She talks Strictly Come Dancing, starting up an organisation and engaging men in gender justice: @hnaima17 @fearlessfutures
We love the name, why did you choose the name Fearless Futures?
Fearless is a word that I think you feel when you can live true to who you are. It is also the condition that would follow when you look at the world and see that it has been designed for you; so that you actually don’t have anything to fear. It sums up both the obligation we have to re-build a world that serves everyone, and the commitment it takes personally to pioneer and push. It recognises also that it doesn’t yet exist and we have to work and struggle for it.
Who inspires you?
Fatima McCloskey (my mum) has to top this list. Without her I would be without some important and powerful perspectives. Her life (before me!) as a Muslim woman growing up in Algeria, as an immigrant to the UK coming to study and then eventually staying and having me and my sister with my Dad, profoundly inform how I see the world. I think her story has made me someone who seeks to stand up for others. She was my introduction to theoretical feminism – through the books on her shelves that I devoured - and real life feminism through my grandmother and her stories.
You recently spoke at WinTec16 - Women of Silicon Roundabout Conference - on a panel of female founders. What made you leave your job in investment banking and set up Fearless Futures?
I was an investment banker for 6 years working in Infrastructure Finance Advisory. While I really enjoyed my job and found it intellectually stimulating, I had discovered over the years that the problem I was truly committed to solving was that of gender (in)equalities.
I ended up leaving because I got angry, which is often a good motivator for action! I was so frustrated with the slow pace of change and of hearing the same nonsense over and over. Albert Einstein said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a sign of insanity. I agree.
It’s unfashionable to say, but there are a lot of people who tell you that we can solve these big important questions with a cheeky webinar or by ticking some boxes. I call bullshit on that. This stuff is hard. There is no shortcut to racial and gender justice. Even though I wish there was, truly.
So I set up an organisation that we think honours the complexity of these issues and supports people and organisations to work through them. A lot of people feel that ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ are the end goal. For me, they are the starting point. I’m excited about what will happen and emerge when we can be together as people and be held accountable for our actions and listen to those whose experiences are different to ours and take the risks to stand up for justice.
What’s the hardest thing about starting up an organisation?
I was by myself for 18 months before I could afford to hire our amazing COO, Rachael. It was very lonely and while I had support from my husband and family and friends, it’s so hard to describe the intensity of feelings you have when day in and day out all you have are your thoughts and in many cases the rejection from people who don’t get what you’re doing. It’s tough being both resilient and resistant while also hearing the feedback from those who don’t get it and incorporating their hesitations into your development and growth.
When you’re not thinking about Fearless Futures what do you do?
Ha! It’s a good question. It’s hard to disconnect when you’re so tied up in the organisation’s existence and survival. And yet self-care is really important otherwise you can’t give the best of yourself. I LOVE watching Strictly Come Dancing; I get so sad when it ends. I enjoy dance so much that I really should take dance classes – it’s on my to-do list. I love watching series like How to Get Away with Murder and Scandal! I LOVE going to the cinema. I love meeting up with friends. I also love sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea watching a documentary with my husband. I love a lot of stuff.
Do you think engaging men is crucial to equality for women? If so, how?
I get asked this a lot. I think men are crucial to creating a gender just world, but I believe it is primarily the responsibility of men to engage men in this. Just as I believe it is the responsibility of white people to engage white people in understanding the privilege that whiteness affords them in society. This is why our work with men in the workplace, through our partnership with The Great Initiative, is led and facilitated by men. It's important that men have the space to assess the role that masculinity plays in their life (and how patriarchy harms them – and bell hooks writes brilliantly about this). It's also about moving from thought to action. It's all very well for any person to say, "I stand with [insert group]" - but if you don't speak up for them in their absence; ask that group "How can I best support you?" and be an ally on the frontlines; it's sort of meaningless. For any person committed to change, deep self-awareness of how you contribute to the problem is essential - because we are all involved in everything. Only by starting with that foundation, can you then engage in the day to day practise that can begin to shift our collective culture.
What are you trying to achieve and why?
A world in which all people are free to show up as their whole selves, who can live in dignity with respect. Why? Because nothing else is good enough!
Thanks Hanna! See you at #WinTec17 @ Tobacco Dock on the 11th May :)