On the enchantment of nights and hope

I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to the dark. There’s something so exciting, so intriguing once it’s darker. Any plan at night feels like an adventure. Special. It could be a Moroccan mint tea catchup at your regular cafe but somehow at night it all feels more elevated, feels more alive. More surreal.

I’ve been thinking about why I pack most of my plans after-work on weekdays. I’ve realized I enjoy feeling like every day is an adventure. It feels like falling in love with life all over, every night. Good company and good food— what more could you ask for, at the end of the day?

Coming home from a soulfilling conversation makes my heart feel full. Of love and affection and wonder and amazement. And gratitude. Everything at once. And I feel so full of life when I rest my head on my pillow, I dream in contentment.
It’s a strange connection, having days full of energy and coming home to online connections with people you love, miles away. Weekends for me then become sacred days I want to protect. Away from the busyness, and bustle. Just good ol days with no plans and a lot of room to be still, to stay.

In many ways I’ve realized I don’t like feeling caged. I’d rather be intoxicated on freedom than be sobered by restrictions. It’s a fear I’ve had many a time, and one I’ve even consciously sometimes thought about. Why the fear, irrational as it may seem? I guess partly because it links to moving backwards and in some ways feels like undoing a lot of years of growth. In other ways it feels like being binded by a lack of options, contradicting the lovely view I hold of the world. But does realism need to oppose optimism? In a personal perspective, I get to do both.

Hope is the strongest feeling in the world. So why would I want to lose hope, ever?


Thank you to: Fatima AlJarman for inspiring me, to Alex McNabb for encouraging me, and to Uswah Firdous for making me believe in writing.

Why this entrepreneur doesn’t hire women in the Middle East (+ why his reasons are ridiculous)

I'm finally going to talk about it.

I’m so tired of the notion that women in this region don’t have talent. I’ve heard it over the years, but never as blatantly until I was speaking on a tech panel where my male co-panelist said he doesn’t hire more women in the MENA region because they don’t have talent and they can’t commit.

At the time, I was extremely flustered. I was angry. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The moderator tried to help him out by asking for a clarification to his statement- the speaker continued with more nonsense. According to him, he wasn’t being sexist- he wasn’t discriminating against women in the US or the UK, this was a problem for women in this region particularly.

He thought he was making a rational argument- women here didn’t want to work longer hours, they weren’t fully committed to work. Clearly their professional careers were not a priority.

When he said his statement, there was a collective gasp from everyone in the audience- this was a hall full of people, and they were as stunned as I was. A few women seated right in front of me couldn’t believe it either—they were shaking their heads angrily, frowning.

One of my other co-panelists, another renowned female entrepreneur was also on stage, silent. She had a serious look on her face, I could tell this wasn’t the first time she’d heard this BS. My other co-panelist (we were evenly rounded to 4), looked plain uncomfortable. This was one of his first panels, I’m guessing he wasn’t exactly thanking his luck.

I was fuming. My face is very expressive, the moderator noticed it too and he wanted my thoughts.

Image description: Mashal holding a mic in one hand in the midst of saying something, and being expressive with one hand.

I rebutted with how working longer hours did not equate to productivity necessarily, and how remote working was the future anyway. That our perception of work and productivity is wrong, and we need to change it. As for women not having talent- I do feel it’s my responsibility as an employer to build up talent. To work on how I’m recruiting, and to find the all-star team I’m looking for. If my team looks the same, there’s a problem. If there are certain profiles who consistently aren’t growing- we have a problem. Sexism has different touchpoints. My first experience was at a career fair when I was looking for a cybersecurity co-op. A female recruiter from a big tech firm told me she couldn’t picture me behind a screen, and she dissuaded me from applying to the company.

I remember feeling disheartened that day. Why wouldn’t she accept my resume if they had open positions, and when I had more work experience than the rest of my classmates at the time?

Can you imagine? Recruiters being the reason you don’t want to work at a company?

This isn’t an isolated experience. I’ve had had years of being dismissed when I’d ask technical questions at tech conferences. It was disheartening, but what was worse was feeling excluded. I was made to feel like I didn’t belong. That I was not a part of this sector.

Our graduate numbers keep rising and yet we see a small % of women rising through the ranks in technical departments at startups and in larger organizations. Clearly, our current models don’t work. It’s not that the talent isn’t there- it’s that they’re not being discovered, not being nurtured, or in some cases (like mine) being dissuaded from working in the industry.

Unfortunately, in the startup ecosystem, the people we glorify to no end are not the ones building incredible teams from grounds up or surviving another day. No, the people we put up on pedestals are the ones raising tens of millions in investment and being openly sexist.

I know we’re all human at the end of the day, but it scares me to think about how people can still feel comfortable believing women have no talent and so confidently say it on stage to an entire hall full people.

Every time there’s an uncomfortable truth, and I speak up, I fear being labelled negatively. I am excluded from narratives, conversations, and opportunities every time I write about it, every time I speak up, and that hurts.

I still feel blood rushing to my ears when I think about that day. Being on stage is nerve-wracking as it is, but listening to outright sexist comments, and keeping my cool so I can articulate my response is f*cking difficult. What I really wanted to do was ask how this was even a question. I was angry but calmly wording out my thoughts. I ended with how I didn’t have a response to his “Women don’t have talent” statement, and I didn’t really know what to say to that. I was silent for the next few minutes, as was everyone else. An uncomfortable truth.

Because really, how do I prove to you how smart and capable and brilliant women are? (for the record I run a startup with 99% women)

Image description: A panelled wall with the text sprayed: speak the truth, even if your voice shakes

I kept thinking of a sentence I’d read somewhere- speak the truth, even if your voice shakes. It was important to address and confront in that moment even though it was scaring the heck out of me. I hate confrontation and conflict. But, I would’ve regretted not saying anything. If I was as shy as I’d been a few years ago, I may not have spoken up either. But years of wear and tear do that to you.

The event happened last year, but it’s taken me a bit of 2019 and 2020 to get myself to write this piece. I’ve reflected and done some work meanwhile- worked on countering sexism offline, done more homework, and had tons of IRL conversations around how we can do better.

The cliffnotes version—

Investors can do better by holding their founders accountable, and asking the right questions around hiring processes, team structures, et all.

Founders can do better by improving their existing processes and structures. By paying attention to the kind of behavior they reward, by reflecting and changing things up if their teams do look the same (cough no-women cough). Y’all will be the winners when you hire better.

Of course, we can also do better by speaking up and calling out the behavior for what it is. By writing about this. By starting conversations and talking to others in the ecosystem about this. But most importantly, by doing the work to educate ourselves and working on countering our bias. The unaware sexist ones may not do this, but I can hope.

If you’re wondering about what happened after— we got off stage. Lots of folks came forward and expressed their similar sentiments and disbelief. I figured it might be helpful to have a conversation with him separately. I debated internally, and decided if he’s hiring big numbers, I want to make an effort to making him understand instead of a Twitter thread (although I was tempted). I connected him to a mentor of mine, who’s an expert in this area. It didn’t go too well, and that’s that.

I’ll end this with something I shouldn’t have to say but I will anyway—

Women in the MENA region do have talent and we can and do commit to work. These are facts. You can ignore them and BS about them, but no amount of gaslighting will change that.

PS, I’m tackling only one spectrum of this conversation today, but there’s many others I’ll eventually write about. x

Who am I?

Between navigating complexities around culture and identity, you sometimes forget who you are.

Who are you, really?

An amalgamation. Of the exchanges and conversations that happen around you. The conversations and questions, and the underlying unspoken nuances. The subtleties and acceptance of situations, and the gravity of rejections. The friends and family you choose. The friends and family you’ve grown up with. The education you’ve formally received. The things you’ve picked up on your own. The self-learning and the courses. The group learning, and the isolated learning. The group thinking, and the solitude realizations. The observations you make. The observations you don’t make. The unconscious bias. The conscious bias. The way you believe the world works. The way you want your world to operate. The thoughts you hold on to. The words you let go of. The sentences you type out. The voices in your head no one else hears. The clothes you wear. The clothes that make a statement. The statement you make when you submerge, looking identical to the group around you, in a specific location. The way you pronounce your words, and your phrases. The ethnic words that sound different, the way you think they’re supposed to. The foreignness. The localness. The first thought. The second thought. The handshake. The greeting kisses. Three times, each side. Twice, once each side. The formality. The informality. The prolonging of gatherings. The briskness of meetings. Them. Us. You. I.

I.

I.

Who am I?

-

This was inspired by a quote I read on @brownhistory.

Image description: “I speak two tongues, my colonizer’s better than my mother’s. This is the first problem.” - Unknown.

Thank you to Visakan Veerasamy, Anna Gát, Hera Naushahi, and Iman Ben Chaibah for reading this piece, and giving me the (final) push to publish!

That last email was a big achievement

the past 2 months have been absolute hell.

Sending out my previous email was a big achievement.

Why?

Because, it shows some form of normalcy returning to my life. Like, I can actually enjoy days, without thinking about the gloom and the hell the last 7-8+ weeks have been.

Have you ever felt like a rug was pulled from under your feet?

I have. That feeling has been intensifying and creeping back into my head every few minutes.

For over a month, I’ve barely been able to get by. I’ve been taking it one day at a time. Sometimes one hour at a time, because if I don’t, I don’t know how else I will get through this.

I don’t know how we will all get through this.

Most days I’ve felt like the most useless being on the planet. Every time I’d open Instagram (or any other social for that matter), people were posting motivational quotes and encouraging everyone to be their most productive selves. How can I be productive when my mind is barely coherent? How do I function when my body clock is all different, and it feels like I’m all wrong?

For someone who loves reading, I could barely get past a page without feeling like it was impossible. I’ve never climbed a mountain, but I’m guessing this is what it feels like.

I wanted to catch up with so many people. Sure, now’s the time. Now, is the time. But, I dread having to answer how I’m doing. Having to answer how I am. I don’t want to give a half-assed “I’m fine”. Because the truth is, I’m not.

I don’t know what to do. And the pressure to have it all figured out is as intense as it is paralyzing. Anxiousness and that creeping fear of impending doom. The last time I felt so low was last year, when there was more chaos and uncertainty than I could handle, and I didn’t know if we’d make it. If I’d make it.

But I did.

I’ve been through some serious shit in the last three years. Much worse than what I’m going through now. But, only on one instance have I felt like I wouldn’t survive. Every other time, when times got tough, I rolled up my sleeves, and found a way to get back on my feet. This time is different. The whole world has changed. We’re all going to come out of this, changed in some ways. Scarred in others.

And while I haven’t been able to do much, this week I made an effort and it worked. It’s not that I didn’t try before, but my energy, mind, and body would not get with the plan. This week brought a normalcy of sorts. I even wrote. I haven’t published a newsletter in a while, and even though I have a million and one doubts and fears in my mind before hitting “publish”. I wanted to remind myself- that it’s okay to be human.

It’s okay to cope in whatever way I can. We’re all coping differently.

We all have our doubts, and fears, and fair share (or lack) of emotions.

And while I may not have all the answers or solutions, I’m trying my best. And, that will have to do, for now.

With love and hope,

Mashal

x

my lessons this week

the world's going to shit while I try to find solace online.

This week has felt like a learning and cultural paradise. Of sorts.

I attended a cultural majlis, an online salon about self-organizing during a time of chaos, and just ended a webinar on how to crush it on Twitter.

Art, conversations, and learning.

I’m also reading books with a close friend of mine. I feel connected.

3 lessons this week:

(from Bahraini artist, AbdulRahim Sharif, and Matthew Kobach)

1) “It doesn’t matter what you do, what matters is how you do it.”

2) “If you ever have a moment where you’re on a wave and you have it, ride it out as long as you can! You're not stealing from your future self. Take advantage when you have those brief moments in your life, really maximize on them.”

3) “Just because it’s simple does not mean it is easy.”

My lesson this week:

You don’t usually see results immediately. I’ve rarely seen immediate results. Most things I’ve worked on take time, and I see results much, much later. Don’t look for instant gratification. Growth takes time.

I’ve been thinking of writing about the unspoken nuances and generations of patriarchy in desi culture that have led to subtle, sexist norms. It’s a subject I’m looking forward to exploring in my writing. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Might as well write it. I might pen this down over the weekend, who knows.

Did you learn anything interesting/cool/thought-provoking? Hit reply, and let me know. If it’s in the next 24 hrs, I promise, I’ll reply.

Till then, stay home and stay safe.

x

Mashal

Loading more posts…