FCDC Women’s Month Highlight – Areeej AbuAli

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We had an insightful conversation with Areej AbuAli about all the wonderful things she is doing at the the Women in Tech SEO, a community of over 8000 members, gender diversity in the industry, and more.

 

Areej is also the founder of Crawlina, an independent SEO consultancy.

This interview has been condensed for clarity.

Hi Areej. Thank you so much for doing this. Firstly, I want to start with the origin story. Growing up in Egypt, how was the event space scene? Were there any negative stereotypes?


Yeah, I moved. I moved to the UK in 2013,  when I was I think in my very early 20s. But I went to school and university in Egypt and I did a computer engineering degree.


My class was a little over 30 people and only four of us were women. Engineering in general as a field was very male-dominated, especially in the computing industry as well.

 

I was heavily involved with different organizations like IEEE and a number of them which are very popular for engineers, we used to hold different events for students and I remember the lineup always being very male-dominated and it wasn’t even a conversation that used to happen that we need to ensure that we’re diversifying our lineup.

 

 

Also, for example, a leadership team for certain student organizations or student groups were also very very male-dominated.  I think to this day this is fairly common

 

I remember when I first came to the UK, when I did a master’s degree and then joined the SEO industry (because I was in the technical SEO space),  I remember in my very early days this is maybe 10 years ago, I would attend conferences and the technical SEO track was also very male-dominated.

 

So even after moving here in the UK,  I still didn’t feel represented when I first came here.


Was that how the Women in Tech SEO was born? How did that start? How did that come about? What inspired that?

 

Yeah, so I think maybe five years. In my career, I probably started feeling a little bit discouraged. I wasn’t too sure if SEO was for me.

 

I wasn’t part of a community or a group and I didn’t feel represented. I just decided, to let me see if other women feel similar to me as well, and let me start a group.


Maybe we can just start off by having some small meet-ups in London. That was kind of how the idea was born just purely because I was struggling to fit in and feel represented and included and so I wanted to kind of like create a group where it was a lot easier for me to fit in and and belong.

 

Did these small meetups then lead to WTS  fest (women in  Tech SEO Festival)?

 

Yeah, we had it the first year we were having monthly London meetups and the very first one had like 10 attendees.


Then the next had 20 and it just kept growing from there. A few months after running those, I was like, oh, wouldn’t it be amazing if, I would put together a conference that can fit in a lot more of us.

 

The first conference we had around 200 women attend and that was less than a year after we launched in May 2019 and that conference happened in March. So it was like less than a year.

 

We managed to sell out tickets in like 2 weeks or something. But it was just one of those things where it was like, whoa, this is definitely needed.

 

It felt like, “Wow there were a lot of other people who are searching for a space like this like this as well?”



WTS Fest has also grown to Berlin and Philadelphia. How, how did that come about that? Were there any lessons you noticed from the very first WTS festival, like the official one that you just mentioned?

 

Yeah, I realized the power of holding a conference or an event that’s very community LED. So it’s like community first because we are already. We’re all there. Like 8000 of us are in a group together. We’re talking every single day online.

 

And then this is kind of like our chance to get together and meet up in person and be around each other.


There’s just the power that is just very magical and very beautiful because it’s it’s rare for it.

 

Normally you would just go to a conference and you would kind of show up there and you either know a few people already or you don’t.

 

With WTS Fest, it’s very different because you kind of know everyone already because you’re all connected with one another through the community.

 

So most of the people attending the conference are already community members. It’s a very small number of people who might be coming from who aren’t already part of the community.

 

So that’s what just makes the experience overall a lot less overwhelming because you know one another. 

 

The reason we’re expanding is because everyone’s asking us to go to their different locations.

 

So last year we did our first USA one in Philadelphia, which was amazing.

 

This year we’re back again in Philly and we’re doing Berlin for the first time this June, which is so exciting because we have a lot of folks based in Europe and based around there and it’s easy for them to come and travel into Germany. 

Women in Tech SEO London Fest 2024 after party

Love that the WTSfest is like a safe space for women and gender non-conforming folks. So it’s weird that now we saw the scandal last year where an event planner for a tech event made fake female speakers’ profiles.  Why do you think these things still keep happening?

 

Yeah, I think there’s a lot of laziness unfortunately when it comes to this. Like, there is it, but then it’s also about how diverse is the event leadership team.

 

Like that’s always a question to ask. If there’s enough representation and diversity on the actual event organisers team, this stuff won’t happen because they’ll be able to think about this first in mind. They’ll be able to know this lineup isn’t diverse enough.

We need to tap into these networks, we need to tap into these connections. 

 

You know, women in tech SEO is only one example of an organization that’s making it very, very easy where we have our speaker hubs and our founder hubs and it’s very easy for you to find diverse speakers.

 

There are so many other communities and groups that host this on their websites and that makes finding diverse speakers a lot easier.

 

It’s just it’s unfortunate because there is a lot of laziness involved in this and it’s very, you know, last-minute type of, Oh no, you know, we need to do something about this, let’s kind of like, you know, Scrabble and try to see how we fix this.

 

The good news is a lot of this stuff is being called out now.
So people aren’t quiet about it anymore. There’s so much more conversation happening about it.

 

I think the more communities there are around, the louder these voices will become. 

 

Absolutely. What do you think men and organizations can do to support more women? It’s more than writing “I’m a feminist” in a Twitter bio. What actions can they take?

 

So yeah, I think many, many of us have had a lot of male mentors and male bosses who have been extremely supportive of our career and who have helped us get to places and gave us a lot of opportunities.

 

The first step is knowing how can you help support, amplify, and give opportunities to women in your job, women in your network, and women in your career, and how can you help amplify their voices as well.

 

When we talk about speaker lineups, something that always gets me asking the question is well, how come all the men are OK with being in a lineup that’s not diverse?

 

So I feel like if the conversation starts with them that really, there’s a massive difference between an accepted speaker who has an opportunity who turns around and says, you know what, I actually want to give this to a woman or I want to give this to, you know, someone diverse on my team instead. So that’s that’s always a really good second step as well. 

 

Thirdly, a lot of our sponsors, partners, and allies actually happen to be companies that are run by men and companies that have CEOs and founders who are men.

 

Supporting us that way and being able to partner up with us or sponsor us or provide funding like that’s a that’s a massive way to give back to some of these communities as well.

 

Basically, put your money where your mouth is. So how can event planners be more considerate? Because every event has to be inclusive to all women.

 

Again, it goes back to who’s on your organizing team, because if you don’t have representation there, they’re not really going to be able to think about some of that stuff.

 

But yes, definitely having a prayer room, having an on site creche, having a space for mothers or parents who need to breast feed or pump or anything along those lines, like being able to have all of these different safe spaces and zones, that makes it easier for people to go.

 

It doesn’t become a burden for someone to go attend the conference, and they don’t need to have to think about a lot of things. Instead, they’re able to get their training and their development and they’re able to, you know, contribute at the same time.

 

So I think that definitely makes a massive difference and then in terms of the lineup tends to showcase a lot of the attendees as well.

 

If you have a very male-dominated lineup, you’ll notice it in the attendees, you’ll notice that you also have very male-dominated attendees.

 

So I think it’s kind of like it’s this balance of well, how can we ensure we are like because another thing you can also do is as a conference, are you, are you allocating scholarship tickets to communities and organizations who need them.

 

Are you making sure there’s a scholarship fund? Are you making sure you’re covering expenses? Like all of this stuff is very important to ensure that you also, it’s not just about the diversity of the lineup, but also about the diversity of your attendees and who you’re reaching out to.

 

Amazing. Let’s talk about community building because you’re writing a book on that. For people who want to start building their own communities, especially minorities, what characteristics should they possess?

 

First of all, I love folks who decide they’re going to create their own thing, right? Because they might be around a lot of people and feel like there’s no space for them.

 

So, I always encourage people to go ahead and do that. One of the first things they need to think about is the culture of their community. What values do they want to embody? What’s the mission and vision?

 

Planning this out with a partner who shares similar values can be really helpful. Setting clear rules and values from the beginning is key.

 

That sounds crucial—laying down the foundation for a community’s culture. So, how about location? You grew up in Egypt and are now in the UK. Do you think location affects the opportunities available for community building, especially for women in tech SEO?

 

Absolutely. Being in a country like the UK opens up more opportunities for funding, partnerships, and support. It can be challenging elsewhere.

 

That’s why I’m passionate about supporting local communities and events—they often struggle with funding and resources.

 

Your journey is inspiring. Now, as a UN delegate and a leader in women in tech SEO, what are your future plans?

 

 I’m constantly learning and adapting to this role. Women in tech SEO has grown beyond my expectations, but I worry about inclusivity and accessibility. I want to ensure it’s not just for privileged groups. Through programs like UN Women, I hope to learn how to reach more diverse communities and markets.

Well, that’s just awesome. Yeah. Thank you so much Areej!

Yeah. Thank you for having me and thanks for the great questions. 

Connect with Areej on Linkedin and Twitter

 

Join Women in Tech SEO Community here

Jadesola Kareem

Passionate about content and diversity, Jadesola is a content writer. In her free time, with a cup of coffee in hand, she binges on reality shows.

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