“The measure of success is more valid when it originates from within you, rather than when it is determined by external factors beyond your control.”
By Nadia Sayeh
As a Muslim female executive, I think a lot about the future, the goals I want to achieve in business, in my personal life and the contribution I want to make in the world. I have often been faced with internal conflict when feeling forced to choose one priority at the expense of another.
Earlier in my career, I attended a business dinner where the guest speaker, a powerful Muslim woman who was running a successful multi-national company, addressed the Muslim women in the audience by saying, “If you think you can have it all, you can’t. If you think you can run a successful business, be involved in your community, raise children, and have a happy marriage, you can’t. My advice is, pick two.”
These words represented her life’s lesson and they hit me hard. I found myself feeling a combination of shock, anger, and discouragement all at the same time. I didn’t want to believe her message. The words, “pick two” have stayed with me and fueled my desire to find a way to prove that women can have it all.
After many years running my own non-profit, I have been on a journey to help build an organization where women can have their “all,” whatever their “all” is.
Create Your Version of “All”
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of fulfillment is designing your ideal life; investing in the self-reflection required to choose what path you wish to follow. The measure of success is more valid when it originates from within you, rather than when it is determined by external factors beyond your control.
Having it all doesn’t necessarily mean having a high-power career and a family – the choice is up to you. Being successful may mean that you want to pursue goals in many different areas, but it can also mean that you consciously dedicate your life to pursuits that are more focused.
I have often thought of my life as a book of which I am the author. For me, my book is dedicated to leadership, leaving the world a better place, and cultivating deeply connected relationships. When you know what you want, it is easier to enroll others and to solicit the support required to be successful.
Be a Champion for Yourself and Others
Studies have validated that companies with a higher percentage of women in senior leadership roles outperform companies with fewer female executives. Through my own experience, I have witnessed organizations thrive when they are committed to developing and supporting female leaders. Despite this, not all companies have stepped up to provide the support needed for women to “have it all.” This requires us, as women, to be champions of change.
As a champion, I have questioned whether my efforts are worthwhile or appropriate. It can feel easier to follow the path of least resistance, justifying the status quo rather than working to build a solid case for change. However, if collectively we are willing to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, making clear requests that serve the interests of women and the organization, we can make a difference.
Being a champion for change can be as simple as offering support to other women who may need our help. I have witnessed wonderful generosities between female colleagues who have offered to take on additional work so that one woman can dedicate time to a family commitment. We can achieve so much more when we support each other and we will feel more confident and strong when we have the support of others behind us. If we will not be the champions of our own destiny, who will?
Change must be embraced at the highest level
While having leaders who are willing to champion change is an essential ingredient to success, real change can only happen if the organization embraces change at the highest level. ANNISAA has been a pioneer in developing programs that support better work-life balance. These are a few of the strategies that have worked for us:
- Workforce diversity and work-life management are promoted as key management strategies. Volunteers and employees can perform at their full capacity while also leading fulfilling lives away from their work.
- To accelerate the empowerment of our volunteers and employees, a broad range of positive actions have been implemented based on age and career stage. For younger female workers, we are developing career advancement programs, support systems and mentorship by senior female employees.
- Support programs for managerial candidates focus on building leadership skills and capabilities. These programs have gradually contributed to a growth in the number of female managers.
- Initiatives are also being taken for existing female leaders to further enhance their competencies. Specific activities include educational initiatives, networking opportunities, and peer-to-peer learning to support career advancement.
- The organization’s commitment to supporting Muslim women and represents an investment in Muslim women who want to make a difference, live a rich and fulfilling work and personal life and contribute to a better future for all.
We are engaging our community in important discussions about the advancement of Muslim women, and we are interested in learning more about your version of “all,” what factors have enabled you to achieve success in life and work, how you have worked differently to achieve your goals, and who are the champions who have supported you to be successful?