Having lived in the Middle East for over 10 years, Helen has worked on books, magazines, broadcasting, and uncovering the ups and downs of life, work, and motherhood in the UAE. Through her daily afternoon radio show, Helen helps listeners navigate the uniqueness of UAE life, sharing advice, opinion, and anecdotes that get to the heart of what life in the UAE is all about.
If ever there was a realist, it’s Helen. A firm believer that motherhood is not “all unicorns, candy floss and rose petals”, Helen’s take on motherhood via her blog, The Mothership, puts a refreshing lense on a world where it seems women try so hard to keep up the ideal ‘Stepford Wives’ façade when really the struggle of being mother, wife and individual is very, very real and difficult. The endearing thing about Helen is that she tells you right as it is…no filter on her take on living, working and parenting.
I have been following Helen on her Instagram page, @themothershipdxb, for some time now and admire the rawness of her posts. And, when the opportunity to interview her popped up, I thought it would be a great feature to share with The Gaggler community and shed some light on who Helen is and what makes her tick.
Monica: What is the biggest challenge you face as a female entrepreneur?
Helen: Where to start? As a mum of two, lack of time is a big one. Not only to get everything done (huge thanks to Loreta our nanny for the endless help), but also being able to take a step back and reflect on the bigger picture and put goals in place.
Monica: What do you feel is the most important lesson you’ve learnt as a working mum during the lockdown?
Helen: That my relationship with my kids is more important than phonics! I know lots of working parents have felt a huge amount of pressure when it comes to distance learning, but when it became a source of stress and tension between my daughter and I (she started hiding when the school iPad came out) I knew I had to let it go, and enjoy time together.
Monica: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Helen: Done is better than perfect.
Monica: Which female entrepreneur do you admire the most?
Helen: Many of the women who inspire me aren’t necessarily businesswomen, but those who do what they love (writing, social research, music) and just happen to make money from it. Brene Brown is a great example of this; she speaks about her passion, and it has led to a career I’m sure she could never have imagined.
Monica: What’s inspiring you in life right now?
Helen: Amid the chaos of the pandemic it has been great to take some time to get back to quieter pursuits. I’m listening to a lot of music (Laura Marling’s new album has been my lockdown soundtrack) and podcasts. The honesty of Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail is so refreshing – she interviews people about where they ‘failed’ and what it taught them. I really recommend the recent episodes with COVID-19 in mind.
Monica: How would you define yourself in three words?
Helen: Always pretty tired.
Monica: What’s something you have always wanted to try but have not mustered up the courage to do so yet?
Helen: I’d like to try improv, but public speaking that I haven’t prepared for makes me want to vomit…
Your Style & Beauty Picks
Monica: How would you describe your style in three words?
Helen: Hopefully it’s clean.
Monica: Who inspires you most when it comes to fashion? When it comes to beauty?
Helen: I’m really pretty boring! Breton tees, jeans, flats, though I can’t resist a floral dress. I don’t wear much makeup but I’m a bit of a skincare junkie, so rely on the advice of a great dermatologist. I wish I could steal the wardrobe of Erica Davies (@ericadavies) – she has a sense of fun and loves prints, without looking like she has run through a charity shop covered in glue.
Monica: What’s a style trend you would like to see disappear forever?
Helen: Those clear plastic bra straps.
Monica: Besides phone, wallet or car keys, what are 3 must-have items in your purse?
Helen: Powder to combat the shine, some kind of snack, and earphones.
Monica: What is your go-to outfit you always feel [Strong/Confident/Good/Invincible] in?
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s that it weeded out the weak and ineffective leaders, and spotlighted those who exhibited good leadership skills. Good leaders were able to navigate their companies through uncertain waters while maintaining employee morale and productivity.
While these good leaders possess many qualities, the one that we will focus on here is empathy, as that was the one brought into sharp focus over the past few years – because even leaders with the best strategy and roadmap for the company will not be able to get everyone to share that vision and own it if they don’t have empathy. And everyone knows you get further and faster when everyone is equally motivated by the end goal.
That’s where an empathic leadership style comes in. It can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale, and loyalty. When a colleague has an issue, for instance, they may be frustrated and just want you to listen to them. By something as simple as letting them tell you all the details before responding, you can show them you value what they have to say. And Gallup surveys have consistently revealed that people value being valued more than increased salaries!
Teams with empathetic leaders are more innovative and push the boundaries more, as they feel safe in the knowledge that they won’t be blamed for failures in these experiments. Leaders benefit from empathy as it helps them to understand the root cause behind poor performance and address it constructively.
Let’s Dig Deep About Empathy
Empathy is a hard skill to quantify, but leaders who have it are generally able to lead through challenging times more successfully. Good leaders know how to collect input and suggestions from everyone, make a decision that is best suited for the organisation, and fulfill the (reasonable) requirements of the majority.
In order to recognise the qualities of being empathetic, it is important to understand what empathy means. According to Wikipedia, empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.
Given the divide between management and the rest of the organisation, it’s a given that executives cannot understand the issues faced by the rest of the employees. By being empathetic, leaders bridge this divide and connect on a human level, strengthening loyalty and pride in being a part of the organisation.
Empathy is a key factor in Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ), which measures an individual’s abilities to recognise and manage their emotions and the emotions of other people, both individually and in groups. An empathetic leader with a high EQ will know which of the three aspects of empathy – cognitive (head/thinking), affective (heart/feeling), and behavioural (action/doing) – to use in a given situation.
A Few Dos and Don’ts of Being an Emphatic Leader
Empathetic leaders can steer a company through turbulent times by providing employees with the understanding and recognition they need to navigate the crisis. It’s not all woo-woo and fluffy stuff, either. In fact, the quantifiable benefits can be seen in the level of innovation, employee engagement, and retention rates – not to mention employees who are brand ambassadors, building up your reputation as an employer of choice.
Empathetic leaders understand the consequences of their decisions on everyone in the company. They are able to look beyond whatever is happening at the moment, inspire, encourage, and strategise in ways that will motivate employees at all levels.
So if we were to condense all this into a quick checklist for empathetic leaders:
Show genuine interest in others and their situations.
Be willing to support team members with their personal issues.
Schedule one-on-one meetings to stay connected.
Keep an eye out for work burnout.
Implement employee analytics.
Validate how the other person is feeling.
Develop your listening skills.
Challenge your biases.
Build a great culture to generate speed.
Approach problems from a different perspective.
A few behaviours to avoid:
Don’t ask people to “earn your trust”.
Don’t neglect those who are making the transition to a management role.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions in order to understand better.
The skills that make an empathetic leader can be learned through training and coaching, and are a worthwhile investment. You will reap the dividends through increased employee engagement, higher morale levels, and a corresponding increase in productivity and quality of work. These skills will also serve you well in your personal life, but that’s another article for another time!
Bina Mathews is an Executive Master Coach and Communications Consultant at Bina Mathews Consulting FZE. Visit www.coachbina.com or @coachbinafor more information.
Forget everything you think you know about Emirati women because, in 2022, this is a demographic defying stereotypes and shattering glass ceilings in the fields of film, fashion, sports, aviation, and more. Case in point? Every single woman on this list.
Here, The Gaggler reveals 10 Emirati women who are trailblazers in their fields and how to follow them – in honour of Emirati Women’s Day, of course. For the uninitiated, Emirati Women’s Day is celebrated annually on August 28, with this year’s theme being ‘Inspiring Reality… Sustainable Future’, reflecting the UAE’s commitment to a green future that prioritises gender equality.
1. Amna Al Haddad
Youth mentor? Check. Published author? Check. Mental health advocate? Check again. As for what earns Amna Al Haddad a spot on this list? Not only is she the first female Emirati weightlifter, but she also became the first Arab and GCC national to compete in the Reebok Crossfit Asia Regionals in South Seoul – and did so wearing her hijab. Today, Amna is an inspirational speaker, using her unique journey from depression to dumbbells to imprint hope and determination in the minds of her audiences.
Conquering a traditionally masculine field is Amna Al Qubaisi, the first Emirati female racing driver. Incidentally, Amna trained as a gymnast, but it was her father – Le Mans racing driver Khaled Al Qubaisi – and his passion for all things motorsport that steered her in a new direction. At only 18, she became the first Arab woman to take part in a Formula E test when she drove for the Envision Virgin Racing team back in 2018 and the rest, as they say, is history. She went on to win her first F4 UAE race at Yas Marina Circuit in 2019 and make her F3 debut in the Formula Regional Asian Championship earlier this year, setting her sights on Formula One in the long run.
Another pioneer in a super-masculine world? Fahima Falaknaz, the first Emirati female boxer. Citing Bruce Lee as her idol growing up, she made history when she became the first Emirati female boxer to represent the UAE in the Asian Boxing Confederation Championship in 2019. Today, she’s determined to see more women in the ring, joining Real Boxing Only gym in Al Quoz to coach ladies-only fitness classes and dispel the myth that martial arts are only for men. Not only is she a vocal proponent of the mental and physical benefits that come with boxing, but she also uses her platform to speak up against bullying.
There’s mountaineers – and then there are mountaineers with a purpose. Meet Hanady Alhashmi, who is celebrated not only for summiting five of the world’s Seven Summits, but also for being the first Emirati woman to successfully climb Denali in Alaska. Even more impressive are her efforts to raise awareness around Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, as part of the #ClimbforMS initiative. In fact, when lockdown prevented her from conquering the remaining two summits, she ‘scaled’ Everest at home, using a treadmill at varied inclines to simulate its height of 8,848 metres in order to highlight how both mountain climbing and living with MS require resilience.
Long before the word ‘influencer’ entered our everyday vernacular, Latifa Al Shamsi was sharing her favourite fashion pieces, dining outlets, and travel destinations with her followers – a figure that now exceeds 393,000 on Instagram. While her claim to fame is the fact that she’s the first Emirati fashion and lifestyle blogger, the tastemaker has only garnered a whole new fan base between navigating motherhood and running her fashion events company, Events by Latifa Al Shamsi.
Filmmaker, motivational speaker, brand ambassador, and cultural consultant – Nayla Al Khaja is the definitive multihyphenate. As the first female director in the UAE, she has made her country proud. She has been recognised for her work at numerous international film festivals such as the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) and the Italian Movie Award, Pompeii, and her films have taken part in more than 42 festivals around the world. She’s even received the accolade of Best Emirati Filmmaker. Her most recent film The Shadow will be turned into an international motion picture titled Three, which is expected to be released in 2023.
Long before interest in female football picked up in the UAE, Areej Al Hammadi was determined to follow her passion. She earned her first cap for the country back in August 2015. Since then, the international footballer has had over 40 caps with the UAE national team, is a Guinness World Records holder, and is a proud Adidas athlete. She aims to inspire other Emirati women just like her to embrace sports and challenge the cultural barriers around it.
Rafeea Al Hajsi officially became the first Emirati model in 2016, making history as she strut the catwalk at Arab Fashion Week. And she hasn’t looked back since. Today, she’s also an artist, an actress, and a TV host – and continues to reign as a runway model. Delving into the behind-the-scenes struggles that she has faced, the striking beauty has admitted that it hasn’t always been easy in the industry, citing online trolls, social taboos, and staying true to her roots as factors. Nevertheless, Rafeea has persisted and walked the runway for the likes of Laura Mancini and Aiisha Ramadan.
Sheikha-turned-captain Mozah bint Marwan Al Maktoum is a trailblazer in the aviation industry, starting her career as a commercial first officer at Emirates airline in 2017, making her the first female pilot in Dubai. Shortly after, the princess – yes, she’s part of the Al Maktoum family – went on to become the first woman to be appointed as First Lieutenant Pilot at Dubai Police. As for her ultimate focus? Gender equality in aviation. Sheikha Mozah founded the Women in Aviation Association (SHEHANA) in 2019 in order to accelerate the development of women in the aviation industry not only as pilots or crew members, but also as lawyers, engineers, and other vital roles.
Figure skater Zahra Lari has stolen hearts everywhere for so many other reasons: she’s the first woman to have competed internationally while wearing a headscarf, she’s the reason UAE became the first Arab country to join the International Skating Union, she was inspired to take up figure skating after watching Ice Princess. A five-time National Champion, she has been an ambassador of the Nike Pro Hijab line since its launch in 2017, making her a source of inspiration for young Muslim women worldwide. She’s also the founder and CEO of Emirates Skating Club – did we mention she’s only 27?
Real Talk: What to Expect on the Entrepreneurial Journey
According to someone in the know.
There may never have been a better time in history to be an entrepreneur than now – especially in the burgeoning city that is Dubai. But starting your own business is no easy task, and most people tend to face several doubts and challenges along the process. Today, following the return of World Entrepreneurs’ Day celebrations on August 21, I share some of the most common things that I’ve come across throughout the start-up cycle.
“I feel like I want to start a business.”
The incessant impulse or that initial desire to create change in your life or the market, that lightning strike of creativity and innovation, or simply the passion to move a community forward – are all different versions of the same signal to me. It’s the signal that indicates a call to adventure. Honouring that call requires an act of courage and willingness to take a risk and venture into the unknown.
Tip: Search and create an honest inventory around that impulse. What is the deepest aspiration you have for your venture? Don’t be shy in vocalising and share the big dream, not just the intermediate steps towards it.
“Oh no, I just quit my job and I might fail!”
The early stage of entrepreneurship is a vulnerable period. Fear, confusion, self-doubt, dissolution, and disappointment are all part of the starter package. For me, the only path through these feelings has always been to focus on work. Think action and forward motion. I don’t know any entrepreneur who hasn’t felt that way and, while some deal with it better than others, I was not one of them. My business career has had numerous regrettable encounters, but here I am, finally unscathed.
Tip: The marketplace is a busy and crowded space. However novel or noble your venture, success will almost always involve time, persistence, blind alleys, and wrong turns.
“Should I get a co-founder?”
I may be biased when it comes to this because all my business adventures have always involved co-conspirators. Not only did it help propel my ventures forward, but it also promoted a balanced attitude, thinking, and approach. There are, of course, drawbacks and considerations to founding teams. The wrong fit in a team will sink a venture faster than anything else. If you do not want a co-founder, you can achieve the same result through a variety of ways such as creating an advisory board or a board of directors, finding angel investors, or creating strong option plans for early-stage employees where applicable.
Tip: In the beginning stage, treat every relationship with extra care and attention. Partners, early clients, investors, and employees will have a significant impact on your growth. Make sure your values and visions are aligned and nurture those relationships.
“My business hit its first milestone!”
Make sure to enjoy the moment – but not for too long! As your business starts hitting its stride, your entrepreneurial role shifts towards a leadership role. As a leader, maintaining focus and discipline on what’s around the next corner is a priority.
Tip: As a business matures, the creative and energetic qualities of the entrepreneur can often become counterproductive. It’s important to be in tune with the needs of the business as it shifts towards administration, optimisation, quality, and performance.
“I didn’t sign up for all this paperwork!”
Depending on the country, there can be significant administrative overhead to building a business. It can come in the form of licensing, HR laws, data and privacy, taxes, and industry-specific legal requirements to name just a few. Most countries, however, distinguish between small businesses and large corporations, maintaining different thresholds of regulation depending on the size and maturity of the enterprise. In my experience, Dubai has some of the most start-up friendly culture and governance frameworks compared to other countries I have worked in.
Tip: Check out the Freelancer License. It’s a low-cost, low-risk way to explore the world of freelancing and a first step towards building a business.
“Someone wants to buy my business.”
Congratulations! You are at what investors refer to as “the exit”! It’s very useful to think about the end of your entrepreneurial story before even starting. It’s not necessarily something to plan for or focus on in the beginning, but it’s useful to keep at the back of your mind. It should also influence the types of choices you make early on as it will impact everything from branding to business strategy and corporate structure. Are you building something that will be franchised? Sold to a larger company? Is yours a social enterprise that will be handed over to a community board of trustees?
Tip: Not all businesses need to have an exit – some can be lifestyle and even generational. Whatever the end of the story, it’s worth considering the options before you start.
“Prepare for a journey, not a result.”
When people ask me about my business, I generally speak about the journey – the people who I’ve met and worked with, and the places that I’ve travelled to. I don’t think my kids know a single one of my business accomplishments, and I like it that way. Having gone through a full start-up cycle from an idea hatched in a coffee shop to a global technology business, I get to now reflect on the experience, and it has inspired me to start a new adventure as a writer.
My first book Man in Motion captures love, wisdom, relationships, and creativity, all while trying to run a business and keep the lights on at home. When I look back and see where I am now, what I cherish most has been the freedom to succeed or fail, to make decisions and be accountable for their consequences, to explore the world, and live my own journey.
5 Tips to Balance Summer Travel with Running a Business
Yes, it’s possible.
There’s a joke claiming that the phrase ‘family holiday’ is an oxymoron. Parents with very young kids often agree with this while also loving the precious memories they’re building together. This love-hate relationship with vacations is one that a business owner can relate to as well.
The logical mind agrees that every engine needs downtime to stay in peak running condition. The nervous entrepreneurial mind, however, has a panic attack at the thought of stepping away from the wheel for any amount of time. So what’s the happy balance that would satisfy both? Let’s begin with why taking a break is essential – not a luxury.
We usually break our normal routine when we travel, which means we can’t be on autopilot, thus increasing mindfulness and stimulating well-being. Taking time off improves the capacity to learn. When your brain is completely relaxed, it is better able to integrate knowledge and brainpower. According to a study released by the American Psychological Association, time off helps reduce stress by removing people from the activities and environments they associate with anxiety.
Taking regular vacations could help reduce the risk for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health issues including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess belly fat, and abnormal cholesterol levels. Sounds good, but still have those niggling doubts? Here are five tips to help you enjoy your summer vacation with a stress-free mind while keeping your business in check.
1. Goal Check:
Check your goals for the year and assess where you are right now. Prioritise by order of what needs immediate attention in order to stay on track for timely completion. Identify the specific areas that absolutely need to be worked on during the summer break.
Once you have a bird’s eye view of the areas that will require attention during your vacation, identify the people best suited to handle them and delegate. If you are a solopreneur, check on outsourcing tasks that fit your budget and plan, so that they can be completed while you’re away. Consider trying out a Virtual Assistant for a while before you travel, so you can assess their efficiency. That would make delegating tasks to them during your absence a smooth transition.
3. Plan Ahead:
Since you are realistically not going to be able to completely switch off work mode, taking care of the following can ensure you get the most out of your time away:
Map out all the main activities and events in your holiday schedule and any critical work-related meetings/calls that you absolutely have to attend. Once you know what you are committed to and when, you can plan accordingly, ensuring no overlaps or unexpected surprise calendar events pop up. This will manage everyone’s expectations as well as ensure boundaries are maintained.
Give your clients and suppliers a heads-up on your travel dates, so they are informed and prepared well in advance. Anticipate things that might pop up during that time and ensure they are either addressed ahead of time or delegated to someone to take care of. Keeping them in the loop keeps them calm and confident that you have a handle on things. It also ensures they have enough time to raise any relevant concerns and allow you to sort them out.
4. Watertight Compartments:
When you are on vacation, be fully in vacation mode, and when you are stepping into your planned work time slots, focus only on that. As I said earlier, maintaining distinct modes ensures healthy boundaries, which honestly are the secret to peace of mind in these situations! How do you keep work and play separate?
Unplug: When in vacation mode, make a conscious attempt to unplug from devices that keep you tethered to work – no sneaky peeks at email notifications. I realised just how huge the impact of not being mentally connected to work was, only when I had no internet on a holiday and couldn’t even ‘just glance’ at emails. Whether we respond or not, once we’ve plugged in to what’s happening at work through email or chat, we’re mentally and emotionally invested in the subject and how it’s being handled. The solution, therefore, is abstinence! Only check mail at the allocated time at the end of the day, unless of course there is something critical that requires you to monitor and stay in touch. Otherwise, your holiday will become like working from home with some sightseeing and shopping thrown into the mix!
Identify triggers and prepare responses: Mentally review the thoughts that lead you to panic about work and not be present with your loved ones. It could be recurring worries about something you have already delegated to someone or that is under control, it could be seeing someone working away at their laptop or on a work call, or someone asking if your business can manage without you being there. We all have different triggers and once you’ve identified what yours are, they can’t blindside you anymore. Now plan a suitable response to each one, that will neutralise its impact and allow you to continue to get the most out of your holiday. For instance, when you see someone else hard at work, you could say to yourself, ‘Wow, they look stressed and tired, and that’s what I’ve looked like for the first half of this year! Thank God I took a break. It will recharge my batteries and let me return to work relaxed and with a full tank!’ Again, find the responses that make sense to you. You can test them out by visualising your trigger, bringing up the response, and noticing how different your response is now. If it’s still triggering you, find a stronger response.
5. Agree on Outcomes with Your Family/Friends Pre-Travel:
This is so that you can track your success in sticking to the plan. If you are travelling solo, set your own expectation markers. You only know something worked if you have criteria to confirm it was successful, so just as you have KPIs and ROI criteria at work, you need clear indicators that have been agreed on prior to the vacation, which factor in all your stakeholders.
So, what exactly do your family/friends expect from you prior to and while you’re on vacation? Having this clarity will prevent regrets and finger-pointing later! Manage your client and supplier expectations as well, with a clear understanding of your availability with specific timings set for catch-up calls/meetings, frequency of expected updates from them, your response time while away, emergency call protocols etc. The more clarity everyone has on details, the fewer misunderstandings and the risk of things falling between the cracks. Now that you have everything under control, get ready for a well-deserved break, secure in the knowledge that you and your business will be fine. Bon voyage!
Much of the research around how and why women feel the way they do about money management isn’t surprising to us women. According to statistics, 81% of women said they’ve personally been a victim of negative stereotypes – including about their investing abilities. And while this is extremely sad, it’s not surprising to most. I, too, have experienced this firsthand on more occasions than I care to remember, even though I am a finance professional with the experience and qualifications to back it up.
I remember how every conversation was directed at my husband when I was talking to banks and brokers about obtaining a mortgage. I’d ask a question, and the broker or advisor would proceed to answer it looking at my husband as if he’d asked. As a regional head of finance who was responsible for billions of dollars in company revenues, you’d think I’d be taken seriously – and that’s notwithstanding the fact that the mortgage application was 100% based on my salary and would be my liability! It felt like my gender was overshadowing my financial credentials and my experience. Of course, as a woman, I can’t possibly be the decision-maker or capable of understanding a complex mortgage agreement, right? Wrong.
So much of that bias is unconscious, and it’s present in both men and women. We, as women, often display this bias against ourselves. We believe the stereotype that women are simply not good at managing money – that we cannot control our spending and we’re not good at investing. This idea is widespread and spread across cultures, geographies, and generations. When it comes to money, there is often a canyon of space between our mindsets and money-belief systems. But why is it this way? Thankfully, there is much research on this topic and I’m going to discuss some key facts here.
How Are Men and Women Different?
Women are socialised to save money, keep it safe, and not be greedy. Our male counterparts, on the other hand, are socialised to invest, seek out ways to earn as much as possible, and be proud of their financial achievements. For men, earning vast amounts of money is seen as powerful and impressive. Because of this, women tend to hold 71% of their assets in cash and shy away from sharing what they earn or have. Men, on the other hand, hold 60% of their assets in cash and are more likely to boast about promotions and what they earn.
What I hadn’t considered before was our tendency to use our money to benefit everyone except ourselves. Studies have shown women use money to create a lifestyle in the present. We do that by buying the groceries, making 70% of travel decisions, and organising the day-to-day lives of our families. This is a different spending perspective from the stereotypical one portrayed by the media, where women spend all their money shopping and even need to be given tips to stop or reduce.
On the other hand, we are less likely to plan for retirement, buy life insurance, or be involved in arranging mortgages. In contrast, men use money to create a secure future. They take on the role of decision-maker in significant and long-term financial decisions. Ironically, we women tend to live longer than men and, yet, we are leaving our retirement security in the hands of people we are likely to outlive.
Why Do Women Feel Less Financially Confident?
Money is genderless, and it’s as much of a tool for women as it is for men. So why do we feel so differently about it? This is where it gets particularly frustrating. The divide in money isn’t just about gender pay gaps, there is also a worrying gap in how men and women are spoken to about money. Men are taught the benefits of investing, blockchain, and NFTs, while women are told to stop drinking artisanal coffee so they can save for a pair of designer shoes.
A study carried out by Starling Bank in 2018 found that 90% of articles targeted at females focus on small ways to save money. 71% encourage seeking out vouchers, discounts, and coupons to save money. 65% define women as excessive spenders, urging us to limit, restrict, and better control our ‘splurges’. Our male counterparts, on the other hand, are targeted with articles about the importance of making big investments, how to mitigate investment risks, and how money can enhance one’s status as a man. Furthermore, 50% focused on how to protect themselves from future harm, including financial harm from divorce. Is it any wonder that arguments over money are consistently reported as the number one cause of divorce?
Why Is It Good to Get More Money into Our Hands?
As women, we use our money to help others. Women invest 90% of their income back into their families, while men only reinvest 44%. When I first came across this, it surprised me, but when I sat back and thought about it, it all made sense. When my mother spoke to me about money, it’s clear now that she assumed my income would be used to pay for my family’s needs. She also urged me to always keep enough aside just in case – which I did, but I too had unconsciously internalised her assumption. My income went back to my family and, for years, I didn’t invest or think long-term either. It was a real wake-up call.
Despite how the media portrays us, we are more financially responsible than men. When we do invest, we are more likely to invest long-term, we are more patient, and we achieve better returns. Studies show women are more likely to invest in ESG and sustainability, so we use our money to invest responsibly and do good for the planet. We use our money to help our families and our communities, so communities thrive when women make more financial decisions. We currently control over $31.8 trillion in worldwide spending – imagine the positive change we can create with that level of wealth if we felt empowered to use it in line with our values and help others?
What Can You Do to Feel More Financially Confident?
Put yourself on the path to financial wellness by taking small actions that you can do now. What’s most important when you begin is clarity. It means knowing how much money you have, and then creating a plan for where you want your money to go. Ensure the cash flow plan is in line with your values, not what others or the media tell you it should be. Set financial goals that are true to you and then build your budget to achieve those goals. Make peace with your money situation and forgive any past mistakes – every human makes money mistakes.
If you’d like to know more about financial wellness, get your free copy of my Conscious Finance Coaching Financial Wellness Checklist here.
In honour of International Day of the Girl, today.
If there’s anything on-trend right now, it’s inclusivity, diversity, and gender – the media is practically screaming at us about! Some may say it’s about time, while others may question what the point is. That being said, there is no greater time to be a woman and define who you are on your own terms than now. Incidentally, today marks the 10th anniversary of International Day of the Girl, a day designated to eliminate the gender-based challenges faced by little girls worldwide, including child marriages, poor learning opportunities, violence, and discrimination.
But the bad news is that it’s not just men who are subjecting females of all ages to discrimination, it’s not just men who are guilty of ‘gender bias’. Let me explain. Have you or a friend ever judged a woman based on her weight, job, fashion choices, food choices, or comments? Ever commented, “I can’t believe she did that/said that/wore that!” If yes, it could indicate that you may have a bias towards the female gender, which means there is an unspoken expectation of what or how a woman ‘should’ speak or even act. These ‘shoulds’ are societal female expectations that make women base their relationships on persona and conduct – all of which relate to the self.
Men, meanwhile, typically base relationships on performance, influence, and goal orientation in the workplace. But fear not; everyone has a ‘bias’ towards something, and this is indicative of our upbringing, culture, environment, job role, and relationship status. However, by being aware of our biases, we can come to a place of acceptance and therefore become open to building stronger connections that will benefit our personal life and career.
Women offer so many skills and, in fact, the new term ‘soft skills’ (which includes empathy, a strong sense of emotional intelligence, the ability to make others feel heard, and a sense of perspective) are all skills that I believe women inherently possess. And we have all this whilst taking on 70% of household decisions! We sound truly unstoppable, right? But it comes at a cost – USD 160.2 trillion to be exact. That’s how much money was lost due to gender inequality in the workplace. In fact, the same report on the cost of gender equality estimated that full gender equality can increase the world GDP by USD 28 trillion by 2025.
Companies can transform million dollar ideas and concepts into trillions by checking their bias and focusing on the strengths and the incredible skill sets that women can offer. It can do this by allowing flexible working hours, the ability to work from home, part-time working options, and female mentorship programmes that create a space for women to talk about their performance and collaborate with others.
Let’s now start small and check your bias to allow you to look at a new perspective. When you think of a CEO, who do you think of? A male or female? When you think of a parent, do you think of a male or female? When you think of the breadwinner of a household, do you think of a male or female? If you’ve answered male to most of these questions, this shows that you may share the societal bias towards one gender over the other. It’s powerful and impactful to know our mindset as it puts us in a place of awareness, collaboration, and exploration. It can also make our experiences and relationships stronger and more meaningful.
According to a study conducted at Cornell University: “Women tend to underestimate their confidence, whilst men will overestimate their abilities.” Another study found that men will apply for a job role with only 60% of the credentials, compared to women, who will apply for a role with only 100%. Here are ways to check your bias and thrive with confidence if faced with a job opportunity.
What can I offer this role?
If confidence or self-belief wasn’t holding me back, what would I do?
What’s holding me back?
What impact would I make if I had this role?
Why not me?
If You Own a Business, Consider the Following Questions:
Could the company benefit from a different perspective?
How gender equal are we in this company?
Is our team stronger in one gender than the other?
What gaps need filling when it comes to gender equality?
These small insights and perspectives can offer a host of knowledge about what sets us back. Remember ladies, we all are worthy of achieving our goals and dreams – and 2022 is truly our time – so be proud, make a stand, and show the world who you truly are. As Oprah Winfrey once said, “I was once afraid of people saying, ‘Who does she think she is?’ Now I have the courage to say, ‘This is who I am.'”
My life today is barely recognisable. Having worked in the corporate field all my career to being an entrepreneur today, I have to admit that this path is full of unexpected twists and turns, highs and lows – and it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted!
During a trip to Thailand to confront my fears, I sat down and started writing on a blank page, At the top, I wrote the following words: Authenticity, Voice, Freedom, Expression, Integrity. These were values that I live by and they became the ones I poured into my business, the WILD network, which is now reflected in my brand. I wrote the business plan in April and picked a date in mid-July for WILD’s first live event. I didn’t worry about the how; I just worked backwards.
It’s amazing how things all come together and the right people pop up at the right time to support you when you simply cast a vision and let it happen. It’s as though the universe is conspiring to assist you. I launched on a shoestring budget and the very first venue only cost me AED 600 as the owner was kind enough to support me. So believe me when I tell you, the universe has your back!
Now, when people ask me how I did it, it makes me recall my process of visioning and not worrying about the how. It’s about placing one brick at a time, not letting it overwhelm you, and having a deep sense of belief that you can do it – this is how you can turn the imagined into reality.
We place so many restrictions limitations, doubts, and fears on ourselves and this often comes as a result of societal conditioning or cues we pick up from others. An example: a few years ago, I asked a friend about doing an evening event in Dubai. Her view was that it wouldn’t catch on, people wouldn’t pay, and it would be a waste of time. That was her view from her limited belief, and I took on her belief and followed her advice.
A few years passed, and I changed my mind and decided to go ahead with the challenge – I even charged double of what I’d originally mentioned to her for the tickets. And guess what? It sold out immediately! Don’t get me wrong, she didn’t say it out of malice. She merely had her own limiting beliefs as she’d never done an event before and wasn’t best suited to advise me on it. I know it might sound easier said than done, and in some respects it is. But to vision and create is about getting out of your own way, aligning your vision with your values, and learning to trust your gut instinct. Here are my three tips for casting a vision.
Tip 1: Think about what you want to create.
Play it out in your mind and get it on paper. Try to draw it or write down some notes. Don’t worry about how it will happen. It’s only when we think of every detail and start getting anxious that procrastination and feeling overwhelmed sets in. Set a date in the future and work backwards.
Tip 2: Self-belief is key!
Know deep down in your core that you can achieve anything and build unwavering faith and grit as you go. You need to push past your comfort zone in order to achieve something new. Having the right support is also essential. This can mean finding a coach, a mentor, or even investing in a course that will give you the skills to be able to reach a new level.
Tip 3: Follow your gut and intuition.
We have all the answers we need within ourselves. Choose to rely on your own ideas instead of asking everyone else all the time. It’s okay to seek counsel, but go to people who you trust and have experience in the area you want to progress in.
Here’s How to Make a Career out of Board Membership
The rewards make it worth it.
Board service takes commitment and comes with legal duties, but gives you a chance to offer your expertise and guide an organisation. But let’s be real: what can you get from it? Why on earth would anyone want to give up their leisure time for more work (especially work that has definite legal ramifications if things go sour)? Every board director started with a specific focus as to why they started, and many who I’ve met have changed their reasons with time – nothing stays the same.
Reasons Why People Embrace the Opportunity
Being Recognised as the Expert
For many who are asked to serve on a board, doing so is like a badge of honour. A board member is usually sought after because of their track record as a successful outsider, with years of relevant and useful experience to bring to the table. As a board director, you are being recognised as an expert in your field and asked to share your wealth of knowledge to better the organisation.
Many find that working as a board director reinvigorates their interests in what brought them into their career and breathes new life into stale careers. This happens when you get the opportunity to interact and work with other people who are motivated and may work outside of your immediate sphere of influence – like at your day job. You might be supporting a start-up to grow and avoid costly mistakes or supporting a non-profit in giving back to your community – either way, you get to be highly engaged and personally motivated through lending your experience and insights. And who isn’t inspired by that type of work?
Increasing Intellectual Challenges
The duties of board directors are incredibly different from those of the operating roles that you would be used to until now in your career journey. Directors look at organisations holistically and eventually develop a more in-depth understanding of a breadth of topics that senior leaders have to contend with. These topics include mergers and acquisitions, executive pay, shareholder concerns, market growth campaigns, and technological adaptations. You develop and contribute in a way that expands your understanding of how organisations work and the process behind true strategic decision-making.
Powerful Networking and Growing Your Personal Brand
Being a board director conveys to other executives and thought leaders in your industry that you are an expert in your field. It highlights the fact that you have ideas, or at least that you can take a leadership role past the operational and are well-equipped to help shape the future of any organisation.
Being on a board highlights your qualities to other board professionals as well. It provides exposure beyond your current company or smaller network and allows you to be recognised by a wider audience of peers. Some of you may well be looking to make board service a long-lasting career and developing a portfolio of boards to serve on. A portfolio career is what we refer to when someone’s job becomes sitting on a number of boards at one time.
Some board positions pay you for your expertise. Yes, while most just pay a token amount, many corporate boards compensate handsomely for the expertise and advice that board directors provide. According to Lodestone Global, in 2020 the average director of a public company made $42,750 in 2020. And according to Veritas, the top range can be from $300,000 to $500,000 annually. If pay is increased on a salary side, this generally means a higher firm status as the compensation is linked to the increased risk and responsibilities.
Meanwhile, according to a Reuters report, S&P 500 companies tend to pay the most, with the average being $304,856. They have the financial backing to be able to recognise the substantial time and responsibility necessary to oversee the affairs of the company. Not all firms can provide this level of compensation, yet governance structures do make it public what compensation boards will offer their directors.
That being said, there is a huge discrepancy among the rest. Start-up boards typically do not pay a salary, and board members and advisors may be compensated in equity. For non-profit firms and school trustees, directorships are often entirely voluntary and the pay is the intrinsic rewards felt at performing the role and helping the organisation.
Taking Board Service to the Next level
For those who find serving on boards truly rewarding, a portfolio career – also known as a board career – can also become an option to pursue. Typically, it is when an individual pursues more than one board role simultaneously – not just as a source of income, but most importantly, because they enjoy the work as well as the flexibility and variety it offers.
Usually, a board portfolio can have a mixture of any activity that allows you to utilise different skills and involves engaging in various types of work, from directorship roles and board consulting roles to advisory board roles and governance board work. Being a board director takes work so, depending on the organisation you join, board service can be time-consuming. The role can be demanding and it requires staying abreast of the industry.
There can also be internal politics to manoeuvre and, at times, it can feel risky to navigate the legal considerations. Therefore, it is important to be clear on why you would want to start a portfolio career, what you want out of such a move, and how it will serve your interests. You can use a portfolio career to develop new skills, expand your industry influence, and expand your centre of influence – as long as you are very clear about what roles you take on.
In the end, board service is not for everyone, but if you think it’s a potential fit for you, begin by asking yourself a few key questions:
Does the work of that board spark a light within you?
Do you understand the role, responsibilities, and legal duties?
What can you bring to a board that is beneficial to the organisation?
What do you need to do to be proactive and prepared for such a role?
Does working on this board support your plans for the future of your career?
What time commitment is required to be effective in the role (both meetings and prep)?
Who else would be serving on the board with you? Who are you working with and learning from?
How effective is the board? And have there been issues within the board previously?
For me, serving on a board is a way for me to stay true to my purpose as well as continue to look out and look beyond. I serve in a mixture of paid and unpaid roles and, in the end, it is a service with rewards that go both ways. I give my expertise, time, and energy. In turn, I receive rewards that are fulfilling to me and align with my values. Be true to yourself and your values, and you will succeed. Being aware of the risks makes performing my duties easier as the ramifications are clearly known. If you have a need to serve, get out there. And if you know someone who you think should be serving? Put the bug into their ear, and help educate them to make the decision that much easier.
Money Matters: What Investing for the Future Has Taught Me
There’s more to it than working full-time.
The numbers are real. Statistics reveal that women, on average, earn better investment returns, save more of their wages, and are more consistent with their investment behaviour. And still, fewer women make personal investments a priority than men. Why do we, as women, not do more of what we’re clearly good at?
The Gaggler spoke to Angela Soudi, co-founder of Be Unique Group, a leading sales and marketing consulting firm in the Middle East. Having come to Dubai with almost no money to her name, Angela has experienced both highs and lows of career and business ownership over the last 12 years. Here, she shares her insights on work, money, and investing for the future.
You manage multiple businesses. What does money represent to you today and how has it changed over time?
My parents were working class – my mother was a nurse who worked nights and my father owned a small business. Both my parents were hard workers and, from them, I learned the importance of a strong work ethic. Watching them left a strong impression on me that I had to work hard for money and save money so that I could buy a roof over my head. I recall being surrounded by statements about money such as ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’ and ‘we aren’t made of money’. So, growing up, I believed it was really hard to make money. There was no talk of investing to earn greater returns in my family. I thought investing was for rich people – not me.
As my business began to grow, I saved money – that’s when I started to think about investments. I am an avid reader and began reading books on the subject to see how I might possibly be able to leverage different investment strategies to make more productive use of my savings. Then, I started to look at the wealth management options available in Dubai in a serious way. I was still very sceptical. It took me six months to become comfortable before I could even think about handing over my money to an investment professional to manage it for me. I was never taught to look at the stock market or trading to make money.
After doing a lot of research, I finally took the leap with a high-wealth trading platform and put the minimum amount I needed to. It was when I started to see returns coming back from my original investment that I wished I had learned about investing and personal finance earlier. I wished I had acted sooner. My view of money is very different today than when I was growing up. Now, I believe that money can work for you. Financially, I am in a situation where I really don’t have to work – 80% of my income now comes from passive or investment sources, and 20% from my salary. Despite this, I still have an inner force that pushes me to continue to spend some of my time working and keeping the rest of my time for family and leisure. Somehow, ‘earning’ money makes me feel more deserving. I do love the security of my passive income, but I still go to work.
Clearly, your upbringing had a profound impact on your initial views about money. Is there a particular incident that stands out about your early relationship with money?
I went to school in the UK, and I recall a time in high school that carried quite a bit of pain for me. Every year, there would be school trips to different European destinations. I was never one of those children who went on those trips. And I remember the physical pain I would feel when the teacher would hand out the application for the parents to sign. I knew I’d never get to go and felt like an outcast. I’d make excuses to my classmates so as to avoid ridicule. My family just could not afford those trips. We were fortunate to always have food, clothes, toys, and all the other essentials to live. However, extras like vacations were not something I grew up with.
And then my experience with money flipped after completing high school. As a young adult, I didn’t attend university as I couldn’t afford it. My escape back then was dancing, and I trained and qualified as a ballroom dance teacher. I was the youngest who qualified and started to give dance lessons to earn money. So, from an early age, I was driven to earn my own money. I had a taste of what it was like to make money at a very young age. When my friends graduated from university, they were broke and I had money. The tables had turned.
You decided to start investing your earnings not too long ago. What triggered that move and what has the experience taught you?
I started investing in late 2020 after I saw my husband invest with positive results. My husband is a risk-taker, and he was actually brought in to help train the company’s staff. As he learned about the company’s business operations and approach to investments, he invested his own money. At first, I was suspicious because it sounded too good to be true because of the ‘I have to work hard for my money’ mentality that I was brought up with.
When I saw his financial status change over the course of one year, my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to know more. My husband educated me, explaining how the investment strategy would work if I decided to commit my money. Again, when I did invest, I did so with the minimum amount required because I was still so sceptical.
Tell us more about passive income generation and what type of investment you’ve invested in?
There are many different investments and strategies you can invest in, and I can only describe what I have invested in personally. I am what’s considered a risk-averse investor, so I am comfortable with taking on no to minimal risk. I want my money to be secure. There are many different types of ‘policies’ and I opted for a ‘safe’ policy. I’d rather have less income, but have it secure, than take on additional risk and have anxiety.
Now, I earn above-average rates of return annually from my investments because I work with a wealth manager. If you go to the bank, you may earn a 3-4% interest rate on fixed deposit programmes. However, annual inflation is about 5%, so that will wipe out any return you receive. If you invest in real estate – and I have – you will earn around 6-7%, which doesn’t leave much over after inflation.
The way the ‘safe’ policy works is your investment is held with a regulated bank. I provide a power of attorney to my wealth manager, and they are only permitted to withdraw 30% of my original investment to invest in a variety of commodities, digital assets, and other types of investments. The wealth manager does not own your funds; they are just permitted to trade your funds according to the policy you’ve selected.
What are the advantages and disadvantages everyone needs to consider before investing in passive investments?
As with anything new, it is so important to do your checks and get references. If you are talking to a wealth manager, ask them to put you in touch with people who have invested or request case studies. Another consideration that’s important is ‘time’ – the policy I selected is a three-year policy. This means I cannot access the original investment for three years. You can do a two-year policy. Whatever policy duration you choose, make sure you can do without the investment amount for that period. And as with any business, check that the wealth manager or firm is licensed.
How has passive income generation changed your life?
Aside from the material gain, I have benefitted from not needing to work if I don’t want to – passive income has allowed me the ability to care for my mother. My mother had a brain haemorrhage a while ago and therefore needs round-the-clock care. I am able to pay a family member to care for her full-time in her own home because of the passive income that my investments generate.
This has also allowed me to have more free time to spend with my young children because I am not worrying about spending all my time ‘earning’ money. Growing up, I had this mindset that money causes bad things to happen. However, my experience has shown me firsthand that I’m able to help more people and do positive things with money. Good people will do good things with money.
You’re passionate about women improving their financial literacy and leveraging investments to achieve their personal finance goals. Why is this important to you?
We live in a society whose foundation is based on the most unsaid rule – women start their careers, then get married, start a family, and are put into the role of primary caregiver overnight. Whilst I was happy to step into that role and raise my two boys, my financial identity changed completely because I was pulled in many different directions as a mother.
This new role didn’t allow for me to keep the high-intensity work schedule that I had before children. Having the ability to put my savings towards investments that generate passive income I can comfortably live off is such a relief and allows me to work, raise my children, and live my life. I want more women to know that they, too, can feel this level of ‘freedom’ by taking small steps towards applying their savings to uses that can generate better results in the long term. It is so important for women to focus on financial literacy and explore different financial options.
I feel women are fearful of taking that step towards securing their financial future by exploring investments, and I want to help remove those fears. A Barclays Wealth Management study found that female investors experienced better results than men because women are more astute, do more research, and are more consistent. However, today, there are still less women investing for their financial future than men. This narrative needs to change.
What advice would you give your younger self about money?
Invest in financial literacy. Save sooner, save more. Understand compound growth. This last point is the most important I feel. Albert Einstein said, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it.” Money makes money. I wish I had known – and understood – the power of compound growth in my younger days.
What’s one thing about money that every woman should know?
Women need to see money as energy. When we have negative blocks in our mindset about money, it will not flow. Studies show that 99% of the beliefs we hold as adults are from childhood, so I feel it’s really important for women to work on their money blocks and create new positive beliefs related to money for their financial security.
Visit www.instagram.com/angelasoudiofficialto learn more about Angela’s personal finance journey. This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional advice. The views expressed are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of The Gaggler.
Mother, artist, photographer, designer, self-taught coder, and one of the first female Emirati web designers – Fatma Hilal is something of a trailblazer. A student of business administration back in the 90s, she longed to be a designer despite being dedicated to her college course – a career that, at the time, was one only the rare few got a chance to pursue.
But after a stint in the corporate world, the opportunity of studying for a brand-new graphic design degree at university prompted Fatma to take a leap of faith – one that proved not only brave, but also visionary. Graduating with honours, she opened her own photography studio, proving to herself and others that was she great at what she did and could make money off her talent, too.
Following the birth of her first child, Fatma decided she needed to make another mark in the photography world and capitalise on her love for a recently discovered new app that everyone was talking about: Instagram. Focusing on flatlays – something that was only seen on the pages of glossy magazines at the time – she kicked off her journey to being crowned Flatlay Queen. Today, she shares her trips and tricks through her popular masterclasses, which are available in both Arabic and English. The Gaggler caught up with Fatma to find out everything there is to know about the art of the flatlay, followed by some top tips that no Instagram addict should miss!
How do you juggle both your creativity and masterclass teaching with being a busy mum?
Being a mum, especially in these times, I have to really find the time to be creative. Between virtual schooling and looking after the kids, every spare moment – be it 10 minutes or an hour – I really utilise this time to organise and plan shoots before executing them.
Why did you start your flatlay masterclass?
Since starting my Instagram, I would constantly get questions from my followers on how I created certain images, where I got my ideas from, and my use of flowers. I started by doing little interactive classes with friends and some followers in cafés that I loved shooting in (and had the right amount of natural light). From here, I was contacted by some big international and local brands and began to do workshops with them, too. I started to do masterclass videos, and also offer one-on-one video chats after participants have completed the course.
Do you find waking up early during Ramadan helps or hinders your creative process?
Ramadan is very special – it’s a time I fast and can see family. During fasting, my mind feels very clear. I design more, I find myself more creative, which you can see in my content during Ramadan.
What are some tricks you can share with readers to help improve their flatlay photography?
I prefer to use an iPhone – I think they are best to capture the light and softness that I prefer for all my images.
The theme you see throughout my entire Instagram feed is a white backdrop. I recommend white, grey, or neutral colours to create a high-end/luxe visual.
You should always take advantage of natural light – my favourite time of the day to shoot is 7am or between 4pm and 5pm. Put your flatlay next to a large window to utilise as much natural light as you can.
If you are shooting flowers and need to re-shoot or include them in another shoot, keep them in the fridge so they hold their shape – they will last much longer.
Watch the Video: How to Take Amazing Photos with Apps and an iPhone
You don’t have to go out and buy a backdrop when you start – use what you have at home first. A clean white sheet or white board is perfect to use as a backdrop.
Avoid bright colours – you need a studio light and professional camera to really make them pop.
Once you have completed your flatlay, walk away for five minutes and come back – you may see something out of place or decide to move a prop to create the perfect picture.
Take photos from different angles, not just above – sometimes you will capture the perfect click from an angle you haven’t tried before.
ALWAYS flip your phone upside down, so the camera is at the bottom – this can capture some stunning images.
Always place the main object you are capturing (a cup of coffee or pair of shoes, for example) in the middle of the flatlay. Use the grid option in images to place the main object in the middle of the picture.
What are your personal favourite flatlays?
I have a few – all for different reasons! On this shoot, I got to work with one of my favorite shoe brands, Manolo Blahnik. I also utilised different photography elements, included a model, and played around with different props and colours.
We had a shoot with Bvlgari at Bvlgari Resort Dubai, and this was where I got a chance to meet the ladies I had been getting to know via Instagram for the first time. It was like a dream to meet everyone in real life!