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October 10, 2023 Women in Digital

Here at Women in Digital, we believe that gender diversity is just the beginning of a much broader conversation about workplace diversity. Diversity isn’t a one-dimensional concept; it takes many forms and when you examine high-performing companies it becomes increasingly apparent that diversity—of thought, culture, and experience—is not only desirable but essential. Someone we were very excited to talk to on this topic is Nazli Seghar.

Hailing from Iran and now a prominent business leader and transformation advisor, Nazli Seghar exemplifies the power of passion and perseverance. From her childhood dreams of becoming a movie director to her unexpected entry into computer science, Nazli’s story is a testament to the power of pursuing one’s true interests and passions, even when the path seems uncertain.

Today, Nazli is a Customer Success Executive at Cisco with over 20 years of experience under her belt in successfully leading teams in various government and large private organisations including the University of Newcastle, CSIRO, AWS (working in space innovation!) and Cisco where she has carried through her unrelenting drive to explore the possibilities of emerging technologies.

In this Q&A, we discuss Nazli’s journey into tech, her experiences working as a woman in tech in Iran and building a professional career in Australia, and the unique challenges that have influenced her leadership style and approach to managing diverse teams. We also heard Nazli’s advice on getting your foot in the door with large tech innovators, facing cultural barriers at work and more.

This promises to be an inspiring read!

To kick things off, what did 5-year-old Nazli want to be when she grew up?

Back when I was 5 years old, I had my sights set on becoming a movie director and producer. I would go on scouring for stories, rounding up all the neighbourhood kids feeling like a mini-Hollywood casting director, and putting on performances that would leave their parents in awe (or at least, they pretended convincingly!). Lights, camera, action—In my own eyes, I was the little maestro of backyard blockbusters!

How did you end up in your current role at Cisco?

Six months ago, I embarked on an exciting journey with Cisco, taking on the role of Customer Success Executive as part of the ANZ Customer Success team. This position, relatively new to the tech industry, is centred around aiding customers to maximise the value from their investments. Rather than a traditional sales-centric role, it’s about fostering a positive customer experience as they navigate their transformational journey.

Throughout my career, I’ve always been passionate about ensuring customer success, and this role allows me to focus on just that. My particular enthusiasm lies in the industry I am currently engaged with, which adds further motivation and excitement to my work. At Cisco, I continue to champion customer satisfaction and success, making their journey both seamless and rewarding.

It is commonly recognised that there are fewer female leaders in digital and technology. Could you tell us a little bit about your career background and how you ended up working in the industry in general?

When I was faced with the decision of choosing my future career in Iran, the university entrance exams were very competitive, leaving little room for choice. I initially dreamed of becoming an architect, but circumstances led me to be accepted into the field of computer science. Surprisingly, it was harder to get into computer science, and I didn’t think I stood a chance of getting accepted and to be honest, I had only added it to my list to please my mum, who had already been disappointed that I didn’t aspire to become a doctor. With a computer science degree, I embarked on my journey in technology, and it felt like a natural fit for me. Even when an unexpected opportunity arose for me to study architecture and even work at an architectural firm a few years later, I realised just how fortunate I was to have veered away from pursuing architecture, and that I eventually found myself doing what I am doing now. My current path aligns perfectly with my curiosity for emerging technologies and my personal passion. It is a testament to the fact that when you follow your true interests and passions, you naturally gravitate towards a fulfilling and rewarding career, regardless of the specific academic path you initially embark upon.

You were able to grow an impressive resume working in Iran before moving to Australia. What was that experience like? How did go about building up your network, and professional career in Australia?

Back when I was completing my bachelor’s degree, a miraculous opportunity presented itself—I stumbled upon Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), of all things, for my thesis. Little did I know that this seemingly niche topic would open doors for me in the vast realm of the online world including leading the software team of the first web platform in Iran. Fresh out of university, I ventured into Iran’s male-dominated tech industry, working on the country’s first online platform without the convenience of Google. Instead, we relied on books and hands-on learning to deliver. Although the challenges were immense, the result was exceptionally rewarding. When I relocated to Australia, by a stroke of incredible fortune and reward for working hard and getting good marks in my master’s degree, found a job at university which was a stepping stone for me for my future career. I found myself working at CSIRO—an experience that has played a pivotal role in shaping my career and leadership in advanced technology. With each new wave of emerging technologies, I’ve been irresistibly drawn in. I was curious about the potential of cloud computing within AWS and that’s how I ended up working at AWS which led me to leading the aerospace and satellite business in ANZ for AWS and working with amazing space innovators in the region. I love pushing my limits, constantly seeking new challenges, and right now I consider myself unbelievably fortunate to be surrounded by the greatest and brightest minds in Cisco. Collaborating with these remarkable individuals who have shaped technology infrastructure across the globe is a privilege beyond measure.

Reflecting on that, is there anything you would do differently? And what would your advice be to someone starting fresh in a new country?

Growing up in war in Iran has taught me not to dwell on the past with regret. If I have emerged from those circumstances alive, I consider it a success. While I do acknowledge and learn from my mistakes, I view them primarily as opportunities for personal growth. Thus, would I change anything? Probably not, as it would hinder the valuable lessons I have learned. They are like treasures. However, I constantly strive to do better and improve upon my past experiences.

To anyone embarking on a new journey in a foreign country, my advice is to recognise that most of the limitations we assume to exist are often confined within our own minds. It is essential not to let those self-imposed limitations restrict our potential. I often advise my mentees that migrating to a new country is like finding yourself in a situation where you lack the keys to various aspects of life, from finding a home to applying for jobs and more. It can be overwhelming, but instead of succumbing to the pressure, approaching it with enthusiasm, excitement, and curiosity will often result in positive outcomes and solutions to most challenges.

How would you compare your experiences working in Iran vs. Australia? Were there any interesting challenges you had to overcome?

This is an intriguing question. One of the greatest aspects of Australia is that if you remain focused on your goals and genuinely passionate about your pursuits, your efforts will not go unnoticed, and you will make progress. While challenging situations exist everywhere, in Australia, these challenges often revolve around specific individuals you encounter in your career. In Iran, however, there are additional political challenges that make things significantly more complex, especially for women. Unfortunately, being a woman in the tech industry and striving to become a leader is still more challenging for women worldwide. In Iran, this situation is exacerbated by laws that favour men. However, in Australia and Western countries in general, there is growing awareness and encouragement for gender equality in the tech space. While there is still progress to be made, the recognition and support for doing what is right is increasingly prevalent.

It is often said that as a woman in the tech industry, you must work twice as hard to gain recognition. When you add an accent to the equation, the expectation is that you must work three times as hard! Building trust becomes crucial, and being extremely results-driven becomes a necessity. In Iran, that wasn’t any barrier, but there were thousands others!

How have your cultural background and experiences influenced your leadership style and approach to managing diverse teams?

You may be aware that Iran is a collective society where strong loyalty to family is highly valued. In this cultural context, the interests of the family always come first, and individual needs take a backseat. The concept of family honour and shame is shared by all members, where success brings prestige, and any dishonour affects everyone. This deeply ingrained aspect has profoundly shaped my leadership style, emphasising the importance of unity, responsibility, and the collective well-being of those I lead.

As a leader, my team and customers are like family to me. I take responsibility for my team members’ mistakes while celebrating their individual achievements. I deeply care about my customers’ success and treat them with the same genuine interest as I would my family members. I prioritise their best interests, even if it comes at a cost to my own situation. This genuine care has fostered strong bonds with my team, leading to lasting connections that transcend time and cultural backgrounds.

Coming from a diverse cultural background, I empathise with the challenges faced by individuals from minority backgrounds. Embracing diversity, I actively seek varied viewpoints rather than surrounding myself with like-minded individuals. I value the unique perspectives that diversity brings to the team and strive to create an inclusive environment. Learning from exposure to other cultures and their leadership styles has been instrumental in my personal and professional growth.

You have worked with some heavy hitters in Australia including CSIRO, AWS and now Cisco. How did you get your foot in the door? What is your advice to others looking to get their foot in the door with large tech innovators like these organisations?

It is often said that success in one’s career is a blend of passion, hard work, and a sprinkle of luck. There are moments in life where the choices we make can have a profound impact, and that’s where luck comes into play. I have encountered several pivotal moments in my journey. Meeting two incredible women during my masters at the University of Newcastle paved the way for my first job, leading to more opportunities. The first job is always challenging, but once you secure it and perform exceptionally well, the doors begin to open. As a woman, I encourage others to seize chances and never assume they won’t be chosen. What I always emphasise to my mentees is to go for it— the worst that can happen is not getting it. Throughout my years of experience, I have hired numerous individuals. I believe that technical skills can be learned, but finding the right cultural fit is crucial. Interviews are also a chance for candidates to assess if the company aligns with their values. Ultimately, my advice is to pursue something you love and a company that brings out your passion. Go for it!

In your opinion, what can organisations and leaders do to create a more inclusive and diverse environment, particularly in relation to gender and cultural diversity?

To promote diversity and inclusivity, we must actively and consciously embrace differences with an open mind. It’s important to challenge ourselves to be comfortable with discomfort and resist the natural inclination towards familiarity, whether in gender or culture. Stepping out of our comfort zones and creating a safe environment where everyone can freely express themselves is crucial. By doing so, we can foster a culture of inclusivity, embrace diverse perspectives, and work towards a more inclusive future.

What advice do you have for women that are wanting to progress in their career but perhaps face some cultural barriers?

To pursue your ambitions, you must be resolute and courageous, with a clear destination and well-defined goals. Seek a reliable mentor, take ownership of your future, and actively engage in networking. Showcase your capabilities and ask for assistance when needed. If cultural barriers arise, seek advice from those who have overcome similar challenges. With determination and perseverance, success will be within reach. Remember, it is up to you to demonstrate your worth and make your dreams a reality.

Any final thoughts you would like to add?

First and foremost, I want to express my gratitude to the Women in Digital for providing this opportunity and for the incredible work you do.

To all the amazing women out there, I offer this advice: never underestimate your capabilities and always aim high. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve. Believe in yourself and embrace the power of your potential. Keep pushing boundaries and reaching for the stars!

And just for fun… What is a podcast or book you are loving right now?

One of the books I cherish, recommended by a mentor, is “Untamed”. Additionally, I found great enjoyment in reading “The Dopamine Nation”. As a dedicated podcast listener, “Space Connect” is among my favourites, and “Everyday AI” by CSIRO also captivates my interest. These resources have enriched my knowledge and sparked my curiosity in various subjects.

Is there something you wish was illegal but isn’t?

I believe that while society is aware of the prohibition of certain forms of discrimination, additional measures should be implemented to combat them in various ways. I strongly advocate making such discrimination illegal, akin to crossing a red light. By enacting stringent laws and enforcing them rigorously, we can foster a more inclusive and equitable society that upholds the values of fairness and respect for all individuals.

What is your favourite way to waste time?

I have a deep passion for cooking, especially when it comes to discovering new recipes that I haven’t tried before and preparing them in my kitchen! There’s something incredibly satisfying about exploring different flavours, ingredients, and techniques to create delicious dishes. Cooking allows me to unleash my creativity and brings joy as I experiment with new flavours and textures. It’s a delightful journey of culinary discovery that I thoroughly enjoy.

You’re suddenly teleported to an airport with a plane ticket in hand. What location are you hoping to see on the ticket?

Egypt, I really want to visit Egypt.

Keep an eye on our blog for more Women in Digital Member Spotlights and don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.


 

Want to join our thriving community of digital-loving, career-driven, diversity-championing humans and get access to exclusive members-only opportunities? Join the Women in Digital Membership today! Click here to learn more.


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August 23, 2023 Women in Digital

The signs of a growing tech industry are all around us, and for many women, a career-pivot in technology is an exciting pursuit – though one that may require some encouragement.

The tech sector is now the seventh largest employing sector in Australia, employing 861,000 people according to the Tech Council of Australia. With more opportunities becoming accessible for people to work in this lucrative industry, we are seeing more women entering the tech sector as a mid-career transition, like Teena Glassick.

Like many tech leaders we connect with, Teena Glassick’s journey into the world of technology wasn’t a straight path right after high school. It took some interesting twists and turns. Initially, Teena pursued her passion for dance starting a Bachelor of Arts in Dance at the Victorian College of Arts in Melbourne. However, her path took a different direction when she decided to pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science in Microbiology and Biochemistry. After completing her research-focused honours year, Teena spent five years exploring various research roles before she took the bold move to enrol in a Graduate Diploma in Informational Technology. Today, Teena is a Senior Director of Product Engineering and Operations at Skedulo.

In this Q&A, we get to know Teena’s fascinating journey into tech, the challenges she’s overcome, advice to people pondering a career pivot into the industry and where to get started!

To kick things off, what did 5-year-old Teena want to be when she grew up?

Either an author or a ballerina. I absolutely loved writing stories from quite a young age, with my most famous piece being a story called “The Storm”, which I wrote in Year 2 and got a special Principal’s award for!

Tell us a little bit about how you ended up in your current role??

I discovered Skedulo through the Tech Girls Are Superheroes program. I had been a mentor for the program and joined the winning teams as an ambassador on their trip to Silicon Valley in 2018. Skedulo was one of the companies we visited. I met our CEO Matt Fairhurst and some other members of the team. I was very inspired by their product and leadership team and after that trip I just kept them on my radar. Then, in 2021, a recruiter contacted me about an opportunity at Skedulo, to help support their high capacity vaccination booking product and I was really excited by the role and joined the team.

After your first career pivot from dance to biology, what motivated you to pivot from academia into tech? How did you evaluate the potential risks and rewards of the transition?

To have a career in academia, you really need to do a PhD. I had enrolled in a PhD and even had a supervisor and scholarship ready to go and I got cold feet just before I was due to start! I was just not sure that was the right pathway for me and to be honest, whilst I enjoyed the learning and the research, I did not enjoy the lab work and was not sure if I was ready to commit.

At the time, I was quite interested in the field of Bioinformatics and decided to do an IT postgraduate degree as a possible pathway into that field. I really enjoyed my study and in particular I really liked my software development subjects and decided to pursue a career as a Software Developer. The advice I gave myself and give to my young adult daughters is to just try things out until you find the thing that ‘fits’ and that you enjoy.

How did your experience in academia lend itself to a career in tech? Were there transferable skills that you took through with you?

I think there are many skills and capabilities that are transferable across professions. For me specifically, my main callouts in the transition from life sciences to IT are research skills and applying the scientific method (which is the systematic way of exploring observations and answering questions) to software development practices and processes.

How did you prepare yourself for this transition? Were there any specific resources, mentors, or networks that supported you during your career pivots? How did they contribute to your success?

When thinking about a career pivot, I try to do some personal learning and research about specific roles and pathways into those roles. I have been very fortunate in my career to have had a couple of great managers who have believed in me more than I believed in myself and have encouraged me and supported my career growth and changes I’ve made along the way. I don’t have the highest self esteem so having people who want to ‘lift me up’ has been crucial for me.

When I first started my IT degree, my husband was also incredibly supportive. He had a strong background in computer science and maths and he firmly believed in my abilities to make the change and kept being my cheerleader while I was trying to balance full time work and part time study.

How did you manage to juggle a career pivot, while raising two children and working your way up into leadership positions?

Balancing a career and young children is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done! My daughters are my world and I went through periods of immense guilt when they were very young. I wanted to spend all my time with them, but I also did not want to give up or pause (for too long) a career that I had invested so heavily in.

The key to my survival and success was a flexible and supportive workplace and managers. When I first transitioned from an individual contributor role into a management role, I actually did this in a job share capacity with a colleague who also had young children and we were both working part time. This is fairly unheard of and was a very progressive decision from the company I worked for. My colleague and I found really effective ways of sharing an engineering management role with a shared inbox (this was pre-Slack!!), effective splitting of our responsibilities and ensuring that we had full coverage for any issues and escalations. We worked together in this way for a number of years and formed a great partnership. I think the company benefited from this decision and so did we.

Were there challenges and opportunities you encountered during this transition that you perhaps didn’t expect?

The biggest challenge I had when transitioning from an individual contributor role to a leadership role, was needing to become a manager to people who had previously been my peers (and friends). I think I lacked empathy as an IC about the challenges of leadership, thinking it was going to be a lot easier than it was. I did not fully appreciate that leadership is a distinct craft in itself and that I needed to develop and mature a whole new set of skills and capabilities to be successful, and I definitely made some mistakes (and still do) along the way.

What would you say to someone wondering if it’s ‘too late’ to make a change and pivot?

I don’t think it is ever too late to make a career pivot. We spend so much of our lives working and I am so grateful that I am in a role that I am passionate about and genuinely enjoy.

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently? What would you tell younger Teena?

I think I would probably just be a bit kinder to myself especially during those early years of balancing being a mum and maintaining a career. I tried (in vain) to be ‘perfect’ in both roles and just felt constant guilt on both sides – either I was not being a good enough Mum or I was not being a good enough employee. What I would tell women trying to do ‘the balance’ is that it does get easier over time and there will be times when the balance tips in one direction and that’s okay. What I would tell organisations is that flexibility and supportive leadership is so very important for parents and other people in caregiving roles who are doing a balancing act. I was so thankful for the support I received that I think I gave back more than was expected, learned to become very outcomes focused through ruthless prioritisation and developed a fierce loyalty for my company and my team in return.

If you could name two things that someone needs to successfully pivot into a career in tech, what would they be?

Start with the fundamentals – technology is a craft and you need to learn the key skills and capabilities of your chosen discipline. This could be through self learning or more formal education, but you will need to learn and that will take time, so be patient.

I would also encourage people to build a network or seek out people / meetup groups related to your area of interest. There is so much available that you will be spoilt for choice and you will gain immense benefit from having that network and hearing the ‘real life’ experiences that you won’t learn from your studies.

What advice do you have for women in tech that are wanting to progress in their career and move into a more strategic, people management role?

I would seek out opportunities to ‘dip your toe in the water’ of leadership as a good first step. This could be through an interim role or just identifying a gap that needs to be filled and putting yourself forward. As an example (in the software development space), this could be through taking on a team lead type role where you can combine your IC skills with some leadership responsibilities.

And just for fun… What is a podcast or book you are loving right now?

I am reading a great book right now called “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver. It is a story of poverty and addiction in the American South and inspired by the Charles Dickens novel “David Copperfield”.
I have also been listening to this really interesting podcast called “Sounds Like a Cult” which explores modern day cult culture.

Does your car have a name? If yes, what is it? If not, what name might you give it?

It does not – if it did I’d probably call it Bullet – fast and silver.

If you could magically pivot into a new career tomorrow (no upskill required), what would it be?

Probably medicine – I’ve always found human physiology completely fascinating.

What do you think your superpower is?

Being genuine and humanistic is a leadership superpower. (I also wear my feelings all over my face, so I have no choice because people can often read me like a book!)

Keep an eye on our blog for more Women in Digital Member Spotlights and don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.


 

Want to join our thriving community of digital-loving, career-driven, diversity-championing humans and get access to exclusive members-only opportunities? Join the Women in Digital Membership today! Click here to learn more.