People 18 May 2017
Huda Alvi's story is one that doesn't get told often enough. It's one of pain and perseverance, of a journey through hardship, and one whereby a marginalized woman turned an adversarial life around to become a successful entrepreneur and blogger, who's now encouraging others to share their difficult stories.
Having found herself in an unhappy and verbally abusive marriage at the tender age of 18, Alvi was looking down the barrel of a sad and grueling life married to an angry ex-drug dealer. Before long, she had given birth to two children and realized she could no longer accept the bleak circumstances of her and her children's lives.
Leaving the life she knew behind, she moved away from then-husband and began anew. A single mom of two for five years before she met her new husband, she grew as a person and as a businesswoman, now the proud owner of a business, blog and an exceedingly happier life. In light of her success and her decision to share the more difficult aspects of her story with the world on her blog, she began a campaign in November of last year to engage with other people's stories in cyber space. Her #iammore campaign focuses on promoting people's stories globally in an initiative that hopes to get people talking about themselves publicly and send their stories throughout the internet. Below she talks to SWAAY about her experiences with business and the campaign.
1) What inspired you to come up with the “#iammore" campaign?
I Am More is a movement inspired by the idea that our lives are our legacies. The messages that our life stories convey are lessons to be left behind for others to learn. It's a collective of honest, real-life experiences - a step out of the box that defines us through limitations, and step into our own limelight. It's about encouraging people to see themselves as creators – as powerful storytellers.
2) What was the most moving story you've heard someone share as part of the campaign?
Aghhh this is hard because all of them are so touching in so many ways but for me it would be Asha & Michele's stories which you will see soon. Asha talks about self-love and how long it took her to find that love and all the phases she went through to find it which I feel related to me and can relate to any woman who has ever looked in the mirror at herself with pity, fear or felt like she couldn't do it. It's a great one. Michele's story left me sobbing. Her story was about the loss of her daughter and how she struggled to be a mother after she lost her. It was heartbreaking but also filled with strength and courage. Truly remarkable.
3) What are you hoping to achieve with this campaign?
I Am More serves as a platform that encourages social media users to complete their online stories with their offline realities so we could get to know more people “behind the screen".
4) Do you think there should be a change with how people use social media?
People are hesitant to open up about such things because we are conditioned to only show our “good side", especially on social media. If we were more honest about the good, bad and ugly sides, wouldn't our lives be more relatable? Our life stories include messages that could support, inspire and empower others. The more honest we are, the more genuine online connections can be.
5) Do you think social media can be harmful in any way? If so, how?
From a woman's perspective, social media can be harmful if too much focus is set on one's appearance and outer qualities. I believe there needs to be a balance so that we are not just objectified by how we look. Social media has the ability to reach masses and us influencers should think twice about the messages we are portraying.
6) How do you personally balance the work / family combination?
It's all about staying organized and being mindful of my priorities. I schedule everything well in advance and reserve particular dates for tasks that need attention on a weekly basis. Before I commit to anything, I take the time to think about whether it needs my presence or if a conference call will do. I am also save time by only choosing to attend events that I will benefit from professionally. Most importantly, I keep my weekends open for family time.
7) You started your first business at the age of 18. What was that like - are you different in your approach to business now, perhaps more wary?
I was stepping into the business world and adulthood at the same time so it was definitely overwhelming. I may have been inexperienced, but to this day I never feel intimidated to ask questions or ashamed to ask for help. I highly recommend doing this because it is one of the best ways to connect and learn from others. Although most aspects of business are very technical, following my gut and intuition have never failed me. When your goals are clear, it becomes a matter of trusting what you know and feel is the right move for your business.
8) What is your personal business philosophy?
Taking the first step is always the hardest, but everything after that becomes easy. With so many tools and resources readily available, there's really nothing stopping you from finding the answers to your own questions and educating yourself. I believe in growth and movement, and if you ever feel stagnant in your personal or professional life, there is a book or seminar out there that could help expand your mind.
9) What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs trying to make their way in this industry?
Once you see how outnumbered we are you may start to question yourself, but my advice is to ignore it. I can guarantee you that there is a huge support system behind us that has been built by other women. I have found that the way we are made to nurture has translated well into the business world. I have not come across a woman who isn't ready and willing to provide support and mentorship. We may not have strength in numbers just yet, but the wave of female entrepreneurship is definitely on the rise.
10) What makes your business model different and stand out from the rest?
It is common to associate the business industry with competitiveness and being cutthroat but I have been able to uphold my belief in honesty and sharing. I'm not afraid to admit when I am wrong or when I need help, and this sets a precedence for others to do the same. The core of business is about trading, whether it is about assets, ideas, information or material goods - it would not be possible if we refuse share. I feel that accepting this is what has made me successful and stand out so far. These little things go along way in earning one's trust and making a mark for yourself.
11) What does social media mean to you now versus when you started using it?
In 2016, I joined Instagram as a fashion blogger and it wasn't long before I felt that I was meant to share more than my outfits – I was meant to share my thoughts, stories, my life. My role as an online influencer helped me find my voice and its my purpose to help others do the same. With social media's ability to reach masses, it's important to be mindful of how our messages impact others. It is a useful tool that could be better used to invest in to education and wellbeing.
12) What does 'influencing' mean to you?
To be able to foster change, in any shape or form for greater good. For me, if I'm able to inspire or change ONE individual's life by my experience, my story or my words I would think I've made a difference.
13) What would you say to aspiring Instagram/Facebook influencers - is there a smart move you wish you had made in the beginning?
The social media scene is very saturated and you could easily get pressured into following the crowds. Although that's the way I started things, I quickly realized that I wanted to influence ways of thinking/living, not just fashion. It is so important to know yourself – your morals, values and message – and to stay true to them no matter what the world looks like on the outside. When you can sync your existence and accept who you are on the inside it will exude from the outside and that's when you will truly be able to influence in any online or offline space.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.