Gender and Leadership: An Interview with Lubna Khalid

Hello there, continuing our conversations on shared leadership, I have a treat for you today – an interview with Lubna Khalid, program coordinator of women’s leadership training at Working For Change and a rising profile in group relations and applied psychoanalytic work.

Q: You’ve been coordinating women’s leadership programming for many years. Tell us more about Women Speak Out and its related programs.

A: Women Speak Out training came into being in 2011. The need arose due to the fact that along with Voices from the street which was offered to mixed gender group, Working for Change should focus on women identified group as well. There is a clear difference in leadership needs and empowerment for women as compared to men. We also identified that training needs to happen through gender lens and for this we required funding from a source which was focusing on women only leadership training program. We received funding from Status of Women and hence WSO training got started. This funding supported us to run 5 WSO training programs. Around 60 women from 20 or so countries graduated from this program.

Funding restrictions and availability forced us to focus on other programs over the years which are not specifically gender focused but have contributed towards leadership and empowerment for everyone. Few of these training programs are pre-employment training programs for people receiving social assistance in areas of Food, horticulture and peer relief. Along with the preemployment we are also running Peer Navigators training program for social assistant recipients to be able to bridge the gap between social services and their recipients in Ontario works offices.

Q: Your connection with WFC began as a participant in Voices from the Street, one of its programs. What’s it like going from one side of the table to the other? How did what you learned as a participant prepare you to become a leader?

A: Yes, before I joined Voices, I was checking the waters of public speaking, advocacy, oppression etc. etc. but it was a very narrow focus, as my experience was based on the community I lived in as a newcomer and my own life experience based at home. But during and after program I was exposed to what I name as the reality of the world, the oppressions which are very deep rooted and the disparities on which our world survive. I was very sensitive to inequality from childhood and growing up it became very obvious that though we all are human beings, there are factors which make us who we are seen in the society. I was aware of gender divide and status differences but they looked like someone else needs to bring some change. Never thought that I am able to participate in making change, that I one day with the right tools, frame of mind and my own will power, would be given this opportunity and space to do any efforts to start at least thinking about change. This inner strength was provided during this training, this courage that, change will happen with one self not some outsider. I learned to voice my concerns, I learned to look deeper into the people around me. These changes were subtle but I could feel the passion inside me. This training helped me connect my passion, to my understanding and my willingness to do something about the systems of oppression and inequity and to take up the authority when possible to share what I thought.

Q: One of the biggest difficulties in this work is defining and understanding leadership. What is leadership to you? As a woman with other identities?

A: If you asked me this question while I was in Pakistan I would say, someone who has a lot of money, someone with a lot of people who follow you because of your status and someone who has a loud voice is a leader. But luckily this is not the case. It took me some time to see myself as a leader in any capacity based on my previous understanding. But today I think anyone who has some understanding of his social location in this world, some one who can identify that privilege is an unearned credit, and someone who can take action, by thinking, speaking, contributing, leading by example, so the person next to him can live the way he wants to live defines to me as a leader. But of course it becomes a little different if that person is a woman, esp. a woman like me who is a woman of color, a Muslim Hijabi woman, a woman who lives a life of some privilege but obviously marginalized due to other circumstances takes on a role which gives her some power and authority over others. It is definitely a challenge to balance all these intersectionality of my life, at home and at work place. At home I have traditionally responsibilities which cannot be over looked and at work where each one of us carries our lived experience as our qualifications, it is very challenging to put our roles aside and work from a place which not only gives you the opportunity to show your leadership skills but also validate your taking up authority.

Q: As someone with a strong interest in and experience in applied psychoanalysis, what unconscious forces and process have you noticed/been part of in your leadership? How do these show up?

A: It’s been a fascinating journey into the world of Psychoanalysis and its applications in my life and work. My interest grew with the understanding and relationship I established with my inner self. It was as if I was hidden from my self. Faith and culture have very strongly influenced my life, where this selflessness had driven me into negligence of my own emotional needs. The more I started connecting to my self at this level the more it became evident that I have yet to utilize my emotions to understand the unconscious that drives my interactions with the people around me. Especially my relationship with my mother in law, what have been my contribution is the sour relations we have since I got married. This has been very helpful at work as well. Where the urgency to do the best work I can do has been given a new direction to when and what needs to be done in order to get it done in the best way possible. Listening to myself, pausing when I needed, and analyzing reactions and actions has played an important role in becoming what I am so far. It shows up in my dealing with conflicts, dealing with circumstances where irrational does not over power. I still have lot to work on.

Q: If you had to tell people one thing about women’s leadership training, what would it be?

A: It gives you courage to voice your opinion and what matters to you.

Born and raised in Pakistan, Lubna Khalid moved to Toronto in the year 2000. She holds a Master’s degree in Physiology from University of Karachi and is a member of Ontario Society of Medical Technologists. Lubna is an active member of her community working with immigrant women from South Asia. She coordinates a women’s leadership training program Women Speak Out at Working for Change, a not-for-profit organization which provides employment opportunities to people with mental health issues. Lubna believes that social exclusion of women affects all the aspects of our communities and integration is the key to erase stereotyping and stigma. Following her interest in psychoanalysis, Lubna has attended several group relations conferences both in Toronto and the United States, has studied Organizational Psychoanalysis at the Toronto Psychoanalytic Institute, and is an active member of the Community of Interest in Applied Psychoanalysis.

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