My Leadership Journey -The Fabulous Fati Abigail Abdulai, National Director of WOM

I am a Pentecostal and the last born of my parents. My basic education was in Bolgatanga and senior high school in Kumasi, after which I read Natural Resources Management at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) before proceeding to the Reading University in UK. Subsequently, I have had other professional training from the Coady Institute of St Frances Xavier University and New York University. I love to read, watch movies and travel.

My story…
At age 26, I became the National Director of the Widows and Orphans Movement (WOM), a reputable NGO with our headquarters in the Upper East Region of Ghana. I have come to realise that this position is an enviable one by many. What many do not know is the struggles I had to go through within me and without. As I lay in bed at 12 midnight as usual craving for sleep which seems to elude me since my new position… the numerous folders and files of ideas, realities and alternatives flipping and flashing like a computer in my mind cannot shutdown no matter how hard I try. My memory drive somehow remembered that I had volunteered to share an experience with The Fabulous Woman Network. After a while it dawned on me to share on the subject of young women and leadership focusing on my experience.

My first struggle had to do with naming. I was coming from a background where you called people with the greatest of titles by their first name. A culture I had struggled to learn initially in the UK but was now accustomed to it. Prior to this my upbringing made sure that I added titles when calling people that were older than me. To the extent that we called our grandma ‘Sister Old Lady’ for the fun of it. All of a sudden people would call me ‘Director, Madam or Sister’ instead of ‘Fati,’ etc. This made me very uncomfortable especially when people who were older than me added the title ‘sister’. Persistently requesting that people call me by my first name never seemed to work for most people and of course others tried to overstep their boundaries. I still prefer people calling me by my first name, but have accepted the reality that people will do what makes them most comfortable.

Secondly, I never could decide on what to wear. I would wear dresses that I thought made me look older but which I hated because it led to people disregarding me especially when they met me for the first time. Mostly in my office, people would walk in and insist on speaking with the Director which in their mind’s eye did not look like me. Thank God for the blessings of having elder sisters who told me to dress younger, wear the dresses that made me confident and stay decent. Again over the years I have become more confident and no longer bother about trying to fit in, instead I want to stand out and even sometimes show off. After all, I am fearfully and wonderfully made by God and need not hide what I have been blessed with.

For most high level meetings, I attended, they were dominated by older men and a few middle-aged women. Fati would appear as the only young woman leader and this had its challenges. Somehow, most people expected me to be a secretary who was accompanying her boss but never the boss. The bullies would try bullying me but of course backed off when they realised I could match boot for boot with them in discussions and was sometimes even better. Don’t get me wrong, I equally learnt a lot from them. Some of them and sadly even the women concluded I had slept my way up and said some derogatory things behind my back. But miraculously, after others got to know me better, they would ‘confess their deeds’.

Some times when I spoke for policies that would promote women, a few women I expected to support me rather opposed the suggestions. Over the years I have come to realise that it is sometimes pure ignorance and other times jealousy. I was told one time by a friend who tried bullying me the first time we met in a committee meeting that the only other elderly woman in the committee congratulated him for paying no heed to my suggestions because I was ‘too known’. Over the years I think I have proven that I am a though nut to crack and the struggles are still not over but it is important to know that there are still some old fashioned people that are intimidated by young, attractive and above all intelligent women. BUT do not let them scare you.

My advice…
My story is not complete if I do not add that, there are still some women who have supported me a great deal and must be commended. I prefer to refer to them as the phenomenal women. Whenever you have a chance to meet them, make the best out of it.
As a young woman leader, you are expected not to make mistakes. Faults are found in flawless actions and little mistakes are attributed to your youth. However, you need to rise above it all.
I see myself now as the change agent and encourage colleagues, admirers and all especially young women to be mindful of the struggles they might face and brace themselves to overcome. Flaunt your youth, learn, stay focused and make us proud of you. Be a change agent.

credit: Ama Duncan, Corporate Trainer and Founder of The Fabulous Woman Network