2018 She Leads College – 5 Quick Questions with Engy Salah Abdelsalam

7 March 2018

Jessica Abramovic

Jessica is the Communications and Events Coordinator at YWCA Canberra.

The She Leads College Conference, taking place on Thursday 22 March, is a one-day event for girls in years 11 and 12, equipping participants with the practical skills and knowledge they need to become confident leaders. This year, we have an amazing line-up of inspiring young women who will discuss their pathways as trailblazers. Today, we chat to Engy Salah Abdelsalam, one of our incredible speed-networkers.

Engy Abdelsalam is a 25 year old mother who migrated from Egypt to Australia four years ago, and has since then been involved in volunteer work and community services. Engy was influenced by the 2011 revolution in Egypt which shaped her personality and work ethic. Engy practiced law in Egypt, and she is currently enrolled in a Diploma of Law at the University of Sydney as part of the NSW Legal Practitioners Admission Board’s Law Extension Committee, which will allow her to practice law in Australia. She currently works as the Cultural Liaison officer at Legal Aid ACT, mostly helping women from CALD background, especially women experiencing family violence and migration related issues. She also organises and delivers community education and cultural awareness training. Engy is passionate about human rights, community development, and empowering women, and so in her volunteering capacity, she is a member of the Muslim Collective, and committee member of Canberra Multicultural Women’s Forum.

Describe your leadership journey in 30 words or less.

I refuse to be defined by anything or anyone. I work hard, I plan every step carefully, and execute it. I fight my demons every day. I don’t take myself too seriously. I am always learning.

What was (or is) your biggest leadership challenge?

My biggest challenge would be breaking stereotypes – most of the workplaces I applied for judged my potential based on my name, ethnicity, and what I am wearing.

When I moved to Australia from Egypt, I was a recent law graduate with one year experience as a legal practitioner. I had no friends or family in Australia. I knew I had to almost re-do my law degree as Egypt is a civil law country while Australia is a common law country. I was frustrated, but decided to try to find a job. I applied for 50 jobs, all were administrative support positions, but was unsuccessful in every single one of them without even getting an interview. I wanted to study a certificate that would qualify me to be a paralegal, but couldn’t enrol due to my visa conditions. I was lonely and felt like giving up. For days, I wouldn’t leave the house.

I met my first good friend, who gave me suggestions of what I should do to kick-start my career and settle in Australia, and she advised me to volunteer. I did, and it changed me as a person and helped me be where I am right now. I volunteered at an organisation for a year and a half. I applied for my first job at the same organisation and got it. I gained experience, helped people, and networked. A year later, I applied for my job at Legal Aid and got it. In 2 years working at Legal Aid, my team helped 500 people navigate the legal system, solve their non-legal issues, and advocate on their behalf. I have helped women escaping family violence to find safety and build a new life.

Why do we need more women leaders, and what difference can women in leadership make in terms of gender equality?

“You can’t be what you can’t see.” We need more women leaders because women can’t become leaders unless they are inspired by women like them who they can relate to. I think gender equality will be achieved when more young women follow the footsteps of other strong women and can rely on them for mentorship and support.

What book should every aspiring woman leader read?

Eat Pray Love – it is not really a feminist manifesto but it is all that is good about feminism. It encourages women to love themselves, take control over their thoughts, and go after their dream. It deals with relationships, mental health, our relationship with food as women, and with spirituality. It encourages women to leave their comfort zone as only then, they can achieve great things. It inspires women to go on adventures and test their limits.

Share with us the best piece of advice you’ve been given.

In uni back in Egypt, I put too much pressure on myself to be one of the best, and most of the time I was. I was the student who always raised her hand in class to answer a question, only to find that I didn’t take enough time to fully understand the question, which was generally how I rolled. I would react before fully understanding the situation I was reacting to. I was always stressed, turning down social events and family gatherings to prove to myself that I was the best.

Right before I crashed, which was inevitable, a female professor, which happens to be the person who introduced me to my first friend in Australia, showed me the way. She told me, “give your mind the time to process before letting your tongue loose and you will have time to show your potential, but for now focus on learning”. I can’t say back then I followed the advice but I am now.

To hear more from Engy Salah, register to attend the She Leads College Conference now. Make sure to also follow She Leads on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

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