Successful Women’s Leadership Forum in Los Angeles

An IPN Women’s Leadership Forum held in January, and the first such program since 2019, was attended by 86 people. The women and men gathered to network and learn from each other in a relaxed and career-focused environment. Nazmina Kheraj of LAHQ shared that she “looked forward to getting inspired and reignited about things that have nothing to do with my children” and that “people feel a pull for this type of event at this point in time.”

The first panel, which focused on “Being a Muslim in Government & Public Service,” was a lively discussion where the panelists Aziza Hasan and Edina Lekovic held nothing back. Aziza currently serves as the Executive Director of NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change and is a commissioner for the LA Civil Rights Commission. Edina is the inaugural Community Scholar in Residence with UCLA's Islamic Studies Program and a co-founder of  NewGround. They shared how they were galvanized into activism by 9/11, how their work to combat Islamophobia has changed since then, and how they have evolved as activists and storytellers.

Aziza shared an anecdote about the challenges of standing in your truth while still trying to see and hear people in her post-9/11 outreach efforts. “I’d end up getting those questions from the audience, like, ‘don’t you still think that people just need to protect themselves?’ ‘don’t you just think that it’s ok that Muslims have to stand in line longer?’...I don’t think people always come at it from a malicious place, and they’re trying to work through hard things, but I think those are the biggest challenges. Making sure that people felt seen but owning my voice enough to say, ‘um, this is something actually that you really need to see here, that this is not ok.’”

Panel 1

Moderators Farah and Farhana host an engaging discussion with panelists Edina Lekovic and Aziza Hasan in the “Being a Muslim in Public Service & Government” panel.
Moderators Farah and Farhana host an engaging discussion with panelists Edina Lekovic and Aziza Hasan in the “Being a Muslim in Public Service & Government” panel.

When asked by an audience member about what strategies actually change hearts and minds, Edina opened up about how her approach has changed over time, revealing, “it’s not facts that change feelings…you’ll notice I did start with my own story. I used to go into an interview with my top three facts…but you are only able to relate to an audience. So, the point is whether they can relate to you, whether they can see you as a human, not by your facts, but by what you share about yourself.” 

Meanwhile, Aziza advised, “the role of the translator is to make sure they hear it…the second thing is listening…actually receiving and saying, ok, what are the words that they just repeated more than once, and what is at the heart of, like the essence of, what they really want and being able to say it back to them…and saying I still see you…When that believability comes through, that’s when you can make a change.”

The panel on “Lessons from Climbing the Corporate Ladder” had Saima Habib and Salima Bhimani trading stories about excelling in male-dominated fields. Saima is a Vice President of Customer Experience at Seer, and Salima is the Chief Strategist and Director of Equity + Inclusion + Systemic Change at the Other Bets at Google.

Saima inspired the audience with her journey of following her passion for science into a successful career in biotech. She also shared how a role that is traditionally seen as a detriment to career advancement, that of being a mother, has actually been an experience that’s given her a superpower: efficiency! “You look at yourself before having children and after, and the level of organization…you’re juggling a lot, and so if you can bring that to your job, you become so efficient at work.” 

For Salima Bhimani, her career journey has been an outgrowth of her upbringing, growing up as a refugee in Canada and facing discrimination due to her identity. She spoke about how she sees opportunities for growth where others see intractable problems when looking at systems like patriarchy and white supremacy.

NA Wealth

Nadia Allaudin shares her perspective and answers questions during a breakout session, “Building Generational Wealth.”
Nadia Allaudin shares her perspective and answers questions during a breakout session, “Building Generational Wealth.”

The day concluded with two breakout sessions, one on “Building Generational Wealth” with Nadia Allaudin and a second called “Leveling Up Your Interview Game” with Zeenat Bhamani, both of which met with tremendous engagement from the participants.

The audience saw how Salima educates and guides top CEOs on equity, inclusion, and diversity when in response to a question about male allyship, she laid bare where our own community has room to improve. She noted, “there has to be some self-reflection that happens in our communities about what it means to be a man, what it means to actually be an ally…We can’t take for granted that allies are going to come…[for the men in my family,] my role is to hold a mirror up to them as they hold a mirror up to me.”

Event organizer Alysha Kassam Mukhida took much encouragement from the audience response to the entire event and shared:

“The overall goal of the day was to give all attendees tangible guidance on how to propel themselves forward…in whatever sense that means to them….People wanted to come and network and meet each other. A lot of people followed up with me afterward, looking for contacts…so that’s all we are trying to do is to make our community stronger. And not just our community, not just Ismailis, but the larger community…We had maybe 10% of people who were not Ismaili…that just wanted to participate and network, so there is real value there in elevating IPN to the larger community and strengthening our existing relationships.”