Deeba portrait


Advice to jobseekers

I know you would think that having a chip on your shoulder is a bad thing, but it gives you drive. It gives you motivation. I worked hard to get here, so I don’t want to pull up the ladder for anyone behind me. I want to give a ladder to somebody, just like people did for me. Ultimately, whatever seems bad at the time, discrimination, stereotypes, failure, so long as you turn it into something good, then it was a good thing that happened to you. It’s all about what you make of it.

Advice to employers

We need to take positive action that actually comes to fruition. No more empty promises and nice words. Personally, I’m in favour of positive discrimination. If that’s what it took for women to get better representation in Parliament, you need to have all women shortlists. So, you need to have all BAME shortlists. You need to have jobs where you’re only looking for a BAME person. At first, maybe it is tokenism, but we need to get people used to seeing those people in those roles until it’s not tokenism anymore. There are plenty of mediocre people in roles and no one ever says that a problem. It’s not really a meritocracy because let’s face it your entire organisation would be different if it was.

“I’m a discrimination lawyer, but it took me a very long time to become a lawyer, and I think that’s partly to do with my background. But I’m here!

You have to go to law school, and you have to get a training contract from a law firm. Getting the training contract part is the hardest bit. Law firms are very white, middle-class; they want a certain type of candidate and if you deviated from the school, university, law firm path, they’re very skeptical. I went back and did extra A-Levels – this is when I was like 25 – because I felt like I had to compensate so much with exceptional grades. I smashed that extra A-Level, but it didn’t seem to matter. I’ve got a Muslim name and a learning difficulty. I felt like on paper, I wasn’t good enough. I felt like I had to jump through so many more hoops than everyone else. I did all the extra-curricular stuff and more! You have to go to these law firm events where you meet these trainee lawyers who are like, “I was in the rowing club and then bam, I got my training contract, no problem”. That was all it took. I’m like, “Mate, I was on the committee of everything at Uni and after, I was organising this, this, this…”, so I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting in the door. I couldn’t ever put my finger on it, but I think I knew deep down what was happening. I was just being overlooked again and again. That’s why traditionally nothing gets done about [discrimination in the job market], because you can’t prove it. I worked so hard to get there, I felt like I had a lot to prove because I had struggled at school too. Some people just float into these law firm, and are like, “I just slipped them an application” and that was it. It just seemed so easy for them because they looked the part and had the right background. There I was like getting up at 5 in the morning to work on my law firms applications and nothing. I was militant about it. I threw my entire life into it, so I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting further. I guess I thought effort equals success, but that’s so not the case. It took me 3 years to get my training contract, and the only reason I got it was because it was a training contract for people who are disadvantaged in some way.”