Pass the Mic Sis was established in May 2017 in response to the need for a Professional Muslim women’s networking event series, that was inclusive and accessible for all, without cost of memberships and commitment to attend every session (although it’s lovely to see sisters attend regularly!). Here is Founder, Sadiqa Jabbar’s reflection on how we were formed.

“The seeds of the Pass the Mic Sis roots were planted at the end of 2016 during a company Business Development CPD day. During the session there was a call to action for fee earning staff to step up their game to assist with bringing in business leads. I don’t belong to a network of people who would necessarily provide the type of work the company undertakes, so the thought was ‘how on earth would I be able to bring business leads?’ To add to this I had recently taken my final qualification exam a few days earlier, so there was no gently easing into the role of an architect from an assistant. Talk about a ‘rabbit caught in headlights’ moment!

With this in mind the concept of networking to expand my contacts came to fruit. To contextualise this, I am a genuine network-phobe especially within the industry. When attending lectures talks and exhibitions, once the main event is over, I will literally run out as soon as the networking ‘drinks’ portion of the evening begins.

The problem here was two-fold. Firstly the networking anxiety heralds from deep-rooted issues of identity, being a relatively short, ethnic minority woman, who is visibly Muslim. Considering the current social-political environment, being genuinely accepted and valued by industry peers is highly important to me. We can no longer avoid the issue by brushing it aside in guise of being politically correct or declaring we live in times of secular equality, which immediately indirectly erases one’s right to belong to multiple forms of community groups. Highly debatable, although frankly mates, it’s the reality.

Secondly, this outward dilemma of perceptions, acceptance and inclusion at industry events, doesn’t mix so well with the internal anxiety of not being a natural small-talk generator amongst a room full of strangers. Coming from a straight talker, small talk gets a bit monotonous and boring, imagine saying the same thing over and over again. I am more for a single meaningful conversation than many small-talk chats. The question is how does one make it fun and meaningful at the same time?

With all these issues running through my head, I unintentionally pressured myself into thinking that I had to fit in with the industry norm of how and when one should network and for what purpose. Over the coming months I considered my options and realised that instead of trying to become something or someone I am not, I should identify with who I am and use networking as a tool that works for me, not the other way round. I had to think outside the box and be more creative in my approach.

So with these new energised self-motivating thoughts, I began with my comfort zone, women, and more so Muslim women. I looked online for networking groups for Muslim women. Through the search I found the SMART Women group on the social site Meetup, which catered to working Muslim women. Through social activities, I began for the first time in a long time, if not ever, meeting other Muslim women from a diverse range of professional sectors. Wow, I thought.

It was great to begin with as I was networking in a social capacity and as most can testify, potential clients can be found in the must unpredictable situations. It was an eye-opener, as I have never really worked with other Muslims let alone Muslim women during my architectural career to date. It felt good to meet like-minded Muslimahs with some shared experiences. However with the company’s call to action still in the back of my head, I felt that needed to take this a step further.

So I posed a question to the ladies within the WhatsApp group if anyone would be up for business-oriented meets to talk through work and career related issues within a professional setting rather than coffee shops (where it was difficult to conduct a conversation). With quite a few sisters interested a group was formed, a venue generously offered, and date arranged for our first networking event on Bank Holiday Monday 1st May 2017. Alhumdulillah.

The concept behind the creation of the networking group was to provide an inclusive free to access platform for professional Muslim women to support, learn, and develop within a network of other like-minded Muslim women from diverse industries. Many of us don’t work with other Muslims let alone Muslim women so having this support network has proven to be a breath of fresh air for many of us, Alhumdulillah. We hope that sisters will find the network to collaborate and generate opportunities or redirect to specialist support if and when required, in shaa Allah.”

During the course of our first year we were able to reach sisters from a wide range of professional fields; doctors, psychologists, solicitors, architects, IT professionals, charity workers, teachers to scientists to name a few. Some sisters are single and either living with family or have moved to London for work/studies, while others are married with and without children. We feel we have a good mix of cultural backgrounds to create a richer more holistic fusion of perspectives during our discussion segments. Naturally newfound friendships were formed and a sense of a familial community created.

Interests vary and over time we had some sisters become regular attendees, some topics tended to be more naturally popular while others became intimate focus groups with more in depth conversations had. The choices of topics were based initially on the Founder’s interests, although we adapted and provided sessions over time requested by sisters through feedback received. Our most popular sessions tended to be those where sisters were able to learn about a new topic and engage in conversation-style discussion segments. We realised that these sessions were important platforms for Muslims sisters to gather and talk. It is important to provide platforms and facilitate, Muslim women to talk freely within a network of sisters who understand the sensibilities of being a female Muslim. It is just as important to be able to do so in a safe, empowering and uplifting environment that will not compromise our Islamic principles.

Our aim for the coming year is to reach a wider range of Professional Muslim Women at various levels of experience across all sectors by using social media to publicise future events. We aim for a monthly meetup although this may change to every two months pending availability of venues, hosts, and the nature of subject matter. We are hoping to attract more guest speakers to add value to the events and topics we organise with follow up sessions from the previous year. In shaa Allah!