5 Days Of Career Talk – Day 5: Women At Work

5 Days Of Career Talk – Day 5: Women At Work

This whole week was ‘5 Days Of Career’ on the blog. I love you guys for all the support and love shown for the entire series, the contributing women and me. 

Finishing off the Women At Work series with the last two stories today!
I haven’t edited the answers the girls’ sent me (except some punctuation/grammar/flow here and there) because I wanted to retain their voice and hopefully you can hear them speak through their words (I actually can!).
These women have solid work advice to offer, tips to share from their personal experience, and their own viewpoint on how to manage a career. You’ll relate to some of the thoughts, you’ll have a different perspective on some. I hope we can respect all points of view and I hope you’ll join me in not just encouraging each of these women for where they are in life but also be able to get inspiration if you’re feeling stuck.
My sister is a full-time teacher and has one of the most exhausting work schedules. She’s also done some brief work with special needs’ kids and her stories have been overwhelming. I was so inspired and humbled by Rafia’s story who actually does this full-time, and probably never gets to switch off even when home because you carry such experiences around with you. I was in awe of her work and her advice, tips and general clarity on career choices was super inspirational.
Type of work:  I’m a special educator for an early intervention school prep program for children with additional challenges (we don’t use the term ‘special needs’ at my workplace anymore). I’m responsible for a group of 10 children and my job is primarily about identifying and helping these children reach their maximum potential by working on their speech and language difficulties, sensory needs (sensitivity to noise, light, texture, temperature), social and emotional development (making eye contact, responding to social interactions, initiating conversations, sharing, playing cooperatively, etc), behavioural challenges (I’m talking hardcore stuff here: hitting, biting, kicking, headbutting, etc) and the regular numeracy/literacy/arts/music too. The more high-functioning ones are placed in the school-going group (children are grouped according to their needs and abilities). Approximately 10 special needs children make it to mainstream schools in Dubai every year via our program.

Work schedule:
Full-time.Fixed hours 7 am to 3 pm. Children attend from 8 am to 1 pm which is when my schedule is very controlled – can’t look at my phone, or take any kind of break, except the hurried bathroom breaks of course, making sure there’s at least one other adult in the class. Vacations are fixed as well so I don’t get to take any leaves according to my personal schedule. Can only be off when the program is off, namely the one week in March for spring break, Christmas break at the end of the year and two weeks in summer. If I do take a leave any other time, it has to be approved, and is also unpaid.

Family Situation: My own family and in-laws back in Pakistan. I came to Dubai 2 years ago after getting married. My husband’s a banker and also has crazy working hours. So it works out in my favor that I am very busy at least half of the day. This job has been a life-saver that way.

How did you get into this line of work? And how long have you been doing this?

It’s actually been 7 years for me in total. I was actually a Social Sciences major but worked as a student volunteer for a child with autism during my last two years at university. I underwent a training to work as a volunteer for children with autism that was conducted by the mother herself who had acquired her own training from the Autism Treatment Centre of America.After graduation, I worked for three years for Beaconhouse Newlands, as their SENCo (special education needs coordinator), implementing the first Inclusive Education programs in Lahore, Pakistan. This means that children with special needs and learning difficulties were accommodated within the mainstream classrooms. The students that I worked with had a range of learning difficulties including Dyslexia, ADHD, Down’s Syndrome and ASC (autism spectrum condition). I was also the only desi on this Special Needs panel of 4, that founded the entire Inclusive Education Program, made policies and procedures and made decisions with respect to the special needs admissions and applications. The other three were much senior to me, with massive experiences in the education industry so needless to say it was an amazing life altering learning experience and I consider myself very lucky to have worked with them.

I also completed a Masters level certificate program in Childhood Communication Impairments from Anglia Ruskin University while I was working and only quit two months before my wedding. In Dubai, I have been working for this Centre for nearly two years now, I started in Jan 2015. I started as an educator and was promoted as the Lead Educator within a year.


Tips for someone looking to do the same?
I think to be able to work with special needs children, it is VERY important to get a feeler first to see if you have the knack, patience, and spirit for it. It is not easy to repeatedly have a child spit in your face, or kick, hit, bite or pinch you and still manage to keep your calm. An internship or volunteer work are a fantastic way to find this out for yourself.
The job is very intrinsically motivating; if a child’s first eye contact, their first smile, their first word, after weeks of hard work can give you the kicks, then this job is for you. You get to be a part of the children and their parents’ lives in a very special way. If you still look forward to seeing their faces the next day, despite all their challenging behaviors, then this job is for you. If you’re more motivated by extrinsic factors, then this job is not for you. You can earn the same amount of money doing a simpler, easier, less emotionally challenging job.


Tips for someone looking to start a career in general?
My degree has nothing to do with the career path I chose. It doesn’t matter what you study. Of course, if you know what career path you are interested in, bravo! But even if you are clueless, like I was, during your university, do not worry. Experience teaches us way more about ourselves and about this world than university courses. If I could go back, I would be far more active in extracurriculars than I was – sports, music, drama, writing, fashion – try everything, let yourself experience everything. Do internships in different industries every summer. And you may just find what you’re passionate about!

Do you think you can continue to do this in the long-term?

Yes, but I may want to go back to an inclusive school where children are behaviorally less challenging. The job I am currently doing is very emotionally and physically demanding and exhausting. Its essential to take a break every once in a while to unwind for your own health and peace. For instance, when my current contract ends, I plan on taking a break and work on another qualification for about a year. During this time I may work part time, with a child on a one-on-one basis for example.


Did you start this as a fully thought-out career?

Didn’t really think about it. Graduated and there was this job being advertised by Beaconhouse. This is a niche market, it is difficult to find people with the required expertise/experience/ qualifications. I got in on the basis of my volunteer work experience and there was no looking back since. They were planning to hire all goras from abroad but lucky for them they found me. I wouldn’t have cost them as much and it was a big opportunity for me, getting trained and mentored by foreign professionals all the time, so it was a win-win situation.

Izza simply blew me away with all her talk of working full-time, raising twins and having the courage and energy to explore her entrepreneurial spirit (her products are gorgeous). And her tips are SO GOOD. For anyone who can’t quit their daytime jobs but still want to try something they always had their heart on, this girl can really inspire you.
Type of work: I have a background in corporate communications and work full-time within that but most recently, I started working on fixing a huge gap for eastern wardrobe staples (like shawls!) that you can buy without compromising your retirement plans or purging your kids education insurance.
Work schedule: Corporate communicator by day, entrepreneur after the kids’ bedtime and round the clock mom/wife.
Family Situation:
I’ve been married for half a decade now and have twin three year old torpedoes.

How did you get into your shawls business?

I needed something, I couldn’t find it over the years and I decided to do it myself. This is precisely how Cashmere was started a couple of months back. I know I’m not the only person who struggles to look respectable in winters. There’s always the collective cringing if you’re looking for eastern options; shalwar kameez looks and feels terribly awkward with most cardigan/sweater options. Add a dupatta to the mix and you are bound to look like a desi version of the mummy. So I decided to save the day with an option that allows you to be warm and still look haseen without layering on ‘like a ninja’ (special haha to the ninja shoutout from me = shehzeen)


Did you ever do something like this before getting into it seriously?
I’ve always had a 9 to 5 routine since I started working after graduation. But time and again, I’ve taken up tiny projects and exhibitions that helped me get involved on a entrepreneurial level. I am a huge believer in the labor of love and the kind of person who believes in handwritten notes, making my own cake mixes and in the beauty of a home that has handmade decor. So I believe that the transition for me into my own line of work was a very natural one.


Tips for someone looking to do the same while keeping their regular job?
For anyone who wants to venture into entrepreneurship but not as a full-time commitment, start with work you are crazy, passionate about. Yes that sounds like the worst cliche ever, but trust me if you’ve done this right, you will find a way to make it work through deadlines, pooping toddlers and runaway cooks. If not, sorry but you’ll crash and burn and nobody wants that.

Tips for someone looking to start a career in general?

I’ve interviewed enough people to want to write a book on this. But until Volume I comes out: here goes:
Tip 1: Please try to become financially independent in some form while you’re still studying. It gives you exposure, a great sense of achievement and an appreciation of the parents’ money that we have all so callously splurged. Also, once you’ve tasted blood, chances are your drive to find a job/work will increase exponentially.
Tip 2: Take the small job so you can be prepared for the big break. Too many of us feel it is a let-down to work for any less than the Ivy League of multinationals but if you find meaningful work at a great environment, take it and use it to leverage your career.
Tip 3: Consider the work environment. Whether you want to work in the corporate sector or the development sector or have your own business, take it from someone who’s been involved with all three, that you must make yourself aware of the realities of each and think of what fits your aspirations and skills.

Do you think you can continue your new venture in the long-term?

Totally. I plan to introduce a pop-up collection concept for Cashmere and use it to take up lost causes and turn them around. By keeping it organic, I feel I will be able to sustain and expand Insha’Allah.



Do you think this was a well-thoughtout move for you?
Like I said, I always had a keera in my head to do something on these lines but it only materialised recently. I would say it helps to have an idea of what the next five years look like to you; no matter how vaguely defined that picture may be. I keep asking myself if this is what I want to be doing in the next five years and I have experienced that somewhere internally you have mechanisms that guide you slowly and gradually to where you should have been all along. To quote Oprah, ‘You just have to be listening when that happens’.



With all your experience, do you have any tips for someone who may have a gap in their work history?
While I was lucky to work for a place that offered these options, I know its not widely available across the board. So for someone who has had to leave the workforce altogether to join back, I would say don’t be tough on yourself. You needed that break and that was a period that has had its own value and reward whether it was a maternity leave or to take care of your parents or to study. Know that you can’t pick up where you left off; chances are things have changed. So be prepared to give yourself a transition period before you are fully on track. Finally choose smartly. Once you have spent time outside the job, you will be more and more critical of what constitutes a worthwhile use of your time. So pick wisely!



You can follow Izza’s new business, Cashmere Shawls on Facebook on here, she has really beautiful stuff. I once blogged about her as well, which you can see here.
I’m done with the Women At Work posts! I hope you guys loved them and saw the variety of jobs/businesses, schedules, work experience and different family profiles all these amazing women had. While I featured just ten of them, I know that each one of us is inspiring in one way or the other, we just have to know and understand that about ourselves. All these women had such stellar advice, I personally learned incredibly from all of them and feel so inspired not just about work but about life generally.
If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like (and drop a comment if you really feel generous). I am so grateful to these girls for sharing this information so candidly and I’d love it if you’d give them a high-five (I really want them to feel appreciated #please).
See the entire 5 Days Of Career series so far, here.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this post are in the interviewee’s own personal capacity and do not reflect those of her employer (where applicable).


  1. I keep getting amazed by these girls who work fulltime with a family and find the time to do something on the side as well. I find it so admirable. I keep thinking to quit one day and start my own thing but I guess sometimes you have to do both together and see where it goes. Thanks for this powerful series

  2. Rafia's story just touched my heart. The brother of my best friend has "additional challenges" (to quote her). He is 16 and only recently he joined a center just like hers. The difference in him has been remarkable. Early he couldn't even spoon some rice on his own. Now he is able to tie his shoelaces and says please & thank you. The kind of work these people do, the patience they have..it is commendable.

    This series has been amazing. One of my favourites on the blog. Though I still wish we could have had some women from STEM fields since even today, most women do not opt for a technical job at a production floor. Some encouragement in that department would have been priceless. Hopefully next time!

    Thank you for doing this Shehzeen. You are love.

    – Mahnoor

  3. i just LOVED this series!!! respect for the rafia and the work she has chosen to do! and i just love cashmere!!

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