TEDx Seattle 2017 — Dr. Fariba Alamdari: Empowered by Diversity
As a young girl in Iran, Fariba Alamdari, currently the Vice President of Marketing at Boeing, overheard people saying how disappointed her father was when the baby girl was born. Speaking at TEDx Seattle in November of 2017, Fariba revealed how shocked she was at hearing this tidbit. Given the close relationship Fariba had with her dad, it seemed impossible that he could regret her birth, but she couldn’t totally discount the negative rumors. So, she decided to ask. “Dad, were you sorry or disappointed when I was born?” He looked at her …and nodded. “Yes,” he said quietly. “Because I was a girl?” It seemed the obvious next question, no matter how painful.
Again, her father looked at her. “Never because you were a girl, but because I didn’t want my child to be subjected to all the biases.” “Oh.” Fariba knew that, even during the quasi-Western rule of Shah Pahlavi, the lives of women unfolded according to a paternalistic script. Boys felt the family pressure for success, but girls were constrained in a myriad of ways. Fortunately, Fariba’s father saw education as a path through many of those barriers, so she became that strangest of creatures in Iran, a woman encouraged and supported in striving to achieve anything she wanted.
When the revolution hit Iran and every strata of society was shaken, shattered, and rebuilt to a new, conservative vision, education and choice for women were early fatalities. Fariba, unwilling to give up on the future she had conjured and worked toward, left the country.
Arriving in England with little in the way of financial support, she was then trying to gain entrance to academe carrying the additional burden of foreignness. The revolution, spawned amid violence and the capture and imprisonment of 52 American citizens and diplomats was receiving nothing but negative press. In the face of that, the bravery to forge a personal path that she had found in Iran pursuing knowledge and career skills deserted her in those first months in England. “I was feeling afraid and uncomfortable, a kind of lost sense of identity,” she admitted to the rapt audience in McCaw Hall on that November day in 2017.
Fariba’s essential differences couldn’t be altered. She was a woman, an Irani immigrant, a non-native speaker of English, and poor. Nothing could mitigate these realities except the force of her own efforts. Thus began an internal revolution, wherein she began to see those aspects of diversity as advantages rather than stumbling blocks. “These were powerful differences that could enrich dialogue in my community and at work.” To augment those strengths, she peered into the myriad drawers of her persona and focused on bringing forth those that would engage and connect with the new environment.
The ducks of a redesigned life began to line up as she won academic scholarships, research opportunities, occasional lecture gigs, and ultimately, a Ph.D. Through all this, she became a master of collaboration, compassion, and openness, characteristics that created ample space for inclusiveness, acceptance, and the diversity which was her everyday norm. It was a time of growing globalization, in which problem-solving demanded multiple perspectives that might be transmitted from anywhere on the planet.
The life in Britain Fariba traversed wasn’t a cheerful yellow brick road. Those years held an unfair measure of bias, obstacles, and discrimination. People said things. People did things. Colleagues even occasionally tried to rein in her fearsome determination. When two positions, department head and professor, came up, Fariba considered applying. Others in the department were quick to point out the obvious, “Well, you’re a woman…” “Remember, you’re Irani…” and “Haven’t you heard of the glass ceiling?” At first, Fariba wondered if they were right, and then she wondered if they were attempting to define and minimize her options for success. Forswearing the mantle of victimhood, she determined to let strength of purpose, character, and goals “be in charge of my destiny, belief in myself.” When the hiring committee announced the results, she had scored both jobs!
An idealist might think there is a connection between the airline flight that facilitated Dr. Alamdari’s departure from Iran and her gradual move into Air Transport studies. Whether that’s true or not, step by step, degree by degree, Fariba moved into the field that called to her, and there she made a powerful, positive mark based on inclusion, cooperation, and team building. In 2006, Boeing came calling. I am not surprised. Fariba Alamdari consciously took the features of diversity that were her birthright, partnered them with critical values and built a life, a family, friendships, and an admirable career.