Opinion: The Importance of Role Models | Asma Nafees, Chief Analytics Officer, NHS Arden & GEM CSU
Everything is possible with the right role models
I have recently been reflecting on my life and career journey to date. My role models have been crucial.
First in my mind is my late maternal grandfather (Baba), who came to this country as a student immigrant and had a real focus on education. It was never, “If you go to university,” but always, “When you go to university,” in our house.
"As I have moved through my career, the importance of role models who look like me is so valuable."
Then there is my late grandmother (Nani), who, despite being illiterate, learned to recite the Quran in her fifties through sheer grit and determination. And of course, my immigrant parents, who worked 12-hour-days to ensure that all six of us siblings had a roof over our heads, food on the table and a strong work ethic.
Our environment is so important and plays such a huge part in our mindset. The importance of strong role models is fundamental, especially for underrepresented communities.
As I have moved through my career, the importance of role models who look like me is so valuable. As a new hijabi in 2014 — I hadn’t worn a headscarf before then — I sought out leaders who looked like me, as people I could aspire to be like. At the time there weren’t many.
As I look around me now, in 2022, I love how many strong female hijabi leaders I see. Nighat Arif is one of them. To see a successful hijabi lady on mainstream television, showing the neat juxtaposition of a successful, witty and intelligent doctor who is also able to be true to herself and her beliefs by wearing a hijab, fills me with hope that my hijab won’t be a hindrance to my career journey.
I attended a board development day last week with colleagues from the charity I am a trustee for, Lisieux Trust. In the context of a conversation around diversity, our Chair shared a quote he had come across about true inclusivity being when you can “bring your whole self to work”.
"As a Muslim, hijab-wearing, professional mum-of-four, I love talking about my own experience in the hope that it inspires other women"
For me, that means my ability to wear ethnic clothes to the office if I choose, which I did at the last SLT meeting at Arden and GEM. It also means my ability to pause for a break and pray at a designated time. I was pleased that our facilitator asked me if there was a particular time I needed a break to be scheduled so that I could pray because he remembered me from our last session.
The more we are able to be our true authentic selves the better. Inwardly, this means not having to mute our female voices for fear of being called “aggressive” rather than “assertive”. Outwardly, it means being able to wear a hijab and not worrying that it will impact on career development or lead people to assume you are there to make the tea and take notes!
I’d like to take a moment to thank those women who have inspired me, like Nighat Arif, and Shahana Khan, the first hijabi Director of Finance I came across in the NHS. I hope too that I can inspire the future generation of girls who are embarking upon their career paths so that they are able to live by their values and never feel hindered by virtue of wanting to have both a career and a family.
As a Muslim, hijab-wearing, professional mum-of-four, I love talking about my own experience in the hope that it inspires other women who might mistakenly feel like they need to choose between having a career or having a family. Everything is possible with the right role models!
Genevieve Shaw, Editor