Inspirational Woman: Salwa Abdul Hadi | Empowerment & Leadership Coach

Salwa Abdul Hadi I am an award-winning Empowerment & Leadership Coach and a passionate gender equality advocate, on a mission to empower female social entrepreneurs and purpose driven professional women to step into their power, rise up and grab their seat at the table of change.

I am especially passionate about supporting women who face gender equality challenges to embrace their confidence and authenticity and flourish. What led me on this path is my own journey of being born into a patriarchal society and overcoming ingrained beliefs of being inferior and worthless to then build a successful career in leadership.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am an Egyptian, English, Muslim and a proud mum of 4 children. I grew up in a patriarchal home in Saudia Arabia, where I had it ingrained from birth that I was inferior based on my gender. My gender role expectation was to be modest, meek, obedient, and sacrificing for the benefit of my husband, father and brothers. This was my normal and something I, like many other girls, aspired to. I was conditioned to believe that honour and shame were the most important things in life and it fell on my shoulders to uphold that family honour. However, my normal changed when I moved to the UK with my mother and siblings at the age of 15. this was the first time ever I had experienced not only a different country, but a different world!

I went on to have a long successful corporate career in banking in leadership roles. Yet, It wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s, that I finally fully started to overcome cultural and patriarchal oppression values – and finally felt proud of the strong independent woman I had become, and I have since broken down so many ingrained beliefs of feeling; invisible, worthless, voiceless, feelings of shame and guilt and weakness.

I currently work as a social entrepreneur and a gender equality advocate, where I coach and mentor women who have been downtrodden on and faced adversity, especially those from patriarchal communities. I help them discover and celebrate their authentic selves and step into their power and confidence. I also work to address the misconceptions between culture and traditions and the true value of women within Islam.

I also professionally coach and mentor emerging and aspiring female social leaders, empowering them to discover and step into their unique power and become Authentic Social leaders of the future, making necessary, bigger impacts of social justice and change.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I didn’t. I was brought up to aspire to be a ‘good’ wife and mother. I learnt cooking, embroidery, and knitting. Growing up in a strict Muslim, Arab household nothing else was expected of me. When I came to the UK with my mother in 1994, at 15 years old I was suddenly thrown into a very different world and had to re think everything. I tried Beauty Therapy and a few other career choices before falling into banking. It wasn’t until I was 36 that I left the banking world after realising it wasn’t in alignment with my values. I then returned to University and graduated in Counselling and Mentoring with Hons and now follow a career in complete alignment with my values and purpose.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

My biggest challenge has been myself. It wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s, that I finally started to overcome cultural and patriarchal oppression values. I’ve had to work very hard on past and inner demons, to break down so many ingrained beliefs of feeling; invisible, worthless, voiceless, feelings of shame and guilt and weakness to rise up for the first time in my life.

This is a continual journey and something I need to work on consistently.

As I choose to stand up against oppressive societal norms and violence against women including structural violence which has been imbedded in communities and societies for many generations, there will always be pullback and those who don’t want change.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Winning the Global Woman of Choice Awards for work with women and children.

The Awards were created to celebrate the game changers, women who take on social problems and shape the future and create their own path to success. To celebrate and honour those whose acts of kindness have preserved their communities. This was a great honour to not only be nominated but to win and be alongside so many Inspirational women globally.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Resilience and being very clear on my soul purpose. I have a clear direction of what I want to achieve and why. This keeps me going despite the challenges I face.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I feel very passionately about mentoring. I have always mentored and coached individuals in my corporate career and supported them in their own journeys. Once I had decided my purpose was in mentoring and coaching, I returned to university to study it and am currently researching the impact of Mentoring on Social Entrepreneurs for my PHD. I combine my personal experiences along with my corporate skills and lessons, to lead, coach and mentor future female role models.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

It would be to change oppressive Gender Role Expectations being taught in families and then cemented in the communities and societal structural. From my research and my personal experiences, I think this is one of the main foundations for gender inequality in Patriarchal societies. Both genders have it ingrained from birth their ‘roles and expectations’. Despite this there are individuals, male and female, who may not agree with these gender role expectations but face being ostracized from their communities and families if they stray from the societal norms.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

To listen to my own intuition, to dismiss social stigmas, especially personal development and to explore it from a much younger age.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next challenge is to bring together female social leaders from a wide range of areas such as; political, social, community, religious and educational to work together to define and put actionable steps in place to eradicate Gender inequality within patriarchal societies. Research has shown the only way to make a true impact is for all these different areas to work together towards a solution.

WeAreTheCity has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Cherie Blair, Paula Radcliffe MBE, Caprice Bourret, Anna Williamson and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

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