Disability, Diversity and Career Ambition  

I caught up with Politics graduate Henna Khan, two years on from leaving Sheffield Hallam. Henna now works as an Early Talent Policy Manager with the Civil Service. We discussed how her career has progressed and how she tackled challenges through her own determination and the support of others.

Henna speaking

“My life and background is based around challenges I have dealt with threefold; my disability, my race and religion, my gender. Each stage of life I reached be it school, college, and university had its own unique challenges for me dependent on the situations and environments I entered.The one thing I refused to accept growing up was that there was a limit, an end to my ambition, I didn’t let the negativity that faced me falter my ambition. I often felt that the “barriers” I faced growing up were inflicted on me by someone else, but I quickly realised that it was me letting them create a barrier for me to then feel trapped within, it was not the way you define your life. Your actions define you and your life’s route. Because I didn’t believe in barriers, they didn’t exist when I was one of the only disabled Pakistani women who graduated with a 1st class Honours, and got onto the sixth out of top 100 graduate schemes in the country, leading changes at the heart of government on the Civil Service Fast Stream.

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 I applied for Politics at Sheffield Hallam as I was interested in the breadth of topics the course had, with modules on Anarchy, British Parliament and Failed States. When I started university I loved the diversity of knowledge the course gave me, from classic to contemporary political conversations. I was also interested in applying for the Erasmus exchange programme which took me to The Hague University in the Netherlands, where I took part in internships at the United Nations and Embassy of Pakistan. Each lecturer  challenged me intellectually and I enjoyed the environment university provided for me to nurture my academic thinking to what it is now. My university helped me in two ways, firstly student support services provided me with a bespoke learning agreement, a contract which allowed me to have access to the support I required as a disabled student. This allowed me to work in an environment where I was on equal footing with fellow peers. Secondly, the careers services my university offered provided me with various opportunities. Firstly I had a career mentor, I attended mock assessment centres, and mock interviews, and my career advisor Caroline Hanson was extremely supportive when I decided to apply for the Fast Stream.

I initially applied for the Summer Diversity Internship Scheme and a year later for the Fast Stream. For both roles I received coaching to help me prepare for the tests, the e-tray and the assessment centre, successfully securing a place within a week of my assessment day. My university equipped me with the skills I required to get the job I wanted.

After graduating I worked in the private and charity sector for a year, and then successfully applied for the Civil Service HR Fast Stream, which is one of the top graduate schemes in the country, I am currently on my first placement based in the Fast Stream Team at Civil Service Resourcing. I am due to start a HR Business and Management Masters later this month as part of my scheme. I am really enjoying my time on such a fast paced and challenging scheme, the challenges I have in this role are very unique with decisions shaping the very graduate scheme that is internationally known. The benefits of this role are also the same as the challenge, every email or meeting brings an exciting piece of work, and I look forward to coming to work every day so that I can make a change to the way the public sector works in order to make a positive impact to this country.”

Caroline Hanson, Employment Adviser


Further information: The Civil Service Summer Diversity Internship Programme aims to give people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to see what a career in the Civil Service is like, you can find out more here:   https://www.gov.uk/civil-service-fast-stream-summer-diversity-internship-programme

The Careers and Employment Service offers specialist information and advice for disabled students: https://careerscentral.shu.ac.uk/planning-your-future/disabled-students

Disabled Student Support identifies any barriers and obstacles to learning and aims to remove them thus giving disabled students the opportunity to realise their full potential. See: https://staff.shu.ac.uk/sls/qess/ss/ds/default.asp