As the tech industry evolves and women find greater representation, there are more opportunities than ever to help lift each other up. Having just experienced one of those pivotal moments when the startup I co-founded completed a Series C funding round
, propelling us to the coveted status of unicorn, I want to pause to reflect on three qualities that have powered my professional trajectory, in the hope that sharing them will be a source of affirmation or inspiration for other women as they unlock their own success.
Stripping the fear out of decision-making—whether that comes naturally or is a more intentional practice—can have a huge impact on your career. I find that fearlessness is like a muscle that grows stronger with use. Sometimes there will be a lot of learnings involved, sometimes there won’t, but ultimately, you’ll know that if you put your mind to something, you can get there.
Showing up in the workplace without fear didn’t happen for me overnight. It was a journey I started when I was 16 and moved to the U.S. from Iran. I’m the youngest of five siblings and my goal became to go to college in America, where my sister was living. When she had to return to Iran just four months after I arrived, I was given the choice to go home or remain in the U.S. I had worked very hard to get where I was and the fearless part of me rose up and I chose to stay.
I flexed my fearlessness again when I studied Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, where I was always one of the very few women in classrooms of hundreds of male students. I’d always been good at math and science, and I come from a family of engineers, so I didn’t see a difference in abilities between us. I didn’t question myself when I walked into those rooms, and looking back, that was fearless. Today, as a co-founder and COO of a startup, I’m fearless in how I embrace feedback from my colleagues because I know it will help me reach my goals. I’m also fearless in expressing my opinions. That doesn’t mean I expect them to be accepted—it means I don’t worry about being judged or penalized for having them. It’s a great test: If you feel you can’t share your opinion, then you know that’s not the right place for you.
We live in a world where things sometimes get worse before they get better—a reality the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront—and the truth matters. There’s no reason good enough to ever lie or conceal something, and that also applies to your own capabilities. If there’s something I can’t do, I’m up front about it—after all, we can’t all be experts at everything.
But being ethical goes beyond the strict definition of the word. For me, it also means how I treat people. Ramping up for our Series C funding round at ZenBusiness, I was the chief advisor to our CEO, helping with everything from writing to explaining data to managing due diligence. All the while, knowing my efforts would make a difference in the lives of people around the country.
That includes our own employees. Day to day, I ask myself, how can I make sure the people on my teams are happy? Happy employees make a company successful and give me a greater sense of accomplishment and pride as a leader. When I identify things that are in my power to fix or change that will improve their experience or lifestyle, I do that. During the pandemic, for example, I adjusted future expenses to give everyone on our teams the peace of mind of keeping their jobs, especially those with kids at home. As more and more companies start to recognize that leading with a sense of ethics, and with empathy and humanity, is crucial to motivating a productive workforce, those who do it well with employees and customers will be prized.
As a mentor, one of the questions I like to ask is, do you love doing what you do? If you enjoy doing something, that opens up the path for you. You’ll be able to progress and learn a lot and be successful. Personally, I’m deeply passionate about small businesses. My father had his own company and my husband used to run a small business, so I’ve seen all of the intricacies involved and what it’s like to work really hard day and night. Witnessing the passion of my family is why I love what we do at ZenBusiness to help simplify entrepreneurship for people.
While passion is powerful, remember that you can’t get where you want to go fast if you’re on your own. I chose to start ZenBusiness with other trusted counterparts, and now, through our guided platform, we are making it easier for small businesses not to achieve their dreams alone.
Whatever your dream is, find people who know things you don’t who complement each other, and follow the mantra—be fearless, be ethical, be passionate—and I promise, your journey will be incredible.