Dilshad Sheikh: BWIE Women to Watch interview

Georgina and Dilshad

Having had two of Arden University’s Deans of Faculty named on Business Women in Education’s inaugural Women to Watch 2022 list, we caught up with Professor Dilshad Sheikh, Dean of the Faculty of Business, and Professor Georgina Harris, Dean of the Faculty of STEM. 

Dilshad, who has built the Faculty of Business from the ground up, has been fundamental in shaping our students' successes, as well as being an inspirational role model for other women within higher education. 

We caught up with her to hear more about her work with the faculty and the ways its designed to give students the best business experience possible, how she helps other women within the industry, and the additional work she undertakes with the CMI. 

Hi Dilshad, how do you feel to be nominated by Business Women in Education as a Woman to Watch?

I'm absolutely delighted. It's a privilege to be recognised on this inaugural list for the work that I've done, especially my specific focuses on widening participation for women who come from BAME backgrounds. 

I wasn't born in the UK, I was born in Kenya as one of six daughters. We came to the UK and my parents barely spoke English.

I'm the only daughter that went to university, and it has been quite challenging.

I’ve always said, for myself, it's a double whammy, the fact that I come from a BAME background as well as being female. So, I think back in my uni days, and obviously as my career progressed, I was on this mission to make sure that other women had opportunities and that I supported them.

I'm from an ethnic minority myself and I do you believe the challenges that we face are very different to the average female. If you look at higher education statistics, it's quite rare that you will see BAME women from widening participation backgrounds like myself in senior positions. 

For me the biggest thing I'm focused on is trying to encourage BAME women into senior leadership roles. One of the avenues I have to do that is through being the Regional Chair for the Chartered Management Institute. And I work quite closely with the CEO, Anne Franca, in terms of generating opportunities for women.

So, I feel absolutely delighted because it's that work that's being recognised.

How long have you been at Arden for, and what is your role? 

I joined Arden as Dean of the Faculty of Business in November 2020. It was really exciting to join because I was the first dean to be appointed. The project was really interesting because I joined Arden and I was told “Here's one school, the School of Business and Management, can you build us the Faculty, please, Dilshad?” So I thought, Okay, this is interesting. 

I'm really proud of the faculty as it stands today. When I joined there was just one school, but now we've got eight schools and eight heads of school.

There were only 6000 students in the faculty and about 100 staff. Today, as we speak, there are 18,000 students, 500 staff, and we're pretty stable in terms of our growth. 

What am I most proud of is changing the curriculum to take on board our profile of students. Around about 85-87% of our students are like me: coming from BAME backgrounds.

I felt that the curriculum in the faculty at the time didn't really resonate with them.

The examples that we were using and the assessments weren't really great. So, I redesigned the business programmes, introducing authentic assessment and live projects.

So, rather than giving students a paper based case study from 1992, we bring in guest speakers and clients and the students work on live projects.

For me, it's not just about telling the students about business, it's showing them how to do business, which is really important.  

What do you love most about working in higher education?

I have been in higher education for over 22 years now and I think it's the fact that you're able to contribute to the skills, knowledge, and attributes of the students, and really support them to try and be the best that they can to inspire them. 

We have students from all sorts of backgrounds. I get a lot of satisfaction when someone comes in with barely any qualifications.

But then 10 years on they’re the CEO or the MD of a particular business, which some of our business students are.

Who inspires you?

Anne Franca, who's the CEO of the CMI. She's very much driven by equality, diversity, and inclusivity in leadership. And I've picked up a lot of knowledge experience from having met her, going to CMI conferences, and then running those conferences myself.

Click the image above to watch a video featuring Professor Georgina Harris and Professor Dilshad Sheikh discussing their inclusion on BWIE's Women to Watch list. 

Why is it so important to celebrate the success of other women in higher education?

There are so many challenges that we have to overcome. I think more often than not you kind of deal with the challenges yourself. You encounter the glass ceiling and for people that really have made it they will have often overcome those obstacles in silence, not really talking to anyone and just dealing with it themselves.

I think it's really important to recognise them, and to talk to and about the successes of women in higher education. 

Why do you believe making higher education more accessible is so important?

Everybody should be given the opportunity to study. At Arden, the average age of my students is 35 to 40. And I think some of the students didn’t have the opportunity in their earlier life due to circumstances out of their control.

Education wasn’t necessarily their main focus because they had families or elderly parents to look after, but why should they be disadvantaged? Let's give them the opportunity later on in life. That's what Arden is about. Lifelong learning.

How do you measure success?

I think, for me, I measure success in terms of how many smiling students I have when they graduate and what their outcomes are. When those students achieve what they set out to do and they're all in good jobs. I think the other thing as well with Arden and the role that I have is very much about making sure the students are listened to and that they have an outstanding student experience in the Faculty of Business.

What would you say your faculty is doing differently to other universities?

Nearly every university out there has got a business school or a Faculty of Business, but I believe what makes us different is the specialty schools that I have.

Ultimately, my vision entails that you'd get a student who perhaps is studying an undergrad in Business Management. But whilst they're studying that they can do a short course in coaching/ mentoring in the School of HRM.

For me, it's really important to personalise learning, and that's what we've started to do by mixing up traditional four year/ three year courses with shorter courses. It's all about adding value to the student experience and standing out, because clearly, you can do business anywhere. But can you do business with these additional qualifications? No. But, that certainly happens in our faculty.

How do you try and help/ inspire other women in education? 

I try quite hard to inspire other women in education. One of the main avenues for this is the work that I do with the Chartered Management Institute, where I've run two massive conferences advocating inclusivity diversity in leadership. 

I'm also an Aurora Mentor, which is very much about mentoring women into Senior Leadership positions.

Again, it's to help combat that glass ceiling, where you get so far, but then you have to be 10 times better than the next man. So I do get myself out there supporting, mentoring, and coaching through those avenues. 

What do you think is an important aspect of the future for Women in Business? 

I think, post-COVID, change is happening and we are becoming more inclusive, more diverse, and Females do have some seriously senior posts. But I think there's still a lot more to do. 

Now, traditionally, you could see challenges straightaway, you knew there was a problem in this particular area. But now it just becomes a bit more hidden. I think we need to move away from quotas as well, where, okay, we've got 25 men, we need 25 women, because you're not really looking at the skill set. That still happens in some organisations, and we need to move away from it. 

In terms of my advice for women who are looking to move into senior positions, it's to be resilient to challenge. And if you feel that you're not sitting on the right table, move tables, look for mentoring, look for support, I was mentored, and I found that really useful. It's really good to have someone to bounce your ideas off, and to have someone who can just give you some advice and guidance. 

To view BWIE's Women to Watch list in full click here, and to see how an Arden University degree could help you achieve what you were Born to Do, visit our course pages