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Hira Ali: Women Live in a World, Culture and System that is Designed for Men

We interviewed with Hira Ali, the author of Her Way To The Top: A Guide to Smashing the Glass Ceiling.

Why did you want to write a book that empowers women into leadership? What did you see lacking in the current market?

You could say that moving from country is country in the past decade and working with women from various backgrounds and cultures is what primarily informed my work on gender equality and subsequently the decision to write this book. Often I had seen books focusing on either the internal or the external impediments facing women on their way to the top and I wanted to acknowledge and discuss both of them from an international perspective.

You have worked across different cultures and countries, Previously based in Karachi, Dubai and now in London. What have you observed working with women across different cultures? Are their challenges the same? or How do their journeys to leadership differ?

I have witnessed a specific trend in the internal roadblocks women face in their career irrespective of whichever part of the world they belong in. At first, I attributed these inhibiting factors to the women’s backgrounds, but it soon became apparent that whether in Karachi, Dubai, New York or London, there were gender-specific issues that were unanimously faced by women across the globe. After having recruited, managed, coached and trained hundreds of women at work, I have noticed that an underlying factor behind every challenge is fear which impacts women in different ways: fear of your own internal self-worth, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of judgement, fear of vulnerability, fear of self-promotion, fear of missing out and the biggest of all-fear of safety. All these fears lead to a number of intertwined internal challenges. Even though most women across the world have the same internal and external challenges to contend with. However, I would say that the intensity of these challenges vary from place to place. For example women in Asia, Middle East and Africa face greater external challenges as compared to their male counterparts. These women have to be confident and own their role out of necessity given their fundamental challenge is so basic – earning the right to work. To fight the external challenges, they first master their internal challenges.

What is your final message to women who want to move into leadership?

In my book, I have highlighted several examples of how even when playing the same game, men and women are subject to different standards. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges women face on their way to the top is that they work and live in a world, culture and system that is designed for men. Without the proper infrastructure and strong systemic challenges, women are unable to achieve unfettered career success and this is prevalent all over the world. In the absence of a work environment that prioritises protecting women from harassment, bullying and sexism, where laws, rules and systems are more favourable for men than they are for women, there is little surprise as to why a large majority of women find it very challenging to make it to the top. I wish things were different but unless we can achieve their post- patriarchal utopia (which I don’t see happing anytime soon) we must learn to take charge of our career and pave way for ourselves. In order to tackle external barriers and rise above the system or even fight it, we need to start by overcoming our own self-imposed limiting beliefs. In other words - first get our own house in order. And finally as also written in my book:

Bear in mind that the way to the top is never easy. There are many bumps and detours on your journey that will discourage you, but dig deep and be resilient. Trust yourself to get there…

Hira Ali is an author, writer, speaker and executive coach focused on women’s & ethnic leadership development, closing the gender gap and breaking the glass ceiling. She is the Founder of Advancing Your Potential  & International Women Empowerment Events and Co-Founder of Career Excel and The Grey Area. Contact her  on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook  or email You can buy her book here: Her Way To The Top: A Guide to Smashing the Glass Ceiling.

Hira Ali was also listed in Diversein's 125 People to Follow on Linkedin About Diversity and Inclusion. See the full list.


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