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Rania Awad holds many titles – as the Head of Asset Management at Damstra Technology; Director and Founder of Digital Smoothie; and a pharmacist at her local community pharmacy. As one of our Outstanding 50 LGBTI+ Leaders of 2020 Rania shares how her journey as a Middle Eastern migrant in Australia gave her the strength to be a leader who treats inclusivity as a non-negotiable.
LGBTI+ inclusion and visibility: It’s taken me years to get here but I’m a strong believer that the only path forward is to be visible and out. This is scary stuff and when you are visible, you risk losing loved ones and at times, your community. But being out means not only healing and saving yourself, but also potentially saving someone who is watching from a dark closet somewhere. Now that I’ve become a mum, I’m determined to share my story and talk about the long and difficult journey that got me to where I am today, so that I can be the role model that I desperately needed when I was fifteen, and for all the young Middle Eastern girls who struggle with their sexuality.
On changing perceptions: Over the years, Western people’s perceptions have slowly changed and for most, being an LGBTI+ individual is a non-issue. I would like to highlight that this is still not the case in my Middle Eastern culture and community. As an LGBTI+ individual, you are at best tolerated and at worst, exiled or excluded from your family or community. Over time, I slowly grew my confidence to come out and have found acceptance and love within my closest Middle Eastern friends. However, in general, being gay is still not accepted by the Middle Eastern community.
Advice: My mum always told me to study hard and be successful so that I never had to rely on anyone else for financial freedom. This advice was given to me as a Middle Eastern girl who had migrated to Australia at eleven years old, after living in war torn Lebanon. From my history and that advice, I developed a mantra that I’d say to myself when faced with a difficult or risky business decision. I’d ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”. Because once you’ve survived war, business risks become relatively miniscule in the grand scheme of things.
On inclusive leadership: Being inclusive is not a choice, it’s everyone’s responsibility. It’s important because it’s simply the right thing to do. People just want to feel equal regardless of where they come from, who they marry, or the colour of their skin. I demonstrate inclusive leadership by always checking my biases (we all have them), and by striving to be welcoming and genuine.
Can you share a story with us that has made the most impact on you during your LGBTI+ journey? When I met my wife Clarissa eight years ago, I was still in the closet with my immediate family (mother, father and brothers). She had never been with a woman before, but we fell in love, hard. One month into our relationship, Clarissa told me that she was going to tell her parents about us and that she wasn’t used to being dishonest with them. She was so matter of fact and so confident. She told them and just like that, they opened their hearts and family to me! It felt so easy. It shone a bright, contrasting light for me on how it should be. It helped me come out and be brave. That’s the example I want to set for my daughter.
Not everyone has the confidence or support (whether that be from family or colleagues) to be themselves at work – what advice would you give to them? Surround yourself with people who support and love you as you are. This will help you build the shield you need to be yourself at work and everywhere else.
Words to describe me: Brave, honest, firecracker.
Rania is one of our Outstanding 50 LGBTI+ Leaders of 2020 – a list that recognises and celebrates the many LGBTI+ role models in business and across our community. For more on our inspirational LGBTI+ leaders, visit our Outstanding 50 webpage.
Jade Fosberry leads communications for Inclusion, Diversity and Wellbeing, within Deloitte’s Corporate Affairs and Communications team. Jade is passionate about storytelling and believes in the power of a compelling story to effect real change.