We met the firecracker, Asma Shah, who set up charity You Make It to empower young unemployed women to realise their potential regardless of their background. CLO PR is part of the charity's mentorship scheme to support some of the cohort to build confidence and skills in PR and publicity. We loved talking to Asma. She tells us straight the situation of fighting for true diversity in business and society.
1. What drove you to set up You Make It?
My upbringing was such that I was raised by my single mum in Peckham on a council estate. My mum originally came to this country from Pakistan with my father and my 2 older sisters and myself and older sister were born here. She left a violent marriage while in London and welived in a refuge. From that moment on, my mum forged a successful career in education in which people believed in her and encouraged her to achieve against all the odds. Her determination for us to have a good start in life is what inspired me to set up You Make It.
Once out of university I got into the creative industry but was struck by the sheer density of white privilege and I found myself losing out on promotions next to my peers. 2011 was the beginning of austerity in this country and I saw how people with backgrounds like mine were falling through the cracks in employment and support. This was topped with many years living inthe East End, where I saw how the divide between rich and poor had begun to build, with coffee shops never employing women of colour. In the aftermath of my mum passing, and the reflection this provoked her struggles and those of myself and sisters, I decided it was time to change what I was seeing around me and propel women’s lives against the odds.
2. What has surprised you most about the women who come through You Make It?
Nothing. I am like them. I’m 44 now and know what it’s like to grow up in difficult circumstances. Women are resilient and strong. What does surprise me, though, is that the women who come through are not jumped on by employers. Statistics highlight that unemployment has dropped in London but this is not the case for black and Asian demographics. We’ve got a long way to go. I think Brexit and the Windrush scandal have started to show that people are acknowledging racism as real.
3. What do you think is the biggest value women gain from You Make It?
We help to give women self-worth and a sense of entitlement to improve their personal and professional lives. Sisterhood is built into our programme. These women have tiny circles of friends and contacts. They may have depression or have suffered abuse and neglect. We show them that they’re not alone. People in working class backgrounds are not exposed to lessons on how to build contacts - we help them to grow their network and their confidence.
4. What’s been your proudest moment since starting up You Make It?
Every graduation event is a proud moment. It’s when myself and the team are truly reminded why we’re doing this and hear the journeys the women have been on. It’s always a time when I think, ‘Oh my god, this works!’ and a chance to reflect on the fact that I took risks to set up a company with £3k, juggling paid work. The number of programmes we launch double every year and it’s still working.
5. The rise of #metoo and #timesup has created an important opening in discussion on gender equality but it has also put fear into young women of what they may expect to experience in the working world. What would you say to those about to pursue a career?
On entering the workforce you’ve got to have a strong understanding of your self-worth. You Make It does exactly this - it coaxes it out of our cohorts. If you’re confident, you’ll be in a better position to challenge discrimination in the workplace. It’s important to be fearless.
6. Many women experience so called imposter syndrome. Is this something you’ve experienced and do you have any tips on managing it?
This is not just an issue of gender. Company management - particularly run by white middle class men - has a responsibility to build cultures that promote and reward people based on their merit, rather than just because you look and talk like them.
7. You Make It currently operates within the area of Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Are there plans to expand to other areas?
I have thought long and hard about building impact in other areas. However, we have created something in the East End, as I understand it and I am part of the community. We’re looking at ways of growing it by sharing knowledge of how we work with other organisations and how they can apply our model. Sharing what we do for others to do it feels right, otherwise we risk diluting our mission.
8. Where do you get your inspiration?
My personal experience and being a responsible member of society by looking at inequality and deciding what needs to happen are both inspiring to me. Also, the women we work with inspire me - they make me carry on. There is an element of accountability and the need to contribute to the social and cultural capital we’re building together.
9. Who do you look up to?
Myself. I appreciate my background, of being one of 4 girls where there was not always an emotional focus on us as my mum was often working. I respect what I’ve managed to do from where I’ve come from. I also think ‘look up to’ is interesting - I believe we’re all equal and no one should look up to anyone.
10. What plans does You Make It have in store this year?
As a charity, we’re fighting for survival. We have programmes locked down until the end of the year but it’s all about raising funds to continue the good work. We're focusing on a mix of traditional fundraising and partnering with organisations and sponsors for the 2019 programmes. We’ll be doing more thinking around how to share our model through a You Make It Knowledge Hub which will share practice with stakeholders who want to learn from us.