Interviews With
Muslim Woman
In Tech

Alifya Kagalwalla – The Benefits Of Working Must Outweigh The Risks

Today on Tech Sisters Stories we’re excited to have Alifya Kagalwalla

Alifya Kagalwalla is a VP of Engineering at Tempus Labs in Chicago. At Tempus she leads various engineering operations teams focused on cloud infrastructure, test engineering and developer productivity. Tempus is a precision medicine company that leverages AI to help physicians make informed treatment decisions and improve patient outcomes. Prior to Tempus she held various engineering leadership roles at Digital Ocean, Groupon and Citrix Systems. Outside of work, she is a proud mom to two awesome girls and is always looking for fun and educational DIY projects to do with them!

Listen to Alifya’s Story

Key lessons from this episode

  1. The importance of having core values and principles that ground you throughout your career (6:22)
  2. How Alifya builds authentically inclusive environments as a senior leader(12:00)
  3. How to decide between the tech lead and management pathways (14:00)
  4. Alifya’s advice for dealing with bias at work (17:50)
  5. The leaky pipeline and how we can prevent women from leaving tech (25:00)


This transcript was auto-generated by Descript and is not 100% accurate

Alifya Kagalwalla

[00:00:00] Grace Witter: As Salaam-Alaikum, you’re listening to tech sisters stories. tech sisters is a community that connects you with other sisters who share your story experiences and goals. So you no longer have to feel like the only one like you on your team. My name is grace and I get to interview the amazing women in our community, share their stories and the lessons they learned.

Today on Tech Sister Stories, we are very, very, very excited to have Alifya Kagalwalla. Alifya is a VP of Engineering at Tempus Labs in Chicago. At Tempus she leads various engineering operations teams focused on cloud infrastructure, test engineering, and developer productivity. Tempus is a precision medicine company that leverages AI to help physicians make informed treatment decisions and improve patient outcomes.

Prior to Tempus, she had various engineering leadership roles at Digital Ocean, Groupon, and Citrix systems. Outside of work, she is a proud mom to two awesome girls and is always looking for fun and educational DIY projects to do with them. mashAllah, so happy to have you.

[00:01:01] Alifya Kagalwalla: Thank you for having me. I’m excited about this as well.

[00:01:05] Grace Witter: Amazing. So first question, how’d you first get into this? How’d you get into tech?

[00:01:12] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah, great question. So as a child, I’ve always leaned towards sciences, always been very interested in, STEM programs, math and science. However, I don’t have a fun story where I break apart a computer and look into the bowels of the computer. My first immersive experience in tech was, When I consciously made a decision to study electronics and learned about the 80 86 microprocessors, that was the first time I did any basic programming.

Extremely low level assembly language. Learned about the inner workings of A CPU back in the day, we actually had a desktop version where we made cabinet space for our computer.

So that’s really what got me into technology. Some of you may be too young to remember that, but those were the days when we used floppy discs.

[00:02:06] Grace Witter: I miss floppy disks. Honestly, I remember having a stack of them. We had a special floppy disk container, and we would just thumb through them all for the different programs that we had. It was, it was nice. I like it. I think it’s funny the, the history of the icon, the save icon, and how it doesn’t really, it’s detached from its original meaning.

[00:02:25] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah, that is fascinating. I never thought of that. It takes a product, UX person to look at those things, but yeah, absolutely. A lot of people don’t know what that represents anymore.

[00:02:38] Grace Witter: So you’re saying that you are very interested in learning this and very hands-on, which I guess ties on with how you’re looking for the DIY projects for your daughters, because I can imagine this is something that you would really be into mashAllah and how did you go into that and go into university and then getting your first job.

[00:02:56] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah. So that was kind of the beginning of my academic career or trajectory towards tech. So I’ve been A tech professional for the entirety of my career. All the way from, going to college for an engineering degree coming to the US for a Master’s in computer science. That led me to my first job in technology and ever since, I’ve never really looked for alternatives and, just stayed true to my

[00:03:26] Grace Witter: this is such a thing that is really useful for tech sisters especially, but other women in this domain to, to look at, because this is unusual for someone like you of your background to have stayed in tech from the very beginning of your career to now and to get where you are now.

So how would you uh, compare your experience from like the early phases of your career middle and where you are now?

[00:03:51] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah, absolutely. I do have a long story to talk about. So when I started my career in tech, as most people would, I was an individual contributor, got recruited at university campus recruiting events.

And, set my foot through the door for a California based tech startup.

At the time when I started off, I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I knew I had an engineering background didn’t really understand what was in the other side of the corporate world. What roles are available to me, what those mean long term, what does that career ladder look? So I was pretty open to exploring different aspects of the software development lifecycle.

Almost too eager to wear multiple hats which I did end up doing, but I always found people management and kind of learning about the business as a whole, staying close to customers, very critical to my role, which got me into management pretty early.

[00:04:57] Grace Witter: Mm-hmm.

[00:04:58] Alifya Kagalwalla: Than most people at that level.

So I my bosses, took their chances and I moved into engineering management pretty early on. That’s kind of what shaped my next five years as middle management and as a tech lead of sorts. I got to dabble in a little bit of different parts of the tech stack. Although I started off as a test engineer now, I was leading, product development efforts.

My stakeholders changed, the market changed the people I am accountable towards change as we move into management. There were many different responsibilities as a middle manager in terms of, being responsible for people’s careers, which is very new. So a lot of learning and growth over there.

Making tough decisions where people will ding you for your tough choices. The various suboptimal paths that you have to choose from Moving from being tactical to being strategic was a big jump towards my mid-stage of my career. I would comfortably say I’m heading towards the late part of my career at this point where, What I have found as a consistent kind of grounding truth throughout my career has been finding core values that are important to me regardless of stage.

So, as I have moved and transitioned through the various stages in my career, I’ve gotten more grounded in my core values and principles that have helped me immensely as a late stage senior leader at the company.

[00:06:49] Grace Witter: And what are those core values and principles for you?

[00:06:53] Alifya Kagalwalla: So first and foremost, it’s very important to have a moral compass as it as it is in life. Very important to be self-respecting,

[00:07:04] Grace Witter: Mm-hmm.

[00:07:05] Alifya Kagalwalla: knowing what your weaknesses are, and knowing how to say no to things that you’re not comfortable with. .That is one big difference. I think that was a big area of growth for me personally, is trying to fit in versus trying not to fit in and kind of, making your values, set your moral compass essentially. I’ve had to grow into becoming more of a cultural. As well as an empathetic leader. As you go towards the late stages of your career, you are not working on behalf of an individual or a team. You’re working on behalf of a company, and you are the company. You are representing the company at that point, and every crack is highly visible.

[00:08:00] Grace Witter: Yeah, so do you feel like as you’ve progressed those core values were always present in you. It got more defined as you go on, but your, the roles and responsibilities shifted and pivoted as you changed, as the roles and what was required of you changed. But that identity of who you are and what you want was always there.

[00:08:22] Alifya Kagalwalla: Absolutely. I think we all, we have that somewhere within us. It’s a matter of accepting it and being comfortable with your identity, especially as we’re talking about this group of women here.

[00:08:38] Grace Witter: Yeah.

[00:08:38] Alifya Kagalwalla: We have multiple intersecting identities that we live with, that we navigate on a day-to-day basis. And for a lot of us, those identities are different and they multiply as you go up and you become more of a visible leader. So kind of staying true to your obligations and requirements in, working in. For majority of us, this would be true. Working in a non-Islamic work environment,

how do you be self-respecting?

How do you uphold your identity and values and promote that culture and values around you to build a safe environment for you?

[00:09:29] Grace Witter: Of course we’re recording this just before Christmas, and a lot of Muslims are, are experiencing how to navigate the workplace when everyone’s having Christmas parties and secret Santas and Christmas jumper days, and all these extra things around Christmas. And where do you draw the boundaries? What do you do if you are, you have boundaries that are different from your other Muslim colleagues, cuz maybe you have colleagues who are, very happy to go Christmas parties.

It’s fine. But so this is something that, and what comes up to describe this is that it feels very awkward, right? When you’re going through this for the first time, it feels awkward. But then as you practice it more, it, it becomes a little bit more natural, less uncomfortable. What do you think?

[00:10:11] Alifya Kagalwalla: yeah, that’s very true actually. You’ve hit upon um, pretty critical point and it’s very timely. It is important to be vocal about what you’re comfortable with. It is important to build allyship within your company to identify those male and female allies that will work towards reducing the disproportionate labor that we, expend

as marginalized identities to fit into the workplace.

In simple words, what that means. You want to be comfortable with talking about, your association with this holiday, what you as a family do and do not observe and you don’t have to mold or bend yourself or, bend over backwards to fit in Especially as we talk about building inclusive workplaces, it is amplified when it comes to, us. Muslim women. And like, what does an inclusive workplace mean for us?

Right? There is women in the workplace and then there’s Muslim women in the workplace. So how do you, as a leader, I have that unique opportunity to set that tone. And to be a role model and to set that, to create that environment for other groups, other marginalized groups that may be invisible to the rest of the company.

[00:12:05] Grace Witter: So maybe as an example, since this is that time and since Tempus is not an Islamic company, how are you as a leader of this company setting that space of inclusivity? For your company, for your workers.

[00:12:17] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah, actually I was talking about this to our head of communications only yesterday as we have been planning parties and social gatherings and, a couple of easy, like low hanging fruit tactical things that we could do is accommodate for dietary restrictions. Have inclusive gatherings that do not have to be at a pub or a bar.

So choose your venue appropriately. Be aware of religious dietary codes, be aware of religious dress codes. Give people the option to choose to opt in or opt out. And. Keep track of how many people are not going to be able to socialize in this way because it’s not accommodating to them.

So to be able to track that is important.

[00:13:19] Grace Witter: I think that’s a really key part that a lot of places miss out on is tracking the people who are not going to these or not attending them. Cuz if they’re routinely not doing that, then they are getting left out of all these events. And then later when they say that they’re not engaged in the company culture and the company’s like, well, why didn’t you come to the stuff?

And it’s, it’s this huge misconnection. But I think it’s also important we’re talking about intersection of different identities being inclusive. These methods of building that culture isn’t just for Muslim women. This is inclusive for, other non-Christians or people who don’t have very positive experiences with Christmas.

Because you can celebrate and not like the holiday , right?

[00:13:58] Alifya Kagalwalla: Totally.

[00:13:58] Grace Witter: Well,

[00:13:59] Alifya Kagalwalla: Totally. There are many ways to observe, the holidays and does not have to be limited to the most popular one. So we definitely try to, at least I, since I have that ability to promote that kind of culture, that is what I strive to do, is to see, to maximize participation. What can I do to maximize participation?

[00:14:23] Grace Witter: Mm-hmm. I wanna go back to what you were saying before when you started off in engineering and then you said that you identified more with the business cases and being connected with customers, and that took you down the management path. So we have a lot of people who are. Kind of at that crossroads where they are learning tech, but they’re not really sure if they want to go deeper into being like the senior dev or the tech lead and maybe they wanna go into management.

What would you say for somebody who’s considering either of those pathways,

[00:14:57] Alifya Kagalwalla: So first and foremost, if you’re considering both pathways, I’m assuming that those choices are available to you,

[00:15:04] Grace Witter: of course,

[00:15:06] Alifya Kagalwalla: and if they are available to you, it’s a matter of how much time or domain knowledge you want to gather and invest in before you switch to management. There’s a lot of context around people management that could be missed pretty easily.

It is not an apples to apples comparison. Being a people manager also means you are going to be visible

as a people leader. You are going to spend a disproportionate amount of time in developing your people that you have to be comfortable with. It’s a different skillset, and if you’re considering that move, you do not even need to be the best software developer on your team. What I would say is if you are, I’m assuming you’re already a senior developer or an individual tech contributor. Get a mentor, someone who’s already in the management, on the management track and shadow them to see what their day looks like. What kind of decisions do they need to make? What is their complexity and scope and focus that they need to handle on a day-to-day basis and see if this is for you or not.

Would you be comfortable? With choosing from three suboptimal paths with very little information, or are you the kind of person that needs to dig deep each and every time?

[00:16:35] Grace Witter: I think what you said about reaching out to a mentor, shadowing somebody, getting a good feel of what their day in the life is like is such a key part. It’s something that we do tell tech sisters members, especially at the very beginning because tech is such a wide field. So somebody can come in into tech sisters and say, I wanna work in this, but I don’t know what to do,

And so we do say to reach out to people and just, talk to them about a day in their life and. Something like that is never wasted because even if you decide to not go down that pathway, you still have a connection. You still have like a friend who, who knows what you’re looking for and can look for ways to support you, right?

[00:17:13] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah, absolutely. You can always find someone within your organization or outside, such as this community right here, to help navigate those various paths. And it’s always good to, if you have the opportunity to try it out, in a tech lead, but not people management role. If your company offers those kind of rotations.

But having mentorship goes a long way.

[00:17:38] Grace Witter: Absolutely it. It’s a lot better to test something out before you get into the job itself and realize very quickly that it’s not for me.

[00:17:46] Alifya Kagalwalla: absolutely.

[00:17:48] Grace Witter: So Alifya, one of the questions that we were talking about before, and I guess we touched on this a bit with us having so many layers of different identities and being the only at work. What advice would you give to somebody who’s experiencing bias at work? And I can give you specific examples of some, some things Tech Sisters have come up with.

Well, they’ll say they are in a office where it’s very misogynist and they’re not their work isn’t being respected or they’re in an interview situation. This is, this would be in. Different countries and they’re being asked to take off their hijab because they don’t want the company to be represented that way.

What are some responses or some ways that they can confront that?

[00:18:34] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah. You know, That is sad and disheartening to hear that that is the case. It’s not surprising though,

right? So bias comes in various flavors. It could be as extreme as, take off your hijab because this does not represent our company values. . So first and foremost, you want to be aware of the bias

and like going to my earlier point about being self-respecting and having those core values you need, you need those in order to navigate these decisions.

And if that is important to you, you do not want to try to fit in. If that is what they’re telling you in an interview, you don’t want to work

for this company. First off, I, I would not want to work in an organization that does not value my identity,

so that would be my first advice. Identifying, what motivates you. Staying true to your identity, be self-respecting, and be aware of the biases around you. It’s very easy. To give the benefit of the doubt at times and to not identify patterns of bias and continue to remain invisible to the company. So you have to know what is important to you. We all know that, the anti-Muslim sentiment continues to prevail and has only increased in the last decade. But what has also increased is more women at the workplace that look like us

and that unfortunately the two converge and hence, we are here still struggling to make it work in the workplace. If you do end up in a situation where you are part of this organization that has continued to struggle with accepting you. That’s when you start identifying allies either from within your community, within your organization or outside to seek public advocacy and support. Believe it or not, as a senior leader in the organization, I continue to seek out people that will publicly advocate for me and my values. I have those allies, even at this level, even where I am highly visible, where I need them to stand up for why I am doing what I’m doing. It never goes to waste to have that.

These are people that are easily able to navigate those situations, but are also willing to reduce the energy You have to put in to get to your goals. So it’s, it’s important for us to be able to generate that leverage with the people around us and to use them for support.

[00:21:44] Grace Witter: Is this something where we’re looking for allies in communities who are also experiencing bias? Or is this also looking for allies in. Like white men, for example.

[00:21:55] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah, exactly, both.

[00:21:57] Grace Witter: Both.

[00:21:59] Alifya Kagalwalla: it’s, it’s a challenge in itself to identify those allies. So if we are talking about white male allies that tend to hold majority of the powerful positions in most companies, What you want to see is, obviously it’s a gut check, but it’s also have they helped other marginalized groups within the company? That’s something you want to watch for. Are they performative or genuine?

Are they going to support you in a performative way? But then as soon as you turn your back, it’s, it’s another story. Or are they genuinely going to support you, whether you are or not in the room with them.

So it’s very important to identify the right allyship,

including white in including and definitely white male allies.

[00:22:55] Grace Witter: Yes. And I think what you said about their history goes a long way.

Of Yeah. That is very useful advice. One person in a just a couple of interviews ago is Esra Qandeel. She was talking about the bias and she wears niqab and she’s a software engineer and she was saying that working remotely has helped to the extent where she can just be judged by the quality of the work itself.

So she’ll get to a level where people, her colleagues are actually forgetting. What she wears because they are so used to just looking at her from a coding standpoint, which is, yeah, great. Where you can just get to a point where the work itself stands,

[00:23:33] Alifya Kagalwalla: it is. It is definitely something that works in our favor

because you don’t have to worry about those awkward one-on-ones having to gaze into someone’s eyes sitting in a room with a closed door. You don’t have to worry about all of those environmental issues,

which most organizations will not. It’s not even a consideration.

[00:24:00] Grace Witter: Yeah there was a study very recently after the pandemic when companies were really encouraging their workers to go back into the office and then they were surveying the workers who were getting used to working from home. And overwhelmingly, women preferred to stay at home or to least have some sort of hybrid flexible schedule where they can be at home because of exactly, this. It’s much, it’s much easier to get your work done when you’re in safe surroundings. You don’t have to deal with any microaggressions or weird looks or just anything that’s kind of out of the normal. You can take care of your kids at home. You can, you don’t have to worry about, arranging childcare to pick them up from school

[00:24:35] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah.

[00:24:36] Grace Witter: that. It’s much, much, much easier.

[00:24:39] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah. I think for the broader group of women at. In the workforce, especially mothers childcare, is the number one reason that you want to stay at home.

[00:24:48] Grace Witter: yes.

[00:24:48] Alifya Kagalwalla: It just makes that transition from, morning to evening, that much less complicated for us.

[00:24:55] Grace Witter: Yeah, definitely. Cause it’s . Cause there’s also a, a study talking about the leaky pipeline in tech, which is this, this whole other thing. But it’s very interesting that a lot of what gets blamed on the low numbers of women in tech, especially at senior levels, is that there’s not enough women going in early into the pipeline when actually women are dropping out.

at the beginning of their career because of bad environments and especially drop off after having children. So you are a working mom. How did you navigate this crucial step?

[00:25:28] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah. I have thought a lot about this specific topic on where is that leak happening and why is it happening? It definitely gets exaggerated or amplified when women, step into motherhood

and the challenges are, and stakes are much higher and it almost becomes a tradeoff.

Like going into work and holding a full-time working job versus being a full-time mother at home for companies and for systemic change to happen on that front. The way I think about it is the, the, the benefits of working need to outweigh the risks of working, and there are many ways to do that.

Everybody’s benefit risk ratios are different, but unless we are able to justify the benefits and that they outweigh the risks associated with us working outside the house, that leaky pipeline is not going away as the number one reason, whether it’s monetary or it’s time intensive, or these other environmental factors.

Which, where we as Muslim women are not able to do justice to our religious obligations and requirements when we need to, when we need to step out and do certain things or our lifestyle does not accommodate this, that’s when the risks are too high that’s when the leaky pipeline comes in .

[00:27:16] Grace Witter: Yes. And then once you, once you take a break, right, because this would normally be like, I just need to take a break. A long maternity it is, especially in tech, is very, very hard to come back into it because it’s moved on so fast

[00:27:29] Alifya Kagalwalla: I have been there where I, I’ve had two babies. Two pregnancies. Had had that tough transition and the tough decisions of leaving their five month old in someone else’s care and going back into the office.

five, I would say more three because that’s a standard, leave policy. Of course it varies by country, but most companies that I have worked for, both companies that I have worked for, it has been a three month policy, which has been very short and

[00:28:01] Grace Witter: Yeah. America is not great on the maternity leave.

[00:28:04] Alifya Kagalwalla: Nope, we are definitely falling behind on that front. And childcare is not free,

so that’s where the risk benefit comes in. Like, is it worth it for me to leave my three month old at home or in someone else’s care and go to work? It has not been a tough decision. However, I decided to go back to work both times.

Had the support from family members. I had the flexibility, and this is very important. My work gave me the flexibility, treated me like an adult, and let me made my choices on both timeline on when I return as well as the hours I keep. I had those male and female allies. And trusted me with those decisions.

If that were not the case, I probably wouldn’t be here.

[00:29:04] Grace Witter: Okay. I, I love what you just said, that they treated you like an adult because I think a lot of what happens and why this, this, there’s this disconnect between the risk associated with going back to work versus staying at home is because we are not trusted to make decisions for ourself. that work wants to be very way too much involved in controlling our life and when we, that’s just not, why would you wanna go back into that when you could just stay at home , if, if you’re able to make that choice.

Yeah. So you were mentioning before about systemic change. From your position where you are, what do you think or how can you see systemic change happening? Is it a question of having more women from marginalized communities in general at leadership positions in traditional companies? Is it also a question of having more women funded businesses, having more women as VCs so that we can create more of a, that space that we don’t see right.

[00:30:05] Alifya Kagalwalla: I think all of those things are happening

now, which is great. mashAllah, there are a lot of women owned entrepreneurs, women owned businesses. The key is to make them successful for these women in corporations, in senior leadership positions to stay and for companies to be able to retain them for long.

Getting there and staying there are two different things. Yeah. There are some, as I was saying earlier, there are some like low-hanging fruit, tactical things, day-to-day paper cuts that we can avoid,

right. For retention and creating the safe place. And everybody had at some point has either been part of or heard of DEI initiatives at their

companies and it’s about time that we have faith related DEI groups as well. That are pretty severely underrepresented, even with DEI initiatives in place, and we can promote those initiatives in, in the companies we work for. That is something I am planning on doing myself at my current organization as well, is, how do I carve a space out for these women to stay at the company? It is very important to see other people that look like us, that feel the same pressures of society and face the same challenges. The more we see people represented at various stages in the organization and different roles across the workforce, like, co-founders and angel investors, and clients, even the more we see these identities, the safer we will feel.

[00:31:59] Grace Witter: This might be a bit of a tricky question. Do you feel like at your level where you are a very visible leader, is there a certain feeling of obligation that you have to stay so that you can help the people who are coming after?

[00:32:14] Alifya Kagalwalla: It is not so much an obligation, but it is definitely something that keeps me going and stops me from quitting

[00:32:21] Grace Witter: that a weight?

[00:32:25] Alifya Kagalwalla: to some extent, yes, like I, there is not, there hasn’t been a single day where I have not thought about the risks and the benefits. What keeps me going is if I lose someone else will win. If I leave, someone else will take this seat.

You will lose, a person that looks like you. You will not have, this individual in this role that has that power to influence. I will be giving up a pretty big seat in that perspective, and if we keep doing that, we’re not gonna be able to chip away at that larger picture

So it is, it’s, it’s a, it’s a burden in, in a way, but it is one that I have, consciously decided to own.

[00:33:22] Grace Witter: may Allah reward you for going through that, and lighten that burden for you and just reward you with sadiqah jariyah for all the women that you’re helping, just by being there. mashAllah.

What is something that you’re most proud of? So this can be a project or something that you accomplished in your career that’s very close to you in your heart.

[00:33:45] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah. Something that I’m most proud of is being part of the journey I am

in right now at Tempus as an organization. I’ve been at various different Software companies that do a lot of different good things for the community. This place that I’m at right now, I am specifically proud of because of its mission and the complex world of a highly regulated industry where we are trying to impact patient lives.

So I’m really proud of being part of this journey. Where we’re materially impacting patient outcomes and, putting a dent in cancer research and therapeutic discovery. It is, it is definitely a topic that is, that a lot of people have become all too familiar with, in our personal lives.

Me personally, I’ve had, loved ones. Suffer through the disease, succumb to the disease have survived it, have seen it up close and personal. And definitely something that I am proud of and I hope to remain part of the foreseeable future.

[00:35:11] Grace Witter: Yeah, that’s, that’s such a core thing when you’re able to work and your work is feeding something that’s really important to your soul. Having that alignment is, is very, very powerful and I’m happy that you’re able to feel that.

[00:35:23] Alifya Kagalwalla: To your earlier question about the burden, the burden that you take on to stay in this role, this plays a big part

of my decision is am I doing work that is meaningful to me?

[00:35:38] Grace Witter: yes. That goes back to your core values.

[00:35:41] Alifya Kagalwalla: Exactly.

Exactly. So at this point in my career, I strive to find meaning in my work where I’m actually contributing to society in some way, even if it’s small.

[00:35:56] Grace Witter: with you. I’m sure it’s not small I’m sure , the impact of everything that you’re doing. mashAllah

what is something that you regret or you might wish that you have done differently?

[00:36:10] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. There are many regrets. Definitely one that I would say is as I have said earlier, not seeking out advocacy early on.

You know, not seeking out support and mentorship early on, trying too hard to fit. At my early stages of my career it’s a slippery slope and once you start kind of putting your obligations on the back burner, those differed sallahs become mis sed sallahs

[00:36:45] Grace Witter: Yes. Especially in winter when

[00:36:47] Alifya Kagalwalla: especially in the winter. Right. So it’s,

[00:36:53] Grace Witter: Yeah.

[00:36:53] Alifya Kagalwalla: it’s a good practice to. Keep that as your kind of central focus and be able to find accommodations because they are there. You just have to speak up for yourself.

[00:37:09] Grace Witter: Yes, I have found that even though it might feel awkward to ask that question, usually it’s, it’s not a big deal. They’ll just say, you can use the conference room, it’s fine. I discovered at this latest place that they even had a prayer mat. um, available that a previous employee who’s not working there anymore had left behind her when she left, and so that was already all set.

Didn’t even have to worry about

[00:37:31] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah.

[00:37:32] Grace Witter: easy.

[00:37:34] Alifya Kagalwalla: Right. I think that is important to be aware that those accommodations exist.

[00:37:38] Grace Witter: Yeah.

[00:37:41] Alifya Kagalwalla: It’s easy for white. Individuals to be very aware of the accommodations and they’re pretty readily out there seeking them out. We tend to live in these assumptions of being perceived as something that might block us from achieving, that career growth or being able to fit in.

But that is a misconception .

[00:38:08] Grace Witter: This is a really deep thing. , so, and I’m not sure, and there’s been a lot that’s been written about this, and it might be, it’s not just a women mindset and it’s not just a cultural mindset. There’s this real blend that. We don’t wanna make waves, we don’t want to make things difficult. We don’t wanna make an obstruction.

And I think it kind of comes back to this imposter syndrome of feeling like we’re not supposed to be there to begin with. And if I ask for too much, they’re gonna realize that I’m not supposed to be there and then I’ll be gone.

[00:38:39] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yep.

[00:38:39] Grace Witter: Right.

[00:38:40] Alifya Kagalwalla: As if it was gonna create a crack in your facade

or something.

[00:38:43] Grace Witter: This is it. Yeah. They’re gonna find me out that I don’t really belong here. Yeah. But it’s, but you can see the other people, they’ll, they’ll ask for things and it’s, it’s not a problem.

[00:38:55] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah. Yeah, it, it’s, it’s actually very much the opposite.

If you speak up for yourself, it helps you kind of carve that space out for you that you would not otherwise have. It in fact enforces and establishes your identity and promotes culture than tolerating it.

[00:39:22] Grace Witter: And I think this goes back to what you were saying about having that invisibility that you can just kind of float through and be invisible, but you’re not gonna grow in yourself and in your career. That environment isn’t going to accommodate you because they don’t see you. But when you start defining your boundaries and you’re clear on who you are and what motivates you and what you can tolerate and what you won’t tolerate, then the rest of your colleagues know how to act around you how to be respectful around you, and

[00:39:54] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yep. this is just a healthier relationship.

I recently read about this theory called the Contact Hypothesis. So by definition what that means is when a majority and a minority group connect and have interpersonal connections, close interactions. It helps reduce prejudice and bias.

So the way I interpret this is this is our opportunity to establish that contact and to reduce bias. If we shy away from our identity.

That bias is not going away if we make ourselves invisible. There is no problem to solve.

So I very much believe in that theory where we have to make ourselves visible, we have to talk about it. We have to educate folks through our allies, leverage, generate leverage at these companies and be seen. I do that. I, I’m, I’m saying that not only in theory, I do that in practice,

I talk about our culture.

I talk about various events that happen. I talk about why I’m taking time off when I’m taking time off for religious activities and what they mean to me. So I make it a point to have a dialogue about it with other groups of people. So education is key.

[00:41:35] Grace Witter: Absolutely. I, I really strongly resonate this. I think especially as a revert. And I remember I had in the very, very beginnings, I had a quite difficult time with friends and family. Somebody advised me is the best dawa is to live the sunnah and to be an example of this and to be very calm in yourself and be very confident and sure in who you are and what you believe, to know all these aspects so that when people ask you questions because they’re gonna ask you questions, that you could explain it to them in very simple terms. That is very easy for them to understand. And the whole purpose is that you are a visible example of what you believe of who you are, just by living your life.

You are educating people. So the more they come into contact with you, the more they see how you are, the more that they can understand, oh, this is how Muslim women are.


[00:42:34] Alifya Kagalwalla: I have got comments about but you don’t do this or you don’t do that. And then I use those as teaching moments on why we don’t do this or


[00:42:44] Grace Witter: And I think it’s also healthy to know the difference that when somebody asks you a question out of curiosity or is asking you why you don’t do something, to assume that they’re asking from a place of ignorance and that they wanna learn more.

And not that they’re asking you to make you feel uncomfortable.

[00:43:03] Alifya Kagalwalla: Absolutely. I think understanding that difference is maturity.

[00:43:08] Grace Witter: Yes,

[00:43:09] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yep.

[00:43:10] Grace Witter: and I think it’s also goes back to what we were saying before about you feeling like you have to justify yourself to be there. If you feel like you’re not confident and you don’t belong there, then somebody asking you why, why you’re wearing hijab or, or, or why you’re praying might feel like they’re finding you out.

Like they’re finding the

cracks. Whereas they just might not know.

[00:43:33] Alifya Kagalwalla: know.eidRight. And, give them the benefit of the doubt, convert it into a teaching moment and talk about yourself, talk about your community, invite them to your home.

[00:43:45] Grace Witter: it’s a work Iftar, they’re really

[00:43:47] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yes,

[00:43:48] Grace Witter: ham.

[00:43:49] Alifya Kagalwalla: That, that’s definitely on my list. This, coming eid

[00:43:53] Grace Witter: Yes. It’s getting so early now that it’s fine. It’s like normal dinner time, alhamdulillah.

[00:43:58] Alifya Kagalwalla: Yeah.

[00:43:59] Grace Witter: The last question I have for you tonight is, what is something or someone that you’re most grateful for over your career?

[00:44:07] Alifya Kagalwalla: I think this kind of goes back to my earlier chat about having those male allies and female allies that have treated me, as an adult that I’ve recognized that. I have specific values, core values that shape my identity, and being able to trust me with my decisions based on that.

That’s what I’ve been most grateful for. Honestly, there are people out there that will accept you the way you are, so don’t feel defeated. And if, as you said earlier, they’re telling you to do things that you’re not comfortable doing, that is not the right place for you. So I’m grateful that I have had those opportunities. I have walked away when I have not had those opportunities. So I’m grateful for those decisions and those moments where I have walked away. It is hard to walk away, but sometimes that’s the right thing for you and your family.

[00:45:09] Grace Witter: I love how you’re framing that mashAllah. I think when we walk away from something, especially if it’s an environment where it was difficult, so it was a difficult choice to walk away or it was painful it can feel like we’re taking a step backwards or we’re taking a detour from our career, or this is like a test.

But subhanAllah it, it’s a movement into something else. It’s a new beginning, and it, it’s, it’s about having this this trust that wherever you’re going is the right thing for you. As long as you’re holding tight to those morals, those core values, those principles, then as you move forward, this is the right choice.

This is something that Allah is guiding you to

[00:45:52] Alifya Kagalwalla: And when Allah shuts one door, he opens another.

[00:45:54] Grace Witter: Exactly.

[00:45:55] Alifya Kagalwalla: So have, have faith in that.

[00:46:00] Grace Witter: Are there any last bits that you want to include? Any final bits of advice?

[00:46:07] Alifya Kagalwalla: First of all, thank you for this opportunity. and one of the reasons I was so excited about this and being part of this community is for other women to know that there are people out there that have had, that have faced those challenges and made those decisions, optimal and suboptimal

And to know that , there is a community that they can rely. This is definitely like, I wish I had found this earlier in my career, but I’m so excited for those women who are starting out that have all these questions about the ladder about the workforce, and I really hope I can support this mission.

Yeah, thank you again

[00:47:00] Grace Witter: Yeah,

[00:47:01] Alifya Kagalwalla: and I hope to be here again soon.

[00:47:04] Grace Witter: absolutely. Absolutely. Thank you so much.

And as always, thank you so much for taking the time to listen today. If you liked it and you like what we’re doing at Tech Sisters consider following us, leaving a review, sharing this episode with any friends or even supporting us on Patrion. All of those really help us a lot. This is a completely non-profit organization. We’re just doing this for.

Sadaqua , so anything that helps more Muslim women find us and discover us and hear the stories is immensely helpful. And if you are a Muslim woman in tech, please go ahead and check out our community. It is completely free and fun and very supportive. You can join by going to our website and filling out the membership form, and you will get a link right away into our slack. So it’s really, really easy.

And that is all for me. And I’ll see you next week. As Salaam alaikum.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Alifya. Jazakallahu Khair! You can connect with Alifya Kagalwalla on LinkedIn.

If you liked this story, be sure to check our other Tech Sisters Stories and get to know the amazing talent we have in our community.

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