Hira Ali is an inspiring leadership trainer and career coach and an acclaimed writer and speaker, Hira Ali has been committed to helping others achieve their inherent potential throughout her award-winning career. Hira is also a successful entrepreneur who has launched several businesses to support her mission. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Telegraph, BBC, Harpers Bazaar, Huff Post, and Entrepreneur, among hundreds of other print, radio and television outlets, and has earned Hira several prestigious honours and awards. She was recently appointed as The Senior Advisory Team member at The Benedictine University Illinois L.E.A.D.S leadership program for undergraduate women and has joined WLG’S Conversations with Men Advisory Council.
Hira was also included in a list by DiverseIn of global D&I voices to follow on LinkedIn. In addition, she has been featured as a role model in the book Girls Who Do You Want To Be alongside phenomenal world changers. She is passionate about empowering women and ethnic minorities, closing the gender gap and advocating diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Her wealth of positive client testimonials underscores her commitment to helping others realise their goals and achieve their potential.
Please share a bit about your early life and impact it had in your career decisions
I was born and raised in Pakistan. I also started my career there as a junior HR manager at the age of 22 and was promoted to senior roles within a short span of time. My key strengths were communicating with and relating to people with different backgrounds and personalities. It was therefore inevitable that I chose Human Resources as a specialty for my MBA. My late father, who was associated with the HR profession, was also an important influence. At my first job, I was the only female in the department with 21 men, and when I transitioned to my next job, the gender balance was similarly challenging. Even though there were more females in the department, I was the only one in Training & Development. These experiences taught me a great deal about working within male-dominated companies.
Biggest misconceptions of women where you grew up or community
Muslim women and even Asian women often seen as subservient, subjugated or in need of rescuing. As a practicing Muslim woman of colour who is proud of her identity, I personally find this naive generalisation offensive when in fact historically, the advent of Islam gave unprecedented rights to women such as consent before marriage, the ability to divorce, financial independence and property inheritance. People often question as to how I am able to speak English fluently, many are surprised to find out that Pakistan has English speaking schools and that women are allowed to work.
As a leadership trainer and entrepreneur coach what are the biggest challenges you have observed women face in their career
Women often face a combination of internal and external barriers. In my book Her Way to the Top – A Guide to Smashing the Glass Ceiling, I explore social realities augment female self-doubt. Given these socialized differences between genders, women have developed internal challenges that carry a deeper social context and are closely intertwined as revealed by my global survey of 300 women Sadly, research also indicates that women enter the workforce far less confident than their male counterparts.
Gender rules become unconscious in adulthood and continue to profoundly impact our habits, assumptions and beliefs about how to work, interact and socialise. And even though as some scholars assert, innate gender differences do not exist in certain areas, most of us mature as adults with stereotypes fully entrenched in our psyches. Today, the women continue to experience discrimination in the public sphere. They collide against glass ceilings in the workplace, experience harassment and less-than-welcoming environments in every institution, miss out on career opportunities, face motherhood penalties and huge wage gaps, fight to control their own bodies, and struggle to end their victimization through rape, domestic violence and trafficking.
Why HER Allies?
After the release of my first book, Her Way To The Top, I was invited to various organisations to deliver book talks and workshops to discuss the internal and external challenges holding women back from smashing the glass ceiling. On several occasions, I was asked what others could do to support women’s career advancement. During these sessions I would often meet well-intentioned men who were keen to support women in their circle but were unsure where to start. To facilitate these allies, I wrote a Forbes article for International Men’s Day in 2019. My article was well received; Isabelle Magyar, Global Advisor for HeForSheInitiative at United Nations Women even shared it with the program team and champions. Following the success of that article, friends and colleagues encouraged me to further explore this topic and share my perspective.
At my book launch anniversary in March 2020, I conducted a focus group discussion—the findings of which concluded that changing an “organization” often becomes a David versus Goliath battle but what is more manageable is to influence and change the people that sit at the heart of this organisation.
To affect real change, you must appeal to the individuals within an organisation who can drive that change. This discussion was a defining moment that triggered the concept of this book; Her Allies is about those steps we can all take as individuals to make a difference for society as a whole.
Meanwhile, in the exact same year, a horrific motorway rape incident in my home country of Pakistan sparked nationwide fury and I launched an #HerAllies campaign through my organisation International Women Empowerment Events which was well received and reasserted the need for a ttolkit for men. Finally, repeated lockdowns due to the pandemic allowed me to channel the distress and uncertainty into something productive… and lo and behold, Her Allies took shape!
What impact have you observed having allies, has had on your career?
Male allies in my family have had a significant impact on my career and have provided unconditional support throughout various phases of my life: my grandfather who inspired me to dream big; my father who cherished me and passed on invaluable leadership lessons that have significantly impacted my personal and professional life; my brother who has helped me navigate male-dominated spaces with dignity and grace; my son who keeps me motivated and energised; and last but not the least—the man to whom I owe the most, especially in terms of my career trajectory—my husband, who has always been my greatest and truest ally in every sense of the word. I have also had some very supportive male professors, colleagues and Managers who have been great mentors and allies.
What have been your proudest moments in your career journey?
I am grateful to have had dozens of milestones that I am proud of but the biggest would be publication of both my two books that have received outstanding reviews and media coverage globally.
What has been your biggest failure and how did you move forward
It has been quite challenging for me to start my business from ground zero and build my brand from scratch in three different countries. Each time it took me quite some time before I could start earning money. Not all projects and ideas were met with success, some were rejected and I had to try again. I moved forward because I guess like many I didn’t have a choice but to keep trying. However, one thing I that helped me is not shying away or hiding mistakes or failures—owning them and allowing myself to be vulnerable as helped me in moving forward.
What motivates you?
My family, work and the ability to positively impact someone’s life and/or to create a difference.
Looking back what would you have done differently as an Entrepreneur
I would been less hesitant to ask for more , hire help and not do everything myself and take more breaks and time off..
How do you celebrate your successes
Indulging in my favourite food, desserts and a good movie with family is my way of unwinding and celebrating success.
What is next for Hira?
Another book is in the pipeline but that will take another two years or so. I want to launch allyship campaigns in Asian countries to get more men involved and support as allies. I also want to continue helping women and minorities in smashing the glass ceiling through training and coaching.
Photo credit: iSHK photography