#BossWomen Interview: Sagdrina Jalal
#BossWomen Interview: Sagdrina Jalal
Throughout the month of March, we’re speaking with #BossWomen in our community - civic leaders, entrepreneurs, mothers, and leaders - to hear their stories and discuss their experiences in the work place.
We sat down with Sagdrina Jalal, Executive Director of the Georgia Farmers Market Association, CCI Fellowship Alumni, and a current Peer Advisor in our Civic Innovation Fellowship and Residency Program.
Thank you for speaking with us, Sagdrina! Since we last caught up with you, GFMA has been busy. Any updates to share?
Yes! We’re launching our Just Foods Market this summer in June 2019 at Georgia Tech. These markets are community designed and led. We guarantee sales to farmers, and we offer the food on a sliding scale; that’s a hybrid CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farmers market model where people get to experience the food like a farmers market, but the farmer is harvesting on a weekly basis so there’s a set amount of items available. It’s the best, most nutrient-dense produce the you can get your hands on. It’s the same experience for everyone regardless of the method of payment or the amount they’re paying. We’re really about implementing equity in food and engaging farms, small scale farmers, and black farmers specifically who have not been afforded the same level of participation in these type of structures. We’re super excited about that!
Awesome, we’ll see you there in June! You’re also a Peer Advisor in our Fellowship and Residency Program. You lead the Sunday Sessions with the women entrepreneurs — these gatherings serve as an opportunity and safe space to discuss business challenges. Can you speak to your experience as a female leader in the programs?
The Sunday Sessions are a community in it of itself. That’s really interesting to me, and they are a way I integrate who I am with what I do. They are some of my favorite times period, they are not just work. A session is an opportunity to share knowledge in an intimate space. The women are sometimes opening their homes, and they’re definitely sharing their triumphs and challenges - it’s as if everything is on the table. It’s also a place that has a lot of accountability. By taking people out of their normal setting and into a space of vulnerability and openness, you are making sure that the environment is a place of comfort where one can receive feedback, if they’re willing to be vulnerable.
Are there specific challenges or obstacles that you face as a female entrepreneur that men in your field may not experience?
Oh, without a doubt! There just aren’t enough women leaders in our city and that’s the first thing. There are a lot of women in agriculture, but there aren’t as many of us in positions where we’re able to open up doors for other folks, so it is challenging. I will say, while it is harder, I’ve had some amazing men that have supported the work that I do. I definitely don’t want to make it seem as if that hasn’t happened! I think that often times when opportunities come up, women are not necessarily the ones that are thought of first. Our talents are not the ones that are thought of first. It might be the organization that we (women) run or the alignment of the organization with the goal, but the woman herself and what she brings to the table may not be a valuable resource.
Do you have advice on how men can support women in the workplace?
Sure. First, it’s important to listen. If you feel inclined to help when we’re exchanging information, let us say what it is we’re saying and then ask, “are you interested in feedback on this particular topic?” Also, I think it’s important for men to understand that women and men (and this is painting with a very broad brush) tend to approach business differently. With that, if you are trying to engage a woman on a project or business in any way, you can’t expect her to respond the same way that a man would respond. I think that’s a really really big challenge. We do well collaborating with other women - and also with men - but I think we like to create spaces of comfort before we dive into the work. We want to make sure that we’re in a safe place, and I think that sometimes it can appear like we’re wasting time or we’re being too social. But it’s really our way of feeling comfortable in the space so the real work can begin.
Creating those support systems are essential. In addition to leaning on your “tribe”, how do you make sure you are taking care of yourself?
I love to cook, spend time with my family, do stress relieving activities. But for me, self care has a lot to do with forgiving myself for when I mess up. In those moments, taking a step back and saying, “Okay, I missed the mark on that, but you know what! I really killed it the last ten times, and I just need to cut myself some slack.” It’s a lot to do with giving myself credit. What is that internal conversation that I’m having that is impacting me negatively and making it hard for me to feel good about myself as a business owner, as a woman, as a mother? Just giving myself a lot of grace despite the negative talk, as a response to my less than perfect moments is what self care looks like to me.
I also used to really struggle with this idea of “balance.” I’m an “all in” kind of person with everything that I do, so compartmentalizing work or family didn’t make sense to me. Now, it’s about work-life integration. What makes sense to me is that my work embodies my values. I can bring my experiences with my health, my family’s health, and our experiences and challenges with our community in those places. I never feel like I had to separate the work that I do from who I am as a person. I think I’ve grown as a person and am even more deeply rooted in my values as a result in the work that I do.
What advice would you offer to civic entrepreneurs?
I think the biggest thing is to own your voice. Being able to separate your “why” from the steps it takes to build and maintain your business and brand is so important. Own your voice so that it’s not shaken by the feedback. What I mean by that is when you’re just getting started, it’s important to take in the feedback and perspective from people who have particular knowledge and are there for the purpose of giving feedback. Excessive feedback is also dangerous for an entrepreneur because it’s so easy to feel like you’re completely off base. You’re getting feedback that indicates that there are things that you need to tweak and sometimes it’s coming from multiple directions: your board of directors, your advisors, mentors. I could even be one of those people! So I think it’s very easy for an entrepreneur who is inspired by really wanting to see things be better in their community get disenchanted and frustrated because they’re being challenged. And feedback is just that, it does not mean that you have to absorb everything that you take from someone. You take what makes sense and then discard the rest. Because you can’t implement all the ideas that someone brings to you—very few of us have the capacity to do that.
What advice would you offer to female entrepreneurs in the civic space, specifically?
So for women specifically, the second part of owning your voice is to stop apologizing. Women constantly feel like they have to say, "I’m sorry,” and that’s something that Rohit is really good at talking to all the entrepreneurs about [in the Fellowship and Residency Program]. I think women struggle with taking “sorry” out of your vocabulary. But it’s important to try! I actually made a pretty intentional shift away from [over apologizing] in 2019. I stopped writing emails in the way that I was trying to make people feel like they were comfortable around me. I stop putting smiley faces and exclamation points and all these things that we do because, as women, we don’t want to be too powerful; we don’t want to roar. We don’t want to come across as being a bitch, so we do all these things. What it really does is that it downplays our power. It makes other people more comfortable, because so often we get punished for our power.
It’s okay to say no without qualifying it. It’s also okay to be silent - you don’t have to respond at all. Women in particular are conditioned to explain ourselves, to apologize, to make others feel comfortable. We should just put it out there, who we are, what we do, and let it stand for itself.