights. It’s perfectly okay to ask your boss to keep the news confidential unless you feel ready to share it with everyone else.

[Related: What is Corporate America Getting Wrong with Their Female Talent]

When to Share the News

Legally, you don’t need to tell your employer of your pregnancy and intention to take maternity leave until 15 weeks before your baby is due, regardless of where you work.

Most women announce their pregnancy at the end of the first trimester (at about 12 weeks). There are several advantages of telling your boss sooner rather than later. The more planning and preparation involved before you leave, the easier it will be for you both to manage the transition smoothly.  An employer’s responsibility of care for a pregnant employee does not come into effect until you have formerly informed your employer in writing.

 

Once aware, the employer must take action to deal with health and safety issues. Your employer is now liable to ensure that you are not exposed to any potential threats or safety risks involving your working conditions or hours of work. Alternate work can be suggested on the same terms and conditions, but if neither is possible then you are entitled to be suspended with full pay until the risks are eliminated. After the formal intimation, you are protected against unfavorable treatment resulting from any pregnancy-related discrimination. Read more about this at the Pregnancy Related Discrimination-Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.

Any pregnancy-related sickness needs to be recorded separately and must not be used against you in any disciplinary, redundancy or dismissal decisions. You are entitled to reasonable paid time off for your antenatal care, including classes recommended by a registered medical practitioner along with appointments. You will have to provide proof of the same when asked.

How to Share the News

“The more time for planning and preparation you and your employer have before you leave, the easier both of you will find it when you return,” says Abigail Wood, public affairs manager at the NCT. It also presents you as a thorough professional who is committed to organization goals. Consult your GP or midwife regarding suitable dates for starting your leave. The UK government site states that the earliest you can start your leave is 11 weeks before your expected week of childbirth, but it is really up to you to decide depending on your own health and circumstances.

Pregnant working women in America are subject to different maternity rights unlike those enjoyed by women in almost all other developed countries especially in terms of a guaranteed paid maternity leave.

[Related: 10 Things You Need To Know About Maternity Leave In The US]

Avoid sharing the news casually. Schedule a special appointment with your boss to reveal the news. During the discussion be open and honest, and do not apologize as this is a special experience for you and nothing to be sorry about. Anticipate their concerns and be prepared to address them; for example, how the maternity leave will affect your work. Be aware of your own goals and don’t feel hesitant to reiterate past accomplishments that are evidence of the value you have provided to the organization.

[Related: Reacting to Pregnancy in the Workplace and What it Means for the Company]

Also, be equipped with research on your company’s policies and procedures as well as your own rights in this regard. In this meeting, you should be open to discussing ideas of Flex-timing in the future along with information on all important dates such as due date, appointment dates, etc. Devise a plan and agree on dates for handover, staying in touch, performance reviews, as well as resuming work. It will be a good idea to schedule your annual leave at this time as well.

You have worked hard to climb that corporate ladder and, understandably, you may be concerned about how the news of your pregnancy might impact your career. Organizations should do their part as well and endeavor to build an inclusive culture so that expectant moms do not feel left out. Do not feel too disappointed if you receive less than an enthusiastic response at work. It’s not that they don’t care or are not happy for you. Firstly, they might not be adequately prepared on how to respond appropriately, especially if it’s a first-time experience for them. And secondly, concerns regarding your leave and its subsequent impact on team goals might be too pressing a concern for them to express otherwise.

At all times, reassure those you work with of your commitment to the organization, its goals, and your own role objectives.

If you feel that your organization is treating you badly because you have informed them that you are pregnant, then free legal advice and support is available online. Remember that you are not the first one to go on leave. Do not feel responsible or guilty. Yes, the news will come with a lot of changes in the existing work situation for both you and your manager, but in today’s work environment, if there is anything constant, it’s change — and every manager must be prepared to deal with that.

Hira Ali is Founder of Advancing Your Potential & Revitalize and Rise. She is a Leadership Trainer, Motivational Speaker, Writer, and Professional Coach & NLP Practitioner. You can contact her at hiraali@advancingyourpotential.com

 

A 7 Step Process to Combat Work Bullies

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post

Publicly trashing ideas with the intention to belittle others, scoffing and dismissing any suggestions or proposals made in meetings, openly making snide remarks and frequently denouncing fellow team members at work; these are the some of the common characteristics that categorize bullies at work.

American bullying experts Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie define bullying as a “Repeated, health-harming mistreatment of a person by one or more workers that takes the form of verbal abuse; conduct or behaviors that are threatening, intimidating, or humiliating; sabotage that prevents work from getting done; or some combination of the three.”

 

The bully aims to assault the dignity, trustworthiness, competence, and self-worth of the target to derive personal gains or sadistic satisfaction often leaving the target feeling responsible, guilty, isolated and confused.

 

 

So what can we do to stop these baddies in their tracks?

 

  1. Identify the situation. The very first step towards countering bullying is to realize that it’s happening. Once you say what it is, you are opening yourself to different possibilities of countering them. The second important step is to realize that you are not alone. Workplace Bullying Institute and other research has revealed alarming statistics about this silent epidemic across the globe. Nearly half of the workforce has been affected by bullying whether as a target or as a witness.

 

  1. Free yourself from any negative thoughts: If you are being bullied, it’s not your fault and has nothing to do with your actions or who you are as a person. Take control of your emotions and detach yourself from the bully’s verbal abuse. You did not incur this on yourself, nor do you deserve it. Start out by building a shield against bullies and this can be achieved by being in charge of your feelings and watching out for any toxic thinking patterns. For more information on these patterns read; 8 Toxic thoughts and how to beat them
  2. Start preparing: It’s now time to resolve the situation in the most effective way possible. Ignoring or avoiding the bully may seem the safest way but it’s actually more harmful; the victim suffers in silence and the problem doesn’t get resolved. Trying to appease the bully or complying with him is no solution either. Bullying is a power struggle. Once you give into one demand, they will push for more. Showing aggression is once again not helpful as it can land you into more trouble than the bully himself or worse, show to the latter that he has power over you. Before moving forward, identify stress-related health complications that may have arisen owing to this and take steps to reverse them by consulting health physicians. Next, conduct a thorough research on company’s policies, laws in your area and your rights as an employee. Prepare a file that documents all bullying incidents you have been exposed to, substantiated with facts and keep it handy for future reference.
  3. Confront and Set Boundaries: Before resorting to other measures, confront the bully. If he is invading your comfort zone in terms of physical space, place a physical boundary (like a desk) between you and him, or ask him to step back. In emotional space is being threatened such as asking personal questions or offering unwanted advice, tell him off, politely yet firmly. Bullies sense fear and prey on weakness. Show them up front that you are strong and they will usually back down and find an easier target. Your body language is crucial. To show assertiveness, stand up straight, don’t fidget, use a calm and collected tone and maintain eye contact. Ensure that you’re not physically cornered.
  4. Build a support network: Focus on the people who trust you and talk about you, positively. Keep those things in mind when you’re dealing with a bully and not any unfounded accusations and mud-slinging. These people may also turn into a reliable set of supporters who can back your confrontation against the bullies when the need be.
  5. Take ACTION: If the bully did not respond to your call for setting boundaries then prepare for the next action which is, to stand and fight. Your first step should be to file an internal complaint and compel employer responsibility for putting you in harm’s way. Be prepared with your file of documented facts to defend your case. Gary and Ruth = recommend another approach which suggests building a business case showing the financial impact of the bullying and presenting it to the executive team. ‘Speak their language’, they say and you might be surprised at the results that you get! This approach is fact based and stands lesser chances of being discounted or discredited. If your Manager sides with the bully owing to personal friendship or rationalizes the mistreatment, you may have to consider involving HR or other higher ups. And if your Management or HR department doesn’t help either, you can pursue other legal actions, such as criminal or civil lawsuits. However, these are expensive and lengthy, so think carefully before treading in that direction.
  6. Support creation of an anti-bullying workplace: If you are successful then don’t just leave it there, endeavor to bring reforms in the work culture. Most people choose to stay silent when witnessing someone else is being bullied. Don’t be one of them. Moreover, support creation, implementation and enforcement of anti-bullying policies Elicit top Management support, Educate teams in what specifically constitutes bullying and how top it before it starts and encourage consistency in applying these rules.. Bullies will often back down if they know that someone is watching them.

 

 

Hira Ali is Founder of Advancing Your Potential & Revitalize and Rise She is a Leadership Trainer, Motivational Speaker, Writer, and Professional Coach & NLP Practitioner.

 

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9 POWERFUL QUESTIONS THAT CAN HELP DEAL WITH NEGATIVE RELATIONSHIPS

This article was originally published by the International Coach Federation

Coaching is a powerful tool which enables a person to find self-discovered solutions to a number of challenges, one of which includes dealing with negative relationships, be it involving friends, family or even co-workers. In difficult situations, people often find themselves being unable to think clearly and they instead, therefore, rely on others to seek advice and solicit opinions. But unless you consult a qualified coach who can help you deal with the problem effectively, most others will, unfortunately, worsen the situation by passing on their own negativity to you. So what if there is a way that could help you in self-coaching yourself out of a negative situation or relationship? Keeping that in mind, I have compiled below a list of questions which can help you in looking at negative situations/ relationships differently. The questions have been designed to help you identify holes in your thinking. As soon as you find yourself encountering a negative relationship, ask yourself the following questions;

1)   Is my negative opinion based on facts or opinions? Most conclusions are derived, based on our own opinion or that of others rather than factual evidence. Once we learn to identify unsubstantiated opinions, we become open to other possible consequences and explanations which could be equally true.

2)   Has the relationship always been like this? Or is this a first time/ one off instance? This will differentiate the existing situation or behavior from what you would normally expect.

3)   Has there ever been a time when this relationship was positive or different from what it is now? This will help in acknowledging positive elements of the relationship and mitigate any intense bitter feelings thereby creating positive vibes for future.

4)   If the answer to the last question is YES what were the circumstances? Remembering and recounting these happy moments will alleviate pain and restore feelings of hope and trust.

5)   If the relationship has been going through a specific phase, could it be that the person involved is reacting according to the best way known to him and he is unaware of any better way? Our responses and the way we act in a given situation are molded by our own perceptions and personal experiences which may differ vastly, from others. What one party deems appropriate might seem unreasonable to others. And that’s because their judgments are formed based on their own views and not ours. Communication style also plays a very important role in handling any situation. We must not forget that many times, people come across as being negative not because they are essentially bad but because of a failure to communicate or express themselves in an appropriate manner.

6) Could the timing be a factor resulting in the person acting in a certain way? (Look out for triggers such as a crucial period at work, a new job, a new responsibility or role, a transition period, a relocation etc.)This will allow you to see the situation from a fresh perspective; most people react differently to different situations. You can possibly not expect a calm and poised response from an otherwise composed person if the latter is going through a challenging phase in life. Ask yourself if the person will be different, a few weeks from now when the timing is more favorable.

7)   Could there be other factors affecting this person? (For example, Loneliness, depression, boredom, old age, insecurity, fear of losing or missing out, health issues?) It becomes easier to relate to a person when we find out the real reasons behind him acting out of the ordinary.

8)   Is there anything you can do or have done to improve the situation for or with this person? Perhaps, there could be a number of ways in which you can help the person feel better. Empathy coupled with practical solutions can go a long way. Think of ways that you can try or have tried before and that have helped the situation. Maybe you could try them again. Have all efforts been exhausted or are there still a few things left to try out? Doing this will move you from a self-pitying or resentful mode to one which is constructive and solution oriented.

9)   What will be the worst consequence and how will it affect you? They say anything that doesn’t kill only makes you stronger. Most times, the worst case scenario will not be as bad as you think. When you realize this you feel more prepared to face whatever consequence arises from it.

Negative thinking can be an energy vampire and can severely limit you from achieving your objectives. It is also important to point out that these questions will only help you in seeing situations in a new and positive light. Coaching doesn’t necessarily ensure that a situation will be in your favor. It, however, prepares you well to make more well-informed decisions regarding any situation or relationship, free from personal biases and subjectivity. Some relationships can be emotionally exhausting and difficult to cope with despite all efforts. But for most others, asking the above questions can you put you in the right direction.

 

Hira Ali is a mompreneur and Founder of Advancing Your Potential, http://www.advancingyourpotential.com, and Revitalize and Rise, http://www.revitalizeandrise.com. She is also Leadership Trainer, Motivational Speaker, Writer, Professional Coach & NLP Practitioner!

Hira attributes her success in training and professional coaching to her intense belief in infinite human potential & the ability to adapt & relate to individuals from diverse backgrounds at an intellectual & emotional level. Genuine interest in people complemented by live heartedness and candor enables her to reach out to people and impact them positively.

Twitter: @advancing you

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/advancingyourpotential/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

7 Coping Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post

We all experience a feeling of inadequacy regarding our self-worth and whether or not, we are qualified enough to achieve something, especially when we are pushed outside our comfort zone or doing something for the first time. Some people feel the same, despite repeated, external evidence of competence. This fear or feeling is called Impostor Syndrome. This term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline and Suzanne and is marked by a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud” and an inability to internalize accomplishments. According to HBR, common thoughts and feelings associated with this syndrome include; ‘I must not fail, ‘,’I feel like a fake’, ‘It’s all down to luck’, ‘Success is no big deal’

I had these feelings too, every time I delivered training to Senior Managers. When my target audience changed from being local to global, despite having international accreditations, I still thought, I needed to add more credentials to my name until I felt qualified enough to cater to the latter.

And, I am not the only one.

Millions of people including celebrities, sportsmen and CEO’s have been plagued by constant self-doubt and feeling of unworthiness. Hollywood star, Meryl Streep, Dr. Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization and Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou are all examples of famous people who have expressed inadequacy in their work, and hinted the fear of being found out. Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg, Michelle Pfeifer, Kate Winslet, Sonia Sotomayor and countless others have admitted to similar sentiments. High achieving people particularly, often doubt themselves and feel undeserving of the recognition they receive. While both men and women experience the impostor syndrome, studies show that women are more often affected and more likely to suffer the consequences. Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women says; “Being female means you and your work automatically stand a greater chance of being ignored, discounted, trivialized, devalued or otherwise taken less seriously than a man’s.” It is hence no surprise, why women tend to question their abilities and feel inferior, all the more.

So what can you do to limit the negative impact of Impostor Syndrome?

  1. Identify the feelings: The first important step is to recognize that you are experiencing these feelings. Awareness is the key to bringing about a change in the way you think and act. The moment you know and say what it is, you are opening yourself to different possibilities of handling it.
  2. Let it out: There may be many others, who share the same fears as you. By sharing your concerns you may find out that you are not in this alone which makes the fear far more bearable. Seek support from those who identify with your belief and have effectively conquered it.
  3. Reconsider your perception of failure: It is okay, to be wrong, to fail or to not know everything: Occasionally being wrong or not knowing everything doesn’t make you fake or non-deserving. Remind yourself that you will learn more as you progress. Top notch teams sometimes lose, the best players often miss the goal, and there are many million dollar businesses that sometimes fail as well. Evaluate the impact of what could go wrong by asking yourself; ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ This will help mitigate the fear. Most importantly, reframe the failure as an opportunity to learn. Always remember, no one really knows the outcome. The fact that you are trying even when you are unsure makes you admirable and not fake.
  4. Reaffirm your self-worth: Accept your success and be kind to yourself. Don’t shy away or dismiss compliments by attributing your success to external factors. Own it! When you feel undeserving, go back and review previous accomplishments or positive feedbacks. Recount the people whom you made a difference to. This will help assure you that nobody belongs here more than you do. No one is telling you to be ostentatious, but downplaying your success will help no one.
  5. Refrain from comparison: Comparison can be lethal. There are many famous people out there who are doing similar to what you do and even better so why bother; you might as well not do anything at all. But this is not a justified comparison. If you don’t measure up against successful people around you, that doesn’t mean you are any less. Never compares other people’s highs to your lows Remember, these very successful people were in your place once. It may even seem that some people achieve success effortlessly but the reality everyone is facing a unique set of challenges and struggles, known only to them. Learn to value your own strengths and once you start respecting your own potential, you will soon realize that you have a lot to offer.
  6. Re-evaluate the context of the situation: Often situations exist in which you many not feel 100% confident but ask yourself; ‘Do you always feel this insecure and uncertain?’ ‘Has there been a time when you felt on the contrary?’ These questions will help you identify the circumstances in which you did feel in control and what steps you took to ensure the same. Perhaps, the same tools and strategies could be applied in a less confident scenario?
  7. Pursue your goal relentlessly regardless of what you feel: The best way to beat impostor syndrome is to continue taking action, irrespective of how you feel. It is said that if you take the risk and do what you fear the most, then you can do anything. It takes a lot of courage to pursue challenges even when you doubtful. After all, you can never really know how much you can accomplish if you don’t try.

You achieved because you did something different, something extra, something which you believed in, something which others didn’t do, others didn’t try. And trust me, the world’s needs believers, innovators and doers, someone they can look up to, someone who can inspire them to try, even when they are unsure!

Hira Ali is Founder of Advancing Your Potential & Revitalize and Rise She is a Leadership Trainer, Motivational Speaker, Writer, Professional Coach & NLP Practitioner.