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Hear My Story: Shifali Saini

Category: BAME, black history month

As part of our Black History Month celebrations we are talking to role models from the UK BAME community in order to offer an insight into their lives as well as help advise candidates and employers on how best to represent and encourage equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Shifali Saini

Estates Development Manager 

York St John University

“Research the job, prepare, apply and just go for it. Go into the marketplace with a positive mindset and try your best. Only then can you forge your own path.” Shifali

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a British Asian woman of Indian ethnicity. I was born in Wolverhampton, West Midlands and went to De Montfort University, School of Architecture where I studied Building Surveying, between the years of 1998 and 2001. After graduation I had my first job in facilities management, then went onto work for a railway consultancy. I then secured a role at Nottingham University and later I got the opportunity to work for a QS firm in Vancouver, British Columbia - that was the highlight of my career. I then returned to the UK and came to work at York St John in 2010. 

How did you end up making the choices you did?

It’s been interesting. The career advice when I was at school was a stereotypical view of what Asians and Asian women should do. Either go into law, medicine or business. I didn’t want to do any of these. They didn’t inspire me as an individual and my passions were elsewhere. The construction industry and architecture was something that I was drawn to, enjoyed and strove for. So I headed in that direction and haven’t regretted it so far. I’m not giving up, some days are easy - some days aren’t, but that’s life. I undertake each day as a new beginning and as a life lesson. Take each day as it comes and learn from it, adapt and develop from it. 

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced on your journey?

I have been pretty lucky along the way. Other than the stereotypical view of the school careers advisor I’ve been quite fortunate in terms of the experiences and opportunities that I’ve had. When talking to other BAME colleagues on a diversity and leadership course earlier this year, I discovered that we all felt we had to work twice as hard as other colleagues. We feel like we have a disadvantage (due to being a minority) therefore we have to prove that we are worthy of being within the profession. So, as a given, you end up working twice as hard. I suppose that’s the only challenge I can say I’ve had, other than a few moments of racist comments on-site, which were dealt with quickly and effectively and I felt supported. These have been very few and far between - two or three situations but still more than anyone should have to endure. I do feel I have been very lucky in my professional life, with the colleagues I’ve worked with. 

What positive influences and events have helped shape your career?

I can’t put it down to one thing. I’ve had positive role models in every job I’ve had and supportive colleagues at work. They’ve all played an important part in terms of where I am today. Looking up to line managers and how they work, and developing through this support network. 

What does Black History Month mean to you?

For me what it means is that it’s important for us to celebrate the contribution of the black, asian and minority ethnic communities on British history, culture and the modern world. It’s a chance to look at what positive change we’ve brought to the country and celebrate this.

Are there any figures, contemporary or historical that inspire you?

Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi. They are both empowering figures in their fight for equality through peace, non-violence and wisdom. They have changed the course of history and are still very present today and their legacy lives on. 

What do you do at work to affect positive change?

I’m the BAME Staff Network Co-Chair, as part of a new network we’re trying to establish with the BAME network at York St John. I also, along with my co-chair, have represented the staff members for the Race Equality Task Force, which was a year long project. We’ve taken concerns forward from staff and made certain recommendations to the executive board and governing body to ensure the BAME staff gain more visibility in the university. We’ve looked at the processes of academic promotions, recruitment and how we can improve BAME student visibility to increase BAME numbers in the university. 

What advice would you give BAME candidates looking to enter the higher education (HE) job market?

Research the job, prepare, apply and just go for it. Go into the marketplace with a positive mindset and try your best. Only then can you forge your own path. There’s been a lot of press around HE in recent times, about increasing visibility of BAME professionals and now is an opportunity to jump on these initiatives. I’m not saying that these opportunities weren’t there before but they are more in the public eye than they may have been. 

What advice would you give to employers or recruiters?

Make things fairer, look at your equal opportunities and see if there’s room for improvement. Make sure fair processes are clear and visible to candidates. What we talked about in the Race Equality Task Force was a percentage of BAME people feel that putting forward their ethnicity was detrimental to their application. For example having a name that is ethnically specific would reduce your chance of getting shortlisted, over someone with a western or traditionally British name. We had examples where people had actually changed their names to get a job. There are often harsh truths that come out with open discussion. So we need to look at what equal opportunities policies and procedures are and whether they work. Ensure there is fair recruitment across the board for everyone. 

I think it’s important to showcase people in director level or high profile positions from the BAME community. I think it’s aspiring and shows younger people that regardless of stereotypical views, that if you persist and work hard you can get to the top. I do think having representation and having role models of all levels is important. You need to bring it to the communities you’re looking to recruit and showcase these positive representations. Not only are you celebrating individual success, but opening up pathways of opportunities for a large number of young people. 

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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