Asma Nafees, Chief Analytics Officer, NHS Arden & GEM Commissioning Support Unit
Working with data-fuelled business intelligence, and changing people's perceptions both about working mums and wearing a hijab (headscarf)
Asma Nafees is the Chief Analytics Officer at Arden & GEM CSU, an Associate Non-Executive Director with Derbyshire Community Health Services FT, and a Trustee with Lisieux Trust. Having started her professional life as a commercial solicitor in a private practice, she subsequently carved a career in the NHS, where she has been steadily climbing ever since. A proud working mother-of-four, Asma speaks about her decision to wear a hijab (headscarf).
"If I had stayed in the legal field ... I probably would have delayed wearing a hijab"
Asma is adamant that moving to the NHS was the best career move. She explains: “What started off as a stopgap, following redundancy as a solicitor during the 2008-2009 recession, ended up being a life-enhancing decision. I think if I had stayed in the legal field, in that corporate-commercial environment, I probably would have delayed wearing a hijab, even though I had a desire to wear it, for fear of it impacting on my career. I possibly wouldn’t have had four children, from a work-life-balance perspective and a perceived lack of flexible working in the private sector to be able to juggle work and family life.”
Since joining the NHS in 2009, Asma has progressively adopted a number of increasingly senior roles, involving data, business intelligence, and contracting and transformation, which have ultimately led her to become the Chief Analytics Officer. In this role, she’s responsible for three specialist analytics teams, an Advanced Analytics Unit, CCG BI and NHSE BI, and supports national data processing and insight analytics.
In 2014, Asma made the decision to start wearing a hijab. “When I joined the NHS, I didn’t wear a hijab," she says. "I was the stereotype of a lawyer, dressed in tailored suits, with immaculately straightened hair. When I started wearing a headscarf in 2014, I noticed a subtle difference in some people’s treatment of me." A particular incident where it was assumed that she was the administrative assistant in a meeting stands out in her mind: “It was a really pivotal moment for me because up until then I had never faced any discrimination.”
"We all have our unconscious biases – perceptions about working mums ... hijab-wearing women"
Asma sees it as her social responsibility to raise awareness and to change people’s perceptions – both about working mums, and Muslim women in the workplace: "We all have our unconscious biases – perceptions about working mums not being as career driven as non-parent peers, or that hijab-wearing women are oppressed, or come from a conservative background. In reality, I love socialising and am a big foodie. At the same time, I'm a proud mum but I'm also incredibly driven in my professional and personal life.”
"Every conversation I have as a professional Muslim woman will broaden the horizons of whoever I’m speaking to"
Positive that change is possible, Asma acknowledges the challenges she faces as a Muslim woman. She affirms: “I’ve noticed differences in treatment, but nothing that can’t be worked through with open conversations. I don’t think I have ever lost out on a job because I wear a hijab. However, I also know that as a Pakistani female I have had to work twice as hard to be noticed and have my work recognised. I don’t think there’s any big-bang solution that will address equality, diversity and inclusivity issues. But I’m confident that every conversation you have has that ripple effect of change. Every conversation I have as a professional Muslim woman will broaden the horizons of whoever I’m speaking to, and it will result in changes in people’s perceptions and therefore behaviours.” #womeninthenhs #unsungheroes #NHSArdenGEMCommissioningSupportUnit #DerbyshireCommunityHealthServicesFT #LisieuxTrust #genevieveshaw #medicalblog
Genevieve Shaw, editor