Aminah Shafiq is a senior water quality advisor at Severn Trent Water, a water utility company. Aminah completed a placement with the company while at university, and never left. She has now created a PPE-specific headscarf to cater for Muslim women in the construction and engineering sector.
“A lot of people have commended me and my company for representing the minority that is Muslim women in industry. The fact that so many have been inspired to promote diversity and inclusivity, as well as health and safety is truly remarkable.”
The right chemistry
I have a first-class degree in chemical engineering, which I completed and graduated in July 2019 from Aston University. As part of my degree, I completed an undergraduate placement with Severn Trent Water as a senior water quality advisor in the Public Health and Standards team in 2017.
After I graduated, I returned to Severn Trent in November 2019 doing the same role and have been since!
Providing wholesome water for more than 8 million customers
As a senior advisor, I help to ensure wholesome water is provided to over eight million of our customers in the Midlands region of the UK.
Part of my role is to reactively risk assess water quality failures from the water source (rivers, reservoirs, underground aquifers), across the treatment process and in the distribution network all the way to the customers’ taps. I am expected to risk assess various parameters that could affect the water quality across a range of locations. I then investigate these and run with the investigation until any issues have been resolved.
Our main goal is to protect public health by ensuring the water we provide is safe to drink, and any deviations from wholesome water are thoroughly investigated.
The skillset in our team is quite extensive. As well as understanding the operational aspect of the treatment process of water, we are also expected to directly communicate with customers and provide them with excellent customer service. This can mean anything from carrying out audits at our treatment sites, to visiting customers properties to help resolve their water quality concerns.
There is also a wide range of chemistry, biology, and engineering knowledge we must have to ensure we are providing the right advice to internal and external stakeholders of the company and have awareness of what compounds exist in water and at what levels they could pose as a health risk.
Being a key-worker during the COVID-19 pandemic
As key workers, our teams worked through the pandemic, but remotely instead of in the office. Being a reactive team, remote working had its limitations. Being in each other’s physical presence is always more effective in terms of knowledge-sharing and getting advice from one another.
We have to supply water to our customers every day, so as a team we quickly adapted to any restrictions and our teams continued to work hard throughout the pandemic.
Creating a PPE-specific headscarf
As part of my role, we visit treatment sites regularly for various reasons, but mainly to better understand how our treatment processes affect water quality.
We are provided with standard PPE to wear on these operational visits, but my headscarf was always an issue when dressing in my PPE before a site visit. I would either have to tuck it into my high vis jacket (to avoid the loose material getting caught in something), or tighten the helmet straps so it wouldn’t wobble.
I found that there was nothing tailored to headwear in the PPE catalogue, so I began thinking about how introducing something of the sort would not just help me, but help others like me in the industry.
I took inspiration from an athletic headscarf, as it has two main features that I figured would resolve the concerns I had; minimal loose material and a snug fit. The snug fit ensures the helmet fits my head and provides the protection it is meant to, and the minimal loose material means there is less risk of my headscarf being caught in equipment such as industrial fans.
I took my design forward to the relevant team, and a prototype was sent over. The feedback on the prototype was really positive, and as a result, it has been rolled out to the company and is now part of our PPE catalogue!
A massive win for inclusion
The reaction to this PPE headscarf has been absolutely crazy, and I have had MULTIPLE ‘pinch me’ moments over the last few weeks. Everyone at Severn Trent is really proud and have been so supportive throughout the entire process.
I also wrote up a LinkedIn post, accompanied by myself modelling the headscarf. I didn’t anticipate that it would get the attention of so many! As a result, I have had numerous radio and TV interviews, and the headscarf has gained a lot of interest from the engineering industry, with several companies looking to implement a similar concept.
A lot of people have commended me and my company for representing the minority that is Muslim women in industry. The fact that so many have been inspired to promote diversity and inclusivity, as well as health and safety is truly remarkable.
I also cannot help but feel thankful for the positive energy that I have been surrounded by from my colleagues, friends, and family over the last few weeks. Aside from being such a huge success for me, it feels like a win for so many other people too.
Let’s eliminate prejudice and discrimination
I think diversity is really important for the success of a company, because a diverse group of people will approach a task/situation with different opinions, perspectives, and solutions. We are all a product of the lifestyle we have, and our different experiences could push us to resolve really difficult problems, or problems we didn’t even know existed!
Diversity helps to maximise innovation, which is so important in a sector that is constantly changing and adapting to what’s currently going on in the world e.g., COVID-19 and climate change.
Furthermore, being open to a diverse workplace will ultimately make the world a better place. People from different backgrounds should be encouraged to have open conversations on their beliefs and values so that we can educate each other, and completely eliminate societal flaws such as prejudice, discrimination, and racial hatred.
Ensuring our people can be themselves at work
At Severn Trent we have many advisory groups, such as LGBTQ+, ethnicity and disability, that work hard to ensure we’re creating as inclusive and diverse culture as possible. There’s always celebrations across the business such as Pride, Diwali etc, to make sure our colleagues are educated and understand each other.
It’s really important that to run a successful business there’s different people from all walks of life who bring different experiences and knowledge. That’s why it’s really vital that people know that they can be themselves at work, which is why something like the PPE headscarf will hopefully show others that working at a place like Severn Trent, you will feel included.
Sending out a strong message that engineering is a safe and inclusive place for all
The response to the PPE headscarf was completely unexpected, so for now I am still enjoying this experience as it unfolds.
However, in the future, I hope to use the platform that I have built to encourage more open conversations surrounding diversity and inclusivity and if I can, be the voice of ethnic minorities who have their reservations about pursuing a career in any field they’d like to.
I am definitely looking forward to the future of the engineering industry, and hope that this small addition to our PPE sends out a strong message to all the upcoming engineers that it is a safe and inclusive place for all. It is also really exciting to see how far the PPE headscarf will go!