This weekend marks an important date in the diary, World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, which has been held every year for the past 21 years on 21 May. The day itself was created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to celebrate the richness of the world's cultures. It also honours the vital role that intercultural dialogue plays in order to achieve peace and sustainable development.
As we approach this day, I'd like to reflect on a particular example of embracing cultural diversity that we had the privilege to be involved in within BAE Systems Digital Intelligence.
This example involved showing support for our Muslim colleagues during Ramadan through a 'Fast for a day' challenge. At the heart of this initiative was Fathima Rahman, Chair of our Understanding Islam Employee Resource Group (ERG) which is part our ethnicity and cultural diversity network 'Embrace'. I chatted to Fathima to learn more about her background, her work with the ERG, why she decided to join, and the type of activities her team organises.
"As a young Asian Muslim woman myself, I’m all too aware of the difficulties we face in overcoming the lingering patchwork of myths and stereotypes which falsely portray what our life is like. I wanted to take the opportunity to give back, help demystify the religion and increase our visibility in the workplace." Fathima Rahman, Chair of our 'Understanding Islam' Employee Resource Group
When did you first start working for BAE Systems Digital Intelligence and what is your current role in the business? 
“I began work at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence as a graduate trainee in 2018. Since completion, I’ve been working in a client-site based role, firstly as a Service Portfolio Delivery Manager on our Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) account. I’ve recently returned from travelling during a period of sabbatical leave and I’m now a Lead Business Analyst, Principal Consultant, still based at FCDO.”
What motivated you to become the chair of the Understanding Islam network?
“Shortly after starting the BAE Systems Digital Intelligence graduate scheme, and in addition to my client responsibilities, I took over the running of the company’s Muslim Network. It was very small and inactive, with only six employees on its global distribution list. Its primary purpose was to serve as temporary ambassadors, there to welcome new Muslim staff upon joining the company.
Now named Understanding Islam, the group has become a vibrant community where Muslim and non-Muslim employees come together to break down barriers, develop greater knowledge and build relationships. We have about 230 members based all around the world, including 15 UK civil servants. We also work with our counterparts in the British government, as well as other faith-based networks, to foster empathy, tackle misconceptions and contribute towards an open and welcoming environment for all – at both BAE Systems Digital Intelligence and beyond.
As a young Asian Muslim woman myself, I’m all too aware of the difficulties we face in overcoming the lingering patchwork of myths and stereotypes which falsely portray what our life is like. I wanted to take the opportunity to give back, help demystify the religion and increase our visibility in the workplace.”
Can you tell me about some of the activities the network organises for employees?
“Our membership base is no longer limited to the UK. Members hail from the Middle East, Malaysia and North America, as well as from our sister companies across BAE Systems. This is largely down to the range of activities we provide. For example, we partnered with colleagues at BAE Systems Air to host a joint event aimed at tackling (un)conscious bias and Islamophobia.
To support Ramadan this year, we hosted a ‘Fast for a day’ challenge which saw around 20 people, who aren’t Muslim, choose to fast for a day – these individuals gave up food, drink and bad speech from dawn to sunset. Everyone gathered at 4pm for a virtual meeting for a Ramadan Reflection discussing food poverty in the UK.
In addition, the network fundraised for the Trussell Trust during Ramadan, a charity working to stop UK hunger and poverty, and its network of foodbanks provides emergency food and support to people in crisis.”
David Corck-Adelman, Central Government Capabilities Business Manager at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, took part in the challenge and shared his experience: “During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours every day. Before the day of the challenge, I felt a bit nervous about going without food and water for over 12 hours! The challenge, which wasn’t easy, has helped me to reflect on those people in the UK and around the world who don't have enough to eat. It also gave me a greater appreciation of the Islamic faith. Fathima and the Understanding Islam network are doing a great job of building an impactful intersectional group that joins culture, faith, mental health, social values, charitable giving and so much more.”
Fathima continues: “We have also collaborated with other faith-based networks internally to host an “Introduction to Religions” session, with plans afoot for something similar with MindSet, our mental health support group. We’ve also arranged a variety of activities including lunch and learns, socials, days out, fortnightly prayer sessions and newsletters for religious knowledge.”

The power of empowerment

I hope this brief discussion gives a sense of the inspiring and important work that Fathima and her team are doing to support our Muslim community. But there’s another story I’d like to share that further demonstrates both her dedication and humility
About 18 months ago, on the night that the Understanding Islam network won a BAE Systems Chairman’s Award, Fathima approached me with a warm smile and simply said, “Thank you for letting us do this.” I had to stop her. It was a thanks I was grateful for but didn’t deserve. My job as Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is not to give permission, but to facilitate. Not to own, but to empower. Here was this woman who had done so much to bring her true self to work. To engage and welcome others. To inform and inspire. To remove walls and connect people – and she felt I was deserving of thanks.
The thanks goes to her! The thanks goes to everyone in Understanding Islam and our Embrace network. The thanks goes to all our employee volunteers and networks that contribute to the evolution of our business every day.
As World Day for Cultural Diversity approaches and we reflect on the successes of our past year and the goals we’d like to achieve in the future, it’s ever present with me that we should all endeavour to be facilitators, to empower others and to share experiences through personal connections and appreciation of our differences. Businesses need to shift their mindset from that of allowing the voices and experiences of their employees in the workplace, to encouraging and asking for them. It is not our job to offer and allow, it is our job to provide and support.
You can learn more about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion here at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence and discover our three-pillared approach to creating an inclusive workplace: hiring people from all walks of life; promoting health and wellbeing; and engaging with new ideas as part of our culture. You can also check out all of our inclusive groups run by employees for employees.

If you would like to be part of our friendly, collaborative culture, where everyone has the opportunity to make their mark, take a look at our careers page and explore the roles we’re currently recruiting for. 

Explore careers at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence

Theresa Palmer

Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, BAE Systems Digital Intelligence