I would like to take the time to celebrate those women who tell our stories to the world, and I also would like to share a story myself. It is true that when we unite and voice our experiences, we gain the courage to support others. Over the course of my career in STEM, I have overcome several glass ceilings in environments where I often was ‘the first woman’ in the roles I’d taken. This experience of being ‘the first’ is what I would like to share with you, with the hope that you might benefit from seeing the light in my story and find the courage to be ‘the first’ in your environment as well.
Raised as the only girl in a family with parents who were both professors (in math and child psychology), it was no surprise to anyone that my two brothers and I chose to pursue engineering. In many ways, this early decision was a huge blessing. I’d grown up in Iran, where it is important to support women who are interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). When I’d moved to the US, however, I realized it was not as important to support women in studying those topics, in comparison to other educational disciplines. Nevertheless, to me and my inner world, women and men alike studied STEM.
During my college days in the US, I never was discouraged by being the minority in my engineering classes. Yes – I was only one of the two girls, but, at the same time, I was surrounded by male classmates who were very supportive of my passion in STEM. In fact, one of them became my husband, and after many years of marriage, he still supports and empowers me to pursue the career dreams I have today.
From IBM and Lenovo to, now, MetLife, I have continued to reach out for new opportunities to expand my skillsets, lay the groundwork for more women joining STEM and rise through the ranks. However, just like others, I have been through my own zig-zag journey to build a career in STEM.
I still recall when I first started working, questioning my belief that STEM is available to all. I remember this period of imposter syndrome, a phase of my career where I became quieter and less eager to be the first to raise my hand. As many of us can imagine, that period indirectly led to less opportunities assigned to me as I watched my peers rise from one growth challenge to the next. There also were moments in my career when I asked myself, “How did I end up here?”
Fortunately, with deep gratitude toward my daughter, I encountered a wake-up call as she was growing up. I still remember this vividly clear scene when my daughter, Misha, walked into the house one day after school during her 6th grade. Because of a different math teacher between her 5th and 6th grades, she went from “I loved math!” to “I hate math!” Come to find out, it was the continuous input of “you’re not good enough,” or “you don’t get the concepts,” that caused Misha, who once enjoyed math, to lose interest in the topic entirely. As a parent, I now understand fully the influence a leader has on a person when it comes to nurturing the next generation.
This experience brings me back to you, who surely is struggling to keep her head held high each day because this is only normal. As women developing our careers, what we must remember is that career barriers for women are out there, but we cannot be afraid to face them. Rather, we must channel our energy to overcome them.