External Relations - Fatima Mohamed
Written By: Timiro Mohamed
As seen in the February issue of Lazy Faire magazine.
I had the opportunity to sit down with former editor-in-chief of Lazy Faire, my good friend Fatima Mohamed, a recent UofA Marketing Grad who works with the Alberta Women Entrepreneurs. We had an honest conversation about navigating the business world as a Black Muslim woman and overcoming imposter syndrome.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, what major did you pursue? Why did you choose it?
I majored in marketing and minored in SMO and I graduated in June 2019. I was one of those people that hopped from major to major every other semester. My parents initially allowed me to do business because I promised I’d either pursue accounting or finance, majors they saw as offering security. When I eventually picked marketing, I did well at it and I ultimately gravitated towards creativity. I’ve always loved using that side of my brain and teaching myself how to pick up new skills by tapping into my creativity. It is something that allows me to destress and is really my passion.
How was the transition from school to work-life?
I was done school about 6 months before my actual graduation, so there was a lot of uncertainty. I am a heavy believer in taking time for yourself and putting your mental health and well-being before anything else in this world. When I finished my classes, I was lucky enough to secure a contract position with the UofA for multiple months. Afterward, I decided to take a month to visit family in Toronto and take time for myself. When I returned for graduation, the dread set in. There are so many talented, hard-working people and it just takes time for us to find the perfect fit. My life at that time was just going to job interviews and chatting with recruiters. Finally, I found a job working for a non-profit that I absolutely love. The people there respect the work I do and bring out a side of me that I love. The thing with non-profits is that they’re small, but everyone is very involved. Often we are forced to do things out of necessity and I think if I’d had to wait another month or two to find a job, I may have been in another situation. But thankfully, this job came at the right time.
How did you navigate life on campus and now in the workplace as a visibly black Muslim woman?
It was a huge challenge, especially in the business faculty which is very skewed racially. When I [would see] another black person, especially other Black Muslim women, walking on campus in the business building I felt a sense of joy. Finding someone who looked like me, being able to connect, take classes together and support each other was so important. As cliche as it may seem a lot of the time, as a black person, you are a token and that’s not what I aim to be. But you can be the representation that you’ve been yearning for, for someone else. Be it your hijab or your skin, being yourself when you go to that conference or you join that club, just doing the normal things that you believe will help your personal development, can push the envelope.
Often, I was the only black person in the room and it got to me at times, but it didn’t stop me. I knew I came here to do something, so I said to myself, “I’m going to do my job and excel at it.”
When I work towards my goals, I know I’m doing it for myself but also because I’m bringing another voice to spaces I join. There is a power in that, in realizing you can just be yourself and you can be changing the things around you. The more people that speak up and join things the more inclusive and diverse it becomes. People have to invite groups of people who don’t usually feel represented because it can be scary to apply for things if they are all white. So it is definitely on the university and its clubs to make open spaces. Also, you as a minority should feel comfortable to push aside doubt and imposter syndrome, and go for the things you are passionate about.
How have you been able to find purpose in spite of Imposter Syndrome and stop it from getting in the way?
Let me just say that imposter syndrome is real. What I’ve noticed is a lot of times the people who are the most qualified have imposter syndrome, [including] a lot of women and POC who actually have the resume and the skills to back up their work, whereas people who are underqualified go for things maybe due to a certain mindset. If you always see a given group succeeding, you may feel represented and as if you are more likely to succeed. But as one of the only [minorities] in the room, you question yourself although you know you have the skills and you got this position by merit. I remember specifically right after finishing all my classes and getting a job at the UofA. I had just come up the elevator and I was about to go on the pedway. For the first time, I had a sort of panic attack, my heart was racing and I couldn’t leave the elevator. I thought I was just going to drop down and die. I was thinking, this is my first legitimate job outside of student position. It was my first full-time adult job and it felt like a reality check position. I was panicking thinking they’d find out I’m a fraud, and that they made a huge mistake. All the while I knew I was super qualified for the role. But you have to talk yourself out of it as you go day by day. How I navigated that was by taking everything one step at a time, and always reminding myself I am qualified and that I’m someone who’s done good work time and time again, so why not this time?
How does it feel to work for a company committed to supporting women in entrepreneurship as a black woman?
I absolutely love my job. I’ve always loved non-profits and a lot of the work I did in University: either part-time or volunteer positions have been for non-profits. I feel having a purpose and doing something fulfilling is very important to me. I tried my best to look for those types of roles when I was job hunting. So when I got that role everything felt natural to me. My mom is an entrepreneur and has been for the past 10 years. Seeing her hustle, grind and be so passionate inspires me. Knowing this organization’s sole purpose was to help people like my mom thrive was amazing to me. Sometimes, past jobs felt routine. I didn’t regret anything but every day felt like a job where I was just clocking in and clocking out. But this is one of the few positions where every morning I am genuinely excited to come to work. Even in my role, I feel like I am contributing to the mission of the company. As a black woman, what I’m so grateful for in this organization is diversity. Although I am the only black woman, we’re an all-female team with people from all walks of life. When I came in for the third interview I honestly felt at ease. Just walking in and seeing diversity being celebrated, I felt like I needed to be there. The types of environments where diversity and empowerment are celebrated are the types of environments I want to be in.