International Women’s Day (IWD) is a celebration of the social, economical, cultural and political achievements of women across the globe. Supported by millions for more than a century (the first IWD gathering being in 1911), IWD does not belong to a single country, group or organisation specifically. Rather, IWD is a collective effort by groups everywhere. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias which encourages a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination, where each of our differences are valued and celebrated.
To mark International Women’s Day 2022, Muslim Women Connect will be in talks with some of our community’s most influential and career-driven women. We will be joined by Nadia Rehman, Sherifah Lahan, Grace Witter and Dr. Nighat Arif, where we delve deep into each of their professional lives and discuss how they have navigated workplace biases throughout their own careers.
Nadia is a counselling psychologist. She graduated from her doctoral studies in 2019 and has worked in the third sector, the NHS and is now running her own private practice. As a British-Pakistani and Muslim woman, Nadia has a unique understanding of cultural issues and works with individuals to address mental, emotional, social and interpersonal difficulties.
What inspired you to launch Spiritual Psychologist?
The psychology field is full of a wealth of information but it’s history, community and knowledge was also very whitewashed. The type of education and support available was not reaching minority communities. And this is what I wanted to bridge. I wanted to raise awareness of issues within South Asian communities, and also bring faith into the mix.
What kind of support do you wish you had from others or what do you think is needed to support Muslim women better?
I wish I had more validation of the difficulties Muslim women face in this field, personally and professionally, especially from staff in educational institutes and workplaces. It can be very isolating. I also wish there was a stronger cultural narrative encouraging Muslim women to pursue their careers and be financially independent. Nowadays there is more support out there with people creating professional career-specific groups for BAME and Muslim women, they’re definitely needed!
Sherifah works within the Energy Cyber Policy team, in the department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. She is currently the Assistant Head with a focus on ensuring the cyber resilience of the UK energy supply. Also a former MWC mentor, Sherifa informs us of her own career inspirations and how she overcame barriers in her workplace.
What inspired your career journey?
My career journey has been inspired by the desire to work in developing and applying the laws and policies that govern the country in which we live. I am particularly keen to have a positive impact on how government policies affect people from a similar background to mine.
The theme for this blog is breaking biases in the workplace/industry. How have you navigated this in your career?
Unfortunately, biases, particularly unconscious bias, are something that exist and that many women face in the workplace. I have always navigated this by being open with colleagues and welcoming and engaging in those difficult conversations to explore these biases.
I also seek help where required as well as mentorship to learn better ways to deal with any such behaviour. Throughout my career, I have always championed equality and diversity particularly through participation in networks and groups aimed at ensuring workplaces biases are eradicated.
Grace is the founder of Tech Sisters, a community that aims to challenge the perception of Muslim women by highlighting accomplishments by Muslim women in the technical space and inspiring others through mentorship and collaboration. Alongside managing this community, Grace works full-time as a Web Developer for HappyPorch.
What inspired your career journey?
When my youngest was a baby, I wanted to find ways to work from home. Teaching myself how to code was one of the many experiments I tried, and it turned out to be the one that stuck!
I was good at it, and I liked doing it, and that’s how I became a developer. After a few years of working in tech, I started to feel the isolation that many of us from non-traditional backgrounds experience. Being the only woman, the only mum, the only Muslim at work. I would go to tech conferences, and out of hundreds of people, I was the only one wearing hijab. Of course, I knew that other Muslim women in tech were going through the same thing; we just needed a way to connect. In 2019, I started Tech Sisters to connect and share the stories of women like us. There was an obvious and immediate response to the interviews. Even today, the interviews with Muslim women in tech are a cornerstone of what we do. People were hungry to hear about other Muslim women who have been where they’ve been. Who have experienced what they’re experiencing. And who achieved incredible things without sacrificing their deen or identity.
The theme for this blog is breaking biases in the workplace/industry. How have you navigated this in your work?
I break biases by being myself. When I’m authentically myself at work, I’m showing people what somebody like me is capable of. When I’m sharing the Tech Sisters interviews, I’m amplifying that message with a very diverse range of women. Age, background, family, whatever, it doesn’t limit your capability in any way. A big part of this is working in environments with an authentically inclusive culture and fully encouraging you to be your authentic self at work. Breaking biases is one thing, but it’s essential to stay safe and get support when you need it.
DR. NIGHAT ARIF
Dr. Arif is an NHS GP in Buckinghamshire, specialising in women’s health. As well as a doctor in her local surgery, Dr. Arif also works as the resident doctor on BBC Breakfast on BBC1, on BBC LookEast and This Morning on ITV; whilst hosting on Sunday Breakfast Show on BBC Three Counties Radio too.
In addition, Dr. Arif is a member of Team Halo, which is a group of 70 doctors and scientists around the world who produce social media content tackling misinformation about the COVID19 vaccine, in partnership with the United Nations Verified Initiative and The Vaccine Confidence Project at the University of London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
What is the best career advice you have been given?
‘Grab hold of the happy moments – because life is short” I am so blessed to have so many incredible people in my life who have helped me and mentored me. I remain in touch with many of them. In my career as a doctor, I see so much sadness so I let go of many things quickly- because life is so short.
What kind of support do you wish you had or is needed to support Muslim women?
I am fully aware, I stand on the shoulders of some phenomenal Muslim women who have paved the freedoms, broken the barriers and reduce the stigma in society so that now I can enjoy the position I do. Muslim women are the same as any other group of women.
We enjoy the sunshine through our Hijabs, love sports, dance in the rain, love fashion and muddling through life just like everyone else. We need to stop restricting women on their roles and mindsets need to change within Muslim women. I believe Muslim women are incredibly powerful, beautiful individuals with the capability to really teach our daughter & sons that anything is achievable- who knows we will get the first female Muslim Astronaut- wouldn’t that be incredible!
Let us know in the comment section below about women you have been inspired and empowered by ✨👇🏾
In continuation of our IWD celebrations, MWC will also be hosting a Twitter Space event, where we will be joined by MWC’s own Khadijah (Director) and Thahera (Marketing Lead) to discuss all things workplaces, barriers and bias.
calling all sisters!
If you’d like to be featured in our blog, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org about a relatable topic within the Muslim women community that you feel most passionate about. This could be related to work, lifestyle, faith, and much more!
Please note, all submitted entries should be no longer than 1000 words and will be proofed for appropriate content.
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