On 1 February 2019 – World Hijab Day – trainees Aneesa Khan and Sofia Aslam ran an event at Ashurst to raise awareness of visible differences in the workplace.
Q. What was the reasoning behind the event?
Sofia: For me, wearing the hijab in the workplace led me to consider the impact of this visible difference on my professional experiences. In general, there are very few female lawyers who wear the hijab in the City. Aneesa and I noticed that there are a number of visible differences in the workplace (such as Jewish men who choose to wear the kippah, Sikh men who choose to wear the turban and individuals with physical disabilities etc.) and so we wanted to raise awareness of such differences and how we can make the workplace a more inclusive environment by recognising and supporting those with visible differences. From my perspective, it was important to highlight how wearing the hijab may impact the experiences of Muslim women who choose to wear this in the workplace – particularly for those within the legal profession.
Q. What event did you organise?
Aneesa: We ran a lunchtime event, consisting of a panel discussion led by us with input from Anthony Johnson (partner in the Projects team). The purpose of this was to encourage people to ask questions and to open discussion about visible differences in the workplace. In particular, we were keen to highlight how perceptions of, or unconscious biases towards people with visible differences, could impact their day to day experiences in the workplace.
Sofia: The focus of the event was not the religious beliefs behind the hijab, but the practical impact that visible differences may have. We wanted to encourage our colleagues to ask appropriate questions and promote the idea that we should all be proactive in taking an interest in the things that are important to our colleagues and their identities. We had started with a focus on the hijab, so in addition, there was a headscarf stand at the event where female colleagues could choose to cover their heads during or after the event. This gave our colleagues a chance to think about how it may feel to have a visible difference in the workplace.
Q. What sort of response did you get for the event?
Aneesa: We had a great turnout for the event, with the Chairman of the firm, Ben Tidswell, also attending. This allowed us to raise awareness of this important issue and put this on the agenda of senior members of management at Ashurst. After attending, Ashurst’s London Managing Partner, Ruth Harris, said: “The Ashurst World Hijab Day – Visible Differences lunchtime panel event was extremely enlightening. The key take away for me was that we should not be shy about discussing visible differences. Being inclusive does not mean pretending the differences do not exist and we should encourage a working environment in which open and respectful conversation is the norm.”
Q. What are your thoughts for the future?
Aneesa: Part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion should be about understanding how differences can impact our colleagues’ experiences of working in the City and how we can break down some potential barriers that differences (or the perception of differences) can create. Unconscious biases are ingrained within all of us and it is important to acknowledge and challenge these biases in order to foster a more inclusive working environment.
Sofia: Going forward, we should start by acknowledging and raising awareness of matters which may affect our colleagues, and open a dialogue on issues which may affect our own or our colleagues’ experiences in the workplace.
NOTICED Committee member Tony Di Angelo commented “Raising awareness of unconscious bias and the impact of visible differences in the workplace is an important way to encourage an inclusive working environment and ultimately increase diversity in the legal profession.”