As an Iranian woman living and working in America, the women’s movement in Iran has caused me to reflect on how advocacy gives a voice to the voiceless. The advocacy demonstrated by these brave Iranians has inspired many to take action.
Effective advocates are necessary to create positive change—in the workplace, at home, and globally. Throughout my education and career, I’ve seen firsthand the power of advocacy—both in Iran and in the U.S. I’ve relied on women who carved paths for me to follow, and as an immigrant working as a semiconductor engineer in America, I’ve carved some paths of my own.
The need for advocacy is particularly apparent in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field. STEM jobs are male-dominated: only 16% of engineers are women and only about 6% of engineers are women of color. For this to evolve, it is crucial that women learn to advocate effectively for themselves and each other to create change.
As with many things, advocacy often begins at home. Home is one of the first places we need to challenge ourselves to remove biases—both intentional and unseen, internal and societal biases.
My mother came from a generation where women had to be three times better than men to receive half the respect. The most important degree wasn’t a Bachelors, but rather a Mrs. She earned a degree in electrical engineering and went on to develop a fantastic career, all while fighting blatant discrimination and lack of legal autonomy. She paved the way for me to earn my Bachelors, Masters, eventually Ph. D. in electrical engineering. My mother showed me that I could gain an education and was worthy of the same opportunities to pursue my dreams as anyone else.
My mother may have not realized it at the time, but her strong example taught me not to compromise, even when others might have thought that my goals aren’t possible. She also showed me that you can’t pour from an empty glass. When you take care of yourself, you can better support others.
Advocacy in the home carries into other aspects of life. If you can learn to communicate your needs with your loved ones, you’ll make strides in learning how to be an advocate at all times, for yourself and others.
I came to the U.S. seven years ago for graduate school and landed an amazing job as a semiconductor scientist. I cannot deny how hard this work is at times, but I consider myself truly fortunate to land at a company with an incredibly supportive team. My manager believes in me and gives me the support I need to succeed.
Recently I’ve begun mentoring a fellow Iranian scientist and co-worker, and in this capacity, I sometimes view myself as her advocate. It’s humbling and rewarding to help give her the same opportunities my mentors have given me. Our shared culture and similar challenges we’ve overcome in building a life in a new country empower us.
Being a mentor is a learning experience, and I find myself frequently drawing on the examples set by those who are currently advocating for my success. My manager has trusted me to be a mentor, and I’m giving my mentee the space to do what she’s best at. That’s the compounding power of advocacy; just as my mother, my manager, and my colleagues have poured into my glass, I can pay it forward by lifting up others.
One of the best ways to lift others up is to make sure they’re seen. Representation is important. There is something powerful about knowing that others in your workplace understand you. I remember feeling lonely and homesick during my first Nowruz in the United States, for example. This year, my mentee and I both left work early on days during Nowruz to celebrate.
Advocacy at work takes many forms. It’s speaking up when you see something that isn’t right. It’s encouraging others to do their best work or take on a new challenge. It’s listening to the perspectives of those who have diverse backgrounds. It’s being intentional in recognizing successes and celebrating growth. A workplace of self-advocates is a healthy, happy, and engaged workplace.
Don’t underestimate the potential impact of your advocacy, no matter what you’re standing up for. While the Iranian women who first sparked the months-long revolution may not have known how widespread it would grow, they knew that nobody would stand up for their rights unless they stood up for themselves.
No matter if you’re advocating for yourself as a woman working in STEM or for global womens’ rights, your voice matters. Stand up and let others hear it.
Yasaman Sargol is a semiconductor materials scientist at Seurat Technologies, where she works on the next generation of 3D metal printing. Yasaman is an Iranian immigrant living and working in the Boston area. She holds degrees from Sharif University of Technology and North Carolina State University (PhD).