Three Colours: White/ Egalité: Women on the Edge - Meet the Speaker Zahra Haider

Women in Architecture are presenting a series of three events: Three Colours: Blue White Red. The second event White in October is in collaboration with the RIBA and Herman Miller and deals with in-between spaces and gender. We explore barriers, exchange, exploitation and their relationship to spaces and architecture

Zahra Haider, Founder Our Girls Mentoring

I am quite interested in self-imposed or internalised mental barriers within ourselves, which often are the most difficult to break down and most debilitating. It is inevitable as women, particularly women of colour, that we will face a lot of difficulties in work. When we have internalised barriers or self-perception, even deep down, we are a little less stronger, a little less sure of ourselves. In a situation that is already trying to push us out, we end up feeling unable to fight back.”

It was only after her master’s degree - “ to get out of the sense of incompetence” - that Zahra says she realised the words and ideas of growing up in a cultural society that propagated women to get degrees to get married. A professional culture that held on to the notion that a straight, white, middle-class male is deep-down more trustworthy an architect. On being an outsider, within a country and from a country where both have not entirely shed their colonial past.

“I was destined to be held back, not just by the difficulties in workplace for women of colour, but by the small voices and comments I had allowed to fester and grow into shouts: I am not good enough to be an architect.”

In response, Zahra felt it was critical to set up OurGirls Mentoring, an organisation that works with minorities and marginalised girls. They not only offer mentoring, but stories of struggle and eventual success. The aim is to provide visible role models - from the same areas, same sexuality, same cultural or religious identity as the mentees. 

“We want to encourage them to break the mould by showing them girls breaking the mould. In my mind, this is one of the ways we can help build the small voices within us that say we belong and we deserve the opportunities that come our way and we must seize them and continue to excel.” 

Zara Haider

Zara Haider

Zahra studied BA (Hons) Architecture at the Cambridge School of Architecture and she completed her part two education with merit at London Metropolitan in July 2016.

Zahra works at East, an architecture, landscape and urban design firm, across a range of scales and sectors, the majority being residential led schemes. Prior to East, Zahra worked at muf art/architecture, Allies & Morrison, NRAP Architects and Sandy Rendel Architects; where she worked on a number of Grade I & II listed education projects, design-led public buildings & landscapes and private houses/housing developments.

Zahra is the founder of OurGirls Mentoring, a not-for-profit mentoring organisation and access scheme, working largely with state schools in London and organisations such as Peabody in Thamesmead. She also crits and has led workshops with first year architecture students at University of East London, London Metropolitan University, Central Saint Martins and University of Cambridge.

Meet Zahra and hear more about Breaking Down Barriers of Self-Perception by joining us at the White event on October 10th. Register here.