How Persian Women Entrepreneurs Are Changing The Tech Industry
Over the last five decades, Iranians migrated to the West for a variety of reasons. Some families settled in the U.S. and Canada in 1960s and 1970s. They were often highly educated and entrepreneurial in spirit. Others came over after the revolution for either political reasons or to continue their education. All of them built a new life amidst challenges such as cultural differences, language barriers and, sometimes, discrimination.
It wasn’t easy, but the Persian spirit of perseverance helped them survive and thrive. I am one of those immigrants who left just before revolution in 1977, and I experienced the adjustment to life in a new country and its associated opportunities firsthand.
Now the children of these immigrants, Persian millennials, face the challenges of being first-generation Americans. Some were brought to the United States as very young children, others were born here. All had to navigate growing up with the sometimes clashing cultures, living in the shadow of major disruption in Iran, and even discrimination for being different.
In this new generation, I see a group of people with the Persian DNA, but the life experience of growing up in the United States. The women in particular impress me with their resiliency and the fact that they don’t take a back seat to men. They are a force to be reckoned with, especially in the tech and startup worlds. Organizations such as Persian Women in Tech (PWIT) serve to continue empowering one another.
In honor of International Women’s Day today, Women’s History Month and the three-year anniversary of PWIT, I thought it most appropriate to recognize and celebrate this group of women who are using their talent, resiliency and problem-solving skills to excel in the business world.
Persian women face many of the same issues of any other female group: lower pay than male counterparts; a lack of promotion and leadership positions; and the struggles of balancing work and family life. The added complexity for a Persian woman often comes from the pressures of her own culture and from sometimes being so different from her parents.
According to Sepideh Nasiri, founder and CEO of PWIT, there is still a lack of women participating in the tech industry, and we need to change that. So she and a friend decided to do something about it. They hosted a casual wine and cheese gathering to gauge interest in a tech group focused on Persian women. Seven women showed up to that first meeting. By the second meeting, 40 women were there. The numbers continued to grow at each subsequent meeting and, thus, Persian Women in Tech was born. In the three years since the non-profit was founded, the membership has grown to 3,000 with some 10,000 subscribers on the mailing list. Today PWIT has chapters in six cities, and they have plans to be in 16 cities by the end of 2018.
Building on this momentum, they recently organized a successful conference in Sunnyvale, California on Feb. 10, 2018. It was massively successful, and future events include a major presence at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, as well as meet ups in San Francisco, Los Angeles, London and Boston. They are active and expanding very rapidly.
Today, the organization’s mission is to elevate women in technology by helping them find jobs, connect with others, and find investments for their companies. Though they call themselves Persian Women in Tech, events are open to all; men, women, Iranians and non-Iranians. They aren’t just thinking about professionals today—they are looking at ways to support the up-and-coming generations through programs that support entrepreneurial development and STEM education.
From the membership of more than 3,000 women, there are so many different yet familiar stories. Each woman shows leadership, effectiveness, willing to work hard, and, more importantly, they have huge hearts.
For examples, Parinaz Firozi, is a tech venture capitalist for International Finance Corporation (a private arm of the World Bank). Firozi invests into tech companies across emerging markets. Dr. Leila Pirhaji is the founder and CEO at ReviveMed. She has a Ph.D. in Biological Engineering from MIT and developed a machine-learning technology which translates data from small molecules into therapeutic solutions. Dr. Shirin Mojarad is lead data scientist for McGraw Hill Education and help others who want to become scientists learn the basics of data science. Mahtab Ghamsari is a developer and co-founder of VRSUS, a creative studio for capturing live music for virtual reality and re-creating the concert experience in VR. May Samali is a venture capitalist, lawyer and speaker who is passionate about investing in people and ideas that can change the world.
There are thousands more Persian women out there breaking barriers and making a name for themselves in the tech and startup communities. They are entrepreneurs, inventors, founders, CEOs, investors and leaders. As an Iranian-American and an entrepreneur, I am incredibly proud of my fellow entrepreneurs – the women of PWIT and all Persian women who faced challenges in their lives and rose above them. They are proud of their Persian heritage, of being women and of living in the West. These women are seizing and creating opportunities every day, and I am excited for what the future holds because of them.