Inspirational Woman: Dilshad Sheikh | Dean of the Faculty of Business, Arden University

Dilshad SheikhDilshad joined Arden University’s Faculty of Business in November 2020 becoming, in the process, its first ever Dean.

Bringing with her 20 years of experience as an academic in the Higher Education sector, she has been tasked with building a faculty from scratch – evolving Arden’s existing portfolios of business and healthcare management programmes and driving the creation of the university’s new schools. Dilshad is also passionate about equal opportunities, is a CMI Companion and chairs the combined West Midlands and North West CMI regional board.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I have over 20 years of experience in the Higher Education sector gained from multiple roles – these have ranged from teaching in the classroom right through to senior management positions.

I currently hold a strategic leadership position as Dean of the Faculty of Business at Arden University and I’m very proud to have been appointed as Arden’s first ever Dean, giving me the exciting opportunity to build a faculty from scratch.  My previous appointments have included working for a variety of local, national and global organisations in supervisory, management and leadership roles, predominantly in retail management, international marketing and brand management.

The move into academia and the Higher Education sector came as a result of my aspirations to help equip individuals from all backgrounds with the skills and character to achieve their personal ambitions as well as giving them to means to make a positive impact on their communities.

I am a CMI Chartered Companion as well as a CMI volunteer where I chair the newly combined West Midlands and North West region. In addition, I am also a member of the CMI Regional Devolved National Advisory Committee where I have the opportunity to meet with the chairs of other boards and the CMI Executive to discuss a range of strategic priorities to enhance the regional and national membership experience and focus on key topics of interest, such as mental health and wellbeing, digital skills and building back better.

On a personal level, I am the youngest of seven children and had the opportunity to go to university. I am multilingual and fluent in five languages and was born in Nairobi, Kenya – however I have lived pretty much all of my life in the UK. I am very fortunate to have two boys who are both in secondary school.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

To be honest, I didn’t – in the early stages of my career I wanted to work in a role that allowed me to utilise my multi-lingual ability and I spent a few years in France to perfect my French.

Following this, I returned to the UK not really knowing what I wanted to do and decided to give teaching a go on a part time basis. I started by teaching A Levels and thoroughly enjoyed the student experience and interactions. I then went on to become a Lecturer in Business Management and Marketing and progressed my career from that point. My friends who I studied with at university always used to say that they could imagine me as an academic engaged in books and research!

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, as a female from an ethnic minority origin and a widening participation background, it was extremely difficult to break the glass ceiling and be appointed to senior positions in academia. I felt that I had to be 10 times better than my white male counterparts and would often be unsuccessful at being appointed to senior positions.

I would always highlight my double whammy of being both female and from a minority ethnic background. This is where my passion developed to support ethnic minority females into senior academic positions.

I have a keen interest in the diversity and inclusivity of organisations and have delivered several keynote presentations both locally and nationally advocating the benefits of a diverse management and leadership teams. I continue to engage with audiences across a variety of sectors in my endeavours to encourage and inspire more females when it comes to attaining senior leadership roles.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Having two children and being appointed as Arden University’s first ever Dean has been a big achievement for me. My current role has proven to be a once in a lifetime opportunity where I have been able to build the Faculty of Business from scratch and I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

It’s so important to be resilient and accept knock backs as an opportunity to develop and learn from the experience and become stronger – it allows you to develop throughout your career and bounce back from setbacks.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I am a huge advocate of mentoring and I have mentored many females throughout their careers. I’ve been incredibly proud to help these individuals develop their careers and progress beyond the usual glass ceiling.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Diversity and inclusion of all types and at all levels will continue to be the focus for the governance of many organisations and whilst there is evidence of some progress, we still have a long way to go.

Having experienced the “glass ceiling” on many occasions during my career and having been brought up in a socially disadvantaged neighbourhood, I fully understand the progression challenges currently preventing individuals, in particular under-represented groups from moving into senior leadership positions.

Many of us are forced to take responsibility for our own development in order to progress our careers and this needs to change. COVID-19 has amplified these challenges and we must not lose sight of these disruptions and their impact on good management and leadership.

Several experts are suggesting that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic could disproportionately affect women’s careers and efforts on the gender pay gap. This pay gap becomes even more apparent amongst ethnic minority managers and leaders and therefore it is essential to ensure that the pandemic does not reverse all of our efforts for diverse and inclusive organisations.

I therefore believe that work around equality, diversity, the gender pay gap and inclusive organisations must be deeply rooted in the governance of organisations.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

I would undoubtedly suggest that my younger self challenges situations when I feel uncomfortable as a result of male domination in a room much sooner and highlight unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour straight away.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

A big focus of mine is on narrowing the BAME attainment gap to ensure that all students are given the same opportunities to succeed. We need to think about how to embed inclusive teaching, learning and assessment so that all students have a diverse learning experience with notable impact.

From a personal perspective I would love to be awarded an honorary title for my work.

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