Think women can’t work together? Think again. Welcome to She’s My Co-founder, a series all about powerhouse cofounders who also happen to be (you guessed it) female. We’re going to be diving in with women who support and nurture each other through all things business and beyond to find out just exactly what it’s like working alongside a gal pal.
This week we are joined by sisters, Nafisa Bakkar and Selina Bakkar the founders of Amaliah, a media company that amplifies the voices of Muslim women to create cultural change.
Amaliah initially started as a modest fashion brand but later on took a turn when Nafisa and Selina realised they were not that into fashion and Amaliah had a bigger purpose. The turning point for them came when David Cameron said: “young Muslim men are vulnerable to radicalisation because of the traditional submissiveness of Muslim women”. The Muslim community instantly reacted on Twitter and created the hashtag #traditionallySubmissive. A hashtag to celebrate the many achievements of Muslim women. Selina and Nafisa felt the responsibility to stand up for their community and be the amplify the voices of Muslim women, to use their exposure to speak out on the issues that affected their community. Today, Amaliah has a roster of over 300 writers, who are sharing the stories of Muslim women globally.
Here Nafisa and Selina share how they work together, the best things about having a co-founder and how they make it work.
How did you become co-founders and how long have you known one another?
Nafisa: We are sisters so I’ve known Selina all my life! Selina was on maternity leave at the time and I asked her if she would want to get involved in this project (then it was an Instagram page) which then eventually turned into our full-time Jobs.
Selina: I’ve known her since she was born in 1992. We are sisters so we’ve known each other our whole lives but I guess we’ve ‘known’ the working versions of each other for the last three years and it’s a different dimension to our relationship.
Trust is an important aspect in any relationship, how have you been able to build the trust between you?
Nafisa: I think it comes back to your mission and values as a company. If you are aligned on this then it is a strong foundation going forward. I guess being siblings has also played a big part in this – you know each other’s character inside out.
Selina: Trust…hmmm does her being in my labour room count as relationship building? It’s a bit like a marriage, we’ve been through the highs and lows together in business and family life, so, inevitably that brings us closer together and helps contribute to a healthy relationship.
Disagreements happen in every relationship, as co-founders how do you manage disagreements and making final decisions?
Nafisa: We actually don’t really disagree, it’s more about approaching a problem or challenge from two different lenses and it’s going back to our aims and objectives in order to be able to blend our approaches. There are many cases where co-founders disagree or don’t work in harmony and sometimes it’s because egos are involved or because there isn’t a clear distinction in roles. It helps that Selina and I are very different and so have very different interests in the business.
Selina: I think if your vision and purpose align ultimately you do what is best for the brand/business. It’s not actually about us, our egos or our wants. It’s about what’s best for Amaliah.com. So whilst we debate or work through decisions rationally- we know that it is about Amaliah and not a reflection on our ideas, suggestions or recommendations. You can’t take it personally! We also now manage and have insight into different parts of the business, so, we trust one another to make the best decision at any time.
What are your working styles and if different from one another, how do you bring them together?
Selina: That’s tricky! If we are planning a campaign, I really like to imagine and visualise the impossible through sharing everything even if it sounds ridiculous and Nafisa is great at deciphering what that then looks like in the real world or her design strengths will be able to take the idea and then create the assets around it. We are thankful we also enjoy and thrive in different areas of the business.
There’s a myth that “women can’t work together because we tend to be quite emotional etc” and some other lies, what are your thoughts on this and what message do you have for people that hold this opinion?
Nafisa: I don’t think many people are used to strong and confident women in leadership, I’ve been called bossy by my own team member to which I said, if I was a man you wouldn’t say that. I still think there is a lot of stereotyping that exists surrounding women in business. I think it’s important to nip it in the bud when such attitudes are shown.
I love working in a team of all women, I find that we are able to really lay bare our struggles and challenges without fear of being seen as emotional as many women are in mixed gender workplaces. It’s the little things too like we understand what it means to be on your period. We do a mad glad sad every Friday where we reflect on what made us glad, mad and sad in the week. It’s become a great outlet and also helps us understand each other better as sometimes it gets quite personal.
Selina: Give women a chance and give women a break. When a female is assertive or wants something done in a certain manner she is deemed as b*tchy or bossy but if a man does the same he is seen as a leader. So what if I am filled with emotion? We seem to explain away our emotion too. I’m known to cry in meetings or display real happiness over something we have achieved. I think creating a transparent workplace where women can bring their real selves to work can help create a more conducive environment. I frequently tell my team I am on my period so if I do come across a bit distant everyone knows why.I don’t think many people are used to strong and confident women in leadership, I’ve been called bossy by my own team member to which I said, if I was a man you wouldn’t say that. I still think there is a lot of stereotyping that… Click To Tweet
What are some important attributes one should look for in a co-founder?
Nafisa: Good character will always trump skills and knowledge, how do they talk about others? How do they manage disputes? Starting a company is a long game, things will go up and down, you need someone who will not allow their mood (when times are tough) to dictate their manners. In business, you are also interacting with many different stakeholders and you need someone who is able to always have good character in these relationships. I believe businesses are built through relationships and the foundation of building relations is good character.
Selina: Honesty, Positive thinker, Work ethic and growth mindset.
What makes you feel empowered?
Nafisa: My faith is my source of strength. I always remember that God is greater than your despair and your triumphs. I also know that God does not care whether I am a CEO or unemployed, as long as I am striving to be better. Also, I know that God sees my efforts even if no one else does. As Muslims, we believe our actions are judged by our intentions and it keeps me going.
Selina: Knowing that our work benefits thousands of Muslim women weekly and understanding that there has truly never been a platform that amplifies Muslim women’s voices as we do. I feel empowered when a Muslim woman steps forward to share her story. I also feel empowered through my faith and knowing I work to please God and that even in difficulty I can reach out to a higher power.
Podcast or book? And which one would you recommend?
Nafisa: I flip-flop, I have phases where I’m reading a new book every two weeks and other weeks I’m just constantly listening to podcasts.
Podcast: I love Techish they effortlessly bring together conversations about tech and mainstream culture. They make tech and startup world accessible and always give me food for thought. I’m going to have to plug Amaliah Voices too, our own podcast, haha.
Book: The four agreements, I’m not really one to read self-help books but this book is a real gem. It’s a good one to review every now and then.
How we learn to eat, the first bite. A bit of a random one but I believe my wider lifestyle has a huge impact on how I run my business, this book really helped me have a more positive relationship with food and in turn working out. I very much see working out as a way to train my resilience and ambition, (yes everything I do has to have deeper meanings haha).
Selina: I can never squeeze in Podcasts as much as I want to, being a mum sometimes I struggle, so books I’d say. A new purchase is the Black Muslim Nobles Among the Early Pious Muslims, a writer (Kawther) did a book review and I fell in love. I like annotating and underlining key phrases in books.Give women a chance and give women a break. When a female is assertive or wants something done in a certain manner she is deemed as b*tchy or bossy but if a man does the same he is seen as a leader. So what if I am filled with… Click To Tweet
Could you share something about your co-founder that you would like to appreciate?
Nafisa: Her people skills are amazing. She could make friends with a rock! She’s fantastic at talking to people from any walk of life and making them feel welcome. It’s why she’s so amazing at growing and managing the Amaliah community. At the core, it’s because of her compassionate, nurturing and kind-hearted nature. She is the best wing woman to have at an event and generally in life. She’s a fantastic motivator and always wants more for people even if she doesn’t know them.
Selina: She is a beautiful storyteller and will tell you if you are putting up with shit.
She’s the first to say ‘ditch your man’ when others may um and ah and I think that in itself is courageous because inherently she wants more for women and will not allow women to settle or even men and will push them to see the reality of the situation.
I occasionally go to see her talk at Start-up events or talk to teams at organisations and I sit there in awe of how captivating she is and how she’s able to convey a feeling in a moment. It’s a real skill.
Any last advice for those seeking a co-founder
Nafisa: See it as a marriage, don’t settle.
Selina: Don’t be desperate, it’s a bit like dating isn’t it, otherwise you’ll attract the wrong person. You need to be on the same page somewhat but don’t be scared to get someone from a different sector or experience to you.