Blog piece featured on Change the Script. A campaign led by The Hon Baroness Uddin.
Scanning an office floor of a popular furniture company in London it was clear that first, it’s dominated by men and second, most of the females there were not of an ethnic let alone Muslim background. I am both those things, a Muslim woman of British Asian nationality, attempting to break into the design industry. It leaves me wondering about why there is such a lack of familiarity.
The office floor in question was for a job interview I had, which I didn't get. I think its safe to say that the person who did get it was likely to be a white male or female. I’m stuck in this position of how to get my foot in the door of the industry that so much of my enthusiasm lies. Looking into why this is the case has led me to identify that it isn't always about the experience I have, but the whole package I have to offer as a person.
In every environment I have worked in within this industry, I have always been the only one of “my kind.” In my previous job, a well known British paint company, I was lucky to have had colleagues who were actively interested in understanding multiple cultures. This was likely down to them having a large international customer base, but it gave me the opportunity to educate my colleagues about my background. Having that platform, where even though their inquisitiveness had the potential to make me feel uncomfortable, taught me that it is ok providing I am not being singled out.
The main challenge I have found working in the design industry is having to question myself as a person because of my identity: will I be taken seriously? Will clients know I actually work here? What do I do to fit in and progress? Questioning who I am and where I stand has in fact cemented my beliefs and taught me that getting where I want does not mean conforming, instead I decided to use it to my advantage by empowering my individuality. Ultimately, it is about accepting who I am, allowing that very difference between us to ground me and using it as the tool to further myself in my career. It sets me apart from my colleagues in a positive way by driving me to prove my capabilities and strengths.
Just as the late Zaha Hadid paved the way, a shining torch as it were for women and Muslim women alike, I will strive to work towards one being able to walk into an office, scan and find familiarity by advocating that there needs to be equality for not only gender but also religion. When questioned in an interview with Interview magazine on the role of women in Islam Hadid states “many women don’t have the encouragement and support they need to [advance in their careers].” That support manifests itself on multiple levels: from family, friends or the workplaces themselves. In my opinion, without the support from this industry itself, there will be a continuance of little to no women let alone Muslim women making it through the gaps.