Strategies for Women in the Workplace

WD’s founder and CEO, Sima Hassani, shares insights for women on forging career paths, breaking glass ceilings and empowering women in the workplace.

WD’s founder and CEO, Sima Hassani, had the pleasure of speaking at IAW (Iranian-American Women) Foundation’s 10th Annual Leadership Conference. She spoke at the “Career Paths… Opportunities and Challenges” workshop, specifically on strategies for women in the workplace. She has a diverse perspective as an entrepreneur, executive, first-generation immigrant, and former working mother in a male-dominated industry (Architecture, Engineering, Construction). Sima shared a lot of insight for women on how to forge a path towards a fulfilling career, rise and succeed as a leader, and break down barriers in the workplace. Her advice to career women can be summed up into the following:

Find Your Passion. Cliché maybe, but truly essential. I urge you to find joy first above all while forging your career paths, because success is not a simple, straight line or a walk in the park. It is messy, full of ups and downs, requires honest and often painful self-reflection, endless hard work, and at times it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The good news? You’re the pilot and you chart the course, no one else. So follow your heart, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Do The Hustle. I never let being a woman in a man’s industry get in the way of what I wanted out of my career. If I encountered an obstacle, I found a way to overcome it. I didn’t sit around waiting for opportunities, I created opportunities for myself. It all comes down to having the right attitude, selecting the appropriate approach, and committing to your aspirations. When you’re working with 25 colleagues and you’re the only woman, be THE PERSON in the room who brings value and substance to the group. Be neither intimidated nor arrogant, and show them that you belong, because you do. Be flexible. Know when to lead and when to provide support; know when to go it alone and when to ask for help; and know which battles to fight and which to concede. While being conscientious about gender in the workplace is important, do not look at every situation through a lens of gender (this isn’t us vs. them).

Better. Faster. Stronger. Smarter. Want to surpass your male peers? Break through the glass ceiling? Then you will have to be ten times more knowledgeable than your male colleagues. You must be willing to do whatever it takes – extra research, extra education, extra charisma. When you walk into that meeting with 30 men, you better know your stuff more than anyone else in that room. If you want to get ahead, you cannot be average. The only way to increase gender diversity in the workplace is to get more talented women and women leaders in these industries who are willing to take on these challenges. It is not an easy path, but if you work hard and earn it, you will earn it for all women.

Empower ALL Women. Today, there are many more opportunities for women in the workplace than there were 25 years ago, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. In male-dominated careers where social conventions of gender roles are still prominent, it is easy to fall into the trap of being cut throat with our female peers. This is only reinforcing all the challenges women face in the workplace. We need to empower each other and help break down barriers for all women – millennials, gen x-ers, baby boomers, single professionals, mothers. I am not encouraging preferential treatment, but there’s no reason to go out of our way to make another woman’s life hard simply because our path to success might have been a longer and harder road. We are all in this together.

Fulfilling Career + Motherhood. Yes, You Can Have It All. A defining moment in my career was when I felt like I had to choose between my dream job and my daughter. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to work for one of my professional idols, Richard Meier, on the design of the Getty Center Museum. But the 15-year project was going to require late nights, weekends, 24/7/365 of my attention. At the time, I was a single mother with a six-year-old daughter. It was an emotional decision for me, but I turned down the job offer to watch my daughter grow up. This does not mean I gave up my career for motherhood. Seizing a new opportunity, I moved to California to create the fulfilling career that I desired, while also being the involved mother that I wanted to be. And here I am, 27 years later, the founder and CEO of my dream company, Westgroup Designs, and a proud mother to a Public Defender.

My Fellow Female Entrepreneurs and Leaders, Lead the Charge. As women entrepreneurs and leaders, we are an example to all women and cannot take that responsibility lightly. We need to show younger female generations that their future is not limited because of traditional gender biases in the workplace. Be a beacon for female talent and nurture them, so they feel empowered and confident in their professional roles. Do not let them feel pushed out of traditionally male-dominated careers. It is not our titles, but the workplace environments we create and lead that say a lot more about our stance on gender diversity. We cannot sit around and wait for other companies to break glass ceilings and us to follow, we need to lead the charge. Talent is hard to find and worth its weight in gold, so our workplace environments need to engage all talent by making staff and office culture a high priority.

Appreciate Your Achievements. In closing, I ask you to stop focusing too much on everything you “didn’t do” or “haven’t done yet”. As women, we tend to be very self-critical and thinking our efforts are never enough. While relentless persistence and drive are tenets of success, not appreciating the value of our achievements and what we bring to this world can be just as toxic as apathy and laziness. You don’t have any significant achievements you say? Did you graduate college? Have you ever received a promotion? Are you juggling a career and raising a family? I would say you have at least ten significant achievements. So, every once in a while, take a moment to appreciate yourself and your many achievements.

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