Contribution by Sharifa Hashem (pronouns: she/her), Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust (SWASFT).
My history has some complex issues, even though my day-to-day life is recognisable to many. I work in an office-based job, I’m engaged, we have two beautiful dogs and enjoy travelling. The complexity behind that is that I was born Muslim, I’m an immigrant, I am gay, my partner is female, and I am Arab British living in Devon.
I was born in Bahrain and grew up there until the age of 11, in the midst of civil unrest and uprisings in the country. We arrived in the UK in the winter of 1996 to unfamiliar surroundings and a school system that I wasn’t able to participate in without the necessary language skills. As a child who is a political refuge, I soon realised that my ‘otherness’ was both visible and challenging to those around me.
I was aware in order for me to achieve my potential I would need to better my language skills, so I set about learning through reading. I started reading books with one word and a picture, progressing to books with simple sentences, onto books with paragraphs and a year from that I was in real danger of having read every book in the school library!
My history meant that I was interested in people and the way the world around them impacted their lives. I completed a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, followed by a Master of Arts in Gender and Identity in the Middle East, and a Master of Philosophy in Social Policy. Then, I worked as a support worker for young adults in social care settings and I started a human rights group, which travelled to places like The United Nations and US State Department. Eventually, I started as the Patient Engagement Manager for SWASFT, leading on the delivery of over 300 events a year, including pride events and cultural celebrations. Today, I’m in my new role as Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
My commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion is a very personal journey. I know first-hand how it feels to be ‘othered’ and voiceless. I also know how it feels to overcome obstacles and feel supported. My journey to get here was supported by countless helping hands, from my school librarian who always knew which book to suggest, to my teachers who read my university application, to my colleagues who read my job statements and those who continue to mentor and support me.
I recognise I am a case study in intersectionality in some ways, and this can make my job role quite personal because I can relate to some of the barriers faced by others around me. This level of lived experience ensures I continue to view each person as their whole self, and recognise that system change is the best way towards equity. I am currently working on implementing a prioritisation plan for SWASFT looking at the areas which will ensure the best impact in the long term, and how we continue to support our staff and communities in the interim. Our systems must be equitable not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because everyone will benefit from a more diverse, equal and inclusive work space.
My visibility is not a choice; it is part of what makes me who I am. While I may have wished to be less visible growing up, I now realise my visibility may allow others to see opportunities that they had not considered before. Visibility matters, equality matters, your voice matters, so make it heard.