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