Women have made incredible leaps and bounds in STEMM and other male-dominated industries, but one age-old challenge is still at the forefront: overcoming gender bias.
Parisa Safari Nejad is familiar with this challenge, and she’s tackled it head on, building a successful career in IT and growing into leadership. She’s currently the Asia Pacific, Japan, and China Escalations and Support Product Specialists Manager at Cisco Meraki!
In her role, she’s responsible for managing a team of highly talented engineers who work on escalated support cases and reported bugs.
When describing her journey to leadership and developing technical expertise, Parisa says:
“I started as a junior engineer, gradually progressing as a senior engineer and then a subject matter expert, before moving into service and operational management and people leadership. I joined Meraki as a support manager and moved to my current role about eight months ago.”
When asked which moment made her realize she made the right decision to work at Meraki, it was hard for her to choose just one!
“I knew it was a special company from the interview process, actually. It was such a thorough, enjoyable experience! I felt like I was able to learn as much about the company as they were keen to learn about me. Everyone I spoke with took their time to get to know me.”
From this first, unique experience with the company, things have only got better.
“Looking back, having been with Meraki for two and a half years, I admire how we responded to the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe. The people I worked with ‘walked the talk’ during those first months of lockdowns. They cared for every employee and worked hard to maintain our positive company culture.”
How can women tackle gender bias in the industry?
Parisa is familiar with how gender perceptions can still affect women in tech.
“As a Middle Eastern woman in IT, my biggest challenge has always been the need to continually prove myself. It’s never quite enough for me to be great at what I do. I must be the best and prove it to others, just to be taken seriously!”
She provides a glimpse of this incredible grit and the high standards she’s maintained over the years by reflecting on what she’d say to her younger self.
“My high-school self would probably be disappointed I haven’t won a Nobel Prize yet (you’d think I’m kidding, but I’m not). My response to her would be, ‘You do not need to be number one, and you do not owe it to the world to prove your worth! Your happiness is far more important than what others see or fail to see in you.’”
But Parisa considers joining Meraki to be her greatest reward for not giving up and playing an important role in helping her overcome this challenge.
“This is the first workplace where I truly feel I can let my guard down. I feel like I’m taken seriously without needing to fight for it. I’m also inspired and motivated to play a part in shifting the power balance.”
So, for other women in tech, take it from Parisa. Persevere, do your best, and find a supportive company culture – it will go a long way to help you achieve your career goals.
“Ignore the judgment. Focus on your own path!”
Leadership vs stewardship
“During my earlier years in the industry, I remember the struggles I had to go through, how I felt, and what I needed from my leaders.”
In the same way pressure creates diamonds, the struggles Parisa faced early in her career have shaped her leadership style into something truly genuine and empathetic.
“My view is that a leader should be the steward of the team, serving them and ensuring everyone is seen, heard, understood, valued, and supported. In this sense, I prefer the term stewardship more than leadership.”
“My team is extremely talented and knowledgeable, so my job is to ensure they have what they need to focus on what they do best.”
Diversity is proven to increase performance in a team, and diverse leadership is no exception. According to Parisa, without diverse leadership, maintaining diversity and inclusion across all levels of an organization becomes difficult.
“Representation in leadership makes it possible for many underrepresented groups in a company to feel they belong and have a chance to grow to their full potential. By having a diverse range of leaders, companies can also ensure that a diverse range of employees are thought of and cared for when decisions are made.”
How do you find the right balance?
Throughout her journey, Parisa is proud to have developed critical skills in her careers, such as communication, flexibility, and advanced problem-solving. Her work goal, at this stage, is to continue learning and growing.
Having achieved so much professionally, she’s happy to have struck the right balance between work and life.
“I have a very active social life. I always plan my weekends to ensure I spend time with my friends and do things I enjoy the most: reading, playing board games, camping, and watching movies. The support at Meraki gives you the freedom and flexibility to enjoy life and work.”
What other takeaways can support and motivate women in tech?
While success has a different meaning to everyone, Parisa believes what matters most is taking the right steps toward the mental image you have of your ideal self.
“As long as you’re taking those steps, that’s all that matters. Your mental image may change over time, and that’s absolutely okay. You might not always proceed to the next step immediately, and that’s okay too! As long as you’re moving forward towards that image, that’s what counts.”
Parisa is building on this wisdom by helping others do the same. Her aim is to support people to see their value and get one step closer to who they deserve to be.
“I’d love to be remembered as a leader who cared, because I truly do!”