Meet the lady busy breaking barriers for Muslim girls around the world 

Tuesday 12th December 2023

“Your choice of clothing shouldn’t be a barrier to the career you want,” are the words of Aminah Shafiq, 26 from East Birmingham, who designed the first PPE Hijab at Severn Trent. A design that would quite literally take the engineering world by storm.

The water quality scientist at Severn Trent who wears a headscarf, felt that there was a gap in the company’s PPE catalogue that meant when visiting water treatment sites there wasn’t a practical option that factored it in. And that’s where what’s believed to be the first inclusive PPE hijab was created.

Since making the initial prototype with PPE manufacturers Pulsar in 2021, Aminah has been approached by other companies looking to implement the PPE hijab in the workplace, and through Pulsar, the PPE Hijab is now accessible globally.

In turn, this means she’s helped inspire a younger generation of Muslim girls who now feel they can embark on a career in engineering with the PPE hijab as an option, with their choice of wearing a headscarf not affecting them.

Unless it impacts you directly, people won’t really know the barrier something like this can have and it’s been a true experience in why diversity matters,” says Aminah. “I guess there’s not many Muslim women engineers or working operationally, so the ask hasn’t always been there – but since creating it I’ve had so many women and young girls get in touch who have told me they are looking into a career in engineering now, now they know that something like this exists.

“For me, it was the issue of having to excuse myself to adjust my headscarf if it was a little uncomfortable under PPE jackets, or my hardhat not fitting properly or having lots of material to think about where to place it. I didn’t want to seem awkward, or have to keep nipping out to sort myself out. I just wanted to be able to turn up to site and feel prepared and safe while doing the work. The great thing though, was just how receptive everyone was – my manager and Severn Trent were 100% behind the design, creation and roll out, I know I’m lucky that my employer was so receptive as not everywhere is.”

Aminah following the launch of the PPE headscarf was invited to deliver speeches at conferences around inclusivity in the workplace, has been a keynote speaker to help support other companies with their diversity discussions, featured on many radio interviews including over in America as well as appearing on the Islam Channel. She’s won awards at the Water Industry Awards and British Muslim Awards, and was also one of the exclusive baton bearers at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games. All of which has helped raise awareness reaching millions of young Muslim women across the world to inspire them to reach for the career they want.

More recently, Aminah recently has been visiting schools with the support of BBC bitesize to give talks to young people around not only her role as a water quality scientist, but why she created the PPE hijab in the first place, and how speaking up led to the change.

“It’s not always easy to speak up, especially if it highlights something that people may not fully understand or get, so it’s easy to feel a bit vulnerable. But if no one ever spoke up, then change wouldn’t happen – we’re far from a world where there’s a one size fits all approach.”

To continue the progress and momentum at Severn Trent, Aminah now also sits on the company's Ethnicity Network Group, that sets out to help make sure the company is forward thinking and making the right choices when it comes to inclusivity.

Aminah and Severn Trent developed the initial prototype back in October 2021. The light, cool material means its comfortable throughout the day, and the fit means it doesn’t need to be adjusted as often while still appropriately covering hair and Aminah drew inspiration from athletic headscarves that are snug, so they can fit comfortably under helmets. The design went worldwide, but what she’s most proud of is the overwhelming response from those young girls and women who are looking to embark on a career in engineering or operations.

It’s great that diversity in this sense has drove innovation on something that’s had such a positive outcome.

“The last few years have been a whirlwind, but If just one person now feels like they can take up a career in engineering after now seeing that companies have access to the PPE headscarf, then it’s all been worth it.” Aminah adds, “My advice to anyone who feels like a small change could make a difference, is to speak up and just go for it – you never know the impact it can have and the world of difference it can make to someone else’s future.”