Every two weeks we are introducing you to inspiring women on our network and share their stories. Maybe they can become your role models and lower the barrier to connect online and offline, especially when you meet in our meetups.

Your name? Leila Gharavi

Where do you work?

I work for the GODESS Institute of Research and Development at Hanken School of Economics. I will add that GODESS is a brilliant abbreviation, in my opinion, that stands for Gender, Organisation, Diversity, Equality and Social Sustainability. And there is also one last part at the end “in transnational times,” that completes the whole picture.

What is your title? I am the coordinator of the GODESS Institute

What is your story, your background?

I was born in Tehran, Iran. Growing up, I was excellent at my studies, while also madly in love with sports and excelling at playing them. I kept both tracks going in parallel, although studies and career always came first due to circumstances. I got my B.Sc. in Telecommunications in Iran and my M.Sc. in Digital Communication Systems and Technology in Sweden. I then moved to Finland to do my master’s thesis with the then Nokia Research Center (NRC) and continued working there for nearly 10 years. During my time with NRC, I was mostly engaging in hardware research, in particular toward 3G and 4G mobile technology, and power-amplifiers in transmitters, although in later years I was also developing routing/networking algorithms for a device-to-device mobile communication concept using the MATLAB simulation tool.

After ten years, though, I changed the direction of my professional life completely and obtained a B.A in Sport Management. Of all the possibilities to continue with and shape up my new professional path, for instance, sport and exercise psychology – which is an exciting field with great career prospects, too – guess what happened? I became aware of and got deeply fascinated by the issue of gender, like an engineer approaching an age-old problem, well, that hasn’t been solved yet.

For the past 6-7 years, I have immersed myself in studying and learning about all aspects of gender and the related inequalities, alongside working hands-on for 3 years for the International Working Group on Women and Sport, while their secretariat was in Helsinki.

Finally, I am pleased to add that I have been admitted to a Master program in the relatively new field of “Computational Social Science” in Linköping University in Sweden, starting from Autumn 2019, which will give me a fantastic opportunity to combine my background in engineering/technology with my new-found zest for social studies.

Is technology part of you work? If yes, can you describe how? If not, why do you find technology interesting?

During the recent decade of my life, I have only been following technology and its development, mainly as possible tools in my work and life and also for not losing touch with the latest trends while I was attending to the social side of things, whereas previously, my work directly entailed wireless/mobile communication technology, its research and development.

As a ‘woman in tech’ and a ‘woman in sport’ who has transitioned to social sciences, as well, and also as someone from somewhere in the Middle East who has lived in the Nordics for 20+ years, having reconciled vastly different cultures, currently working for GODESS and on social challenges, I am mostly interested in the societal outreach when we talk about research and development. I would like to see that the produced knowledge about our individual and social lives, our diversity, and the way we organise ourselves is available to and is flowing in the society at large. To that end, technology can play an exciting and essential role.

Your biggest challenge at the moment at work or in self-development?

Couple of years ago, after recent years of having studied subjects like physiology, psychology, sociology, gender, pedagogy/didactics, and a host of business- and management-related topics, etc. I took a look at the transcript of records of my Master’s degree in telecommunications, and I went like: “Oh goodness me, they made us into machines!”

There were mathematical theories, courses on digital processing techniques, on various wireless technologies such as cellular, radar, satellite and so on without any trace of anything that would remotely tell us about the context all that technology is placed in: the history, the philosophy, the individual and social elements, or cultural and emotional skills etc. Ever since, I have also looked at a few friends’ transcripts, as well as the study curricula of a few engineering programs around, and they all more or less reflect the same reality.

After some digging, one would realise that our current educational system – be it engineering or else – is all about “technical skills building” of various kind, and not necessarily about training and delivering wholesome, intellectually and ethically/socially aware and responsible individuals that, on top of their social awareness and essential human skills, will each benefit the society with various and essential kind of technical skills, as well. Perhaps once upon a time, this mechanical way of educating the next generation would suffice but in the 21st century, where we literally live in a global village with a sudden rise in the degree of human complexity, it is not good enough anymore.

My current dilemma, or as they say ‘what keeps me awake at night’ at the moment, is to try my part in creating the much-needed marriage between the technical and the social. The million-dollar question to myself is: How would I convince my younger self that educating human-beings in both tracks in parallel is essential?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

On the side of career, it would be great to be have finished my new Master Degree, and gone one step further even and reached the final stages of a Doctoral Degree, too (I already have couple of viable ideas), as well as having found answers to some of the never-ending stream of questions I am contemplating on.
All that said, I will always try to let life unfold to various extents of unpredictability. Who knows where I will be in five years’ time? Let’s just live it, come what may!

On the side of essentials in life and actually living it, I will hopefully have become the best version of myself yet, closer and closer to the core self and the core mission for which I have showed up here and now in this life.

What Future Female network has given you? Or what would you like it to give you?

I have been frequenting Future Female events ever since 2013, I guess. And I love it that they strive to showcase and present the network with all the corners that technology has reached and touched. The events are of high quality, too, and I am grateful.

Personally, I would wish that Future Female consider introducing “social and humanistic content” in their meet-ups, as well. And that would be for the sake of the content itself, as well as the application in technology and technical/professional careers. Raising knowledge and awareness in this direction will take us a long way, to everyone’s benefit.

What is the best and the most important quality in your professional persona from your point of view?

For a long time I thought that one of my valuable qualities was paying attention to details, and being an engineer, it made a lot of sense, too. And that is certainly true. But I have recently realised that I strive a lot for the big picture, as well.

Today, I would tell you that details only make sense within a big picture. One of the reasons why we can’t close the centuries-old gender gaps (among others), despite all the efforts, is that generation after generation we make ourselves busy attending to the details, which is absolutely necessary but sadly, not sufficient.

It’s like attempting at a highly-complicated 1000-piece puzzle without the model picture! Now admittedly, pinpointing the big picture or even agreeing upon it is not an easy task. That said, I would still strive for it and then within it, I would attend to the details most essential and interesting to me.

Quote that inspires you the most?

In the spirit of writing for Future Female, I will share a quote from a woman even though I had all kinds of quotes rushing to my head from, well, men. Oprah Winfrey says: “I don’t believe in luck. For me, luck is: preparation meeting the moment of opportunity.” Now, that’s a good one!

Last but not least – name one woman who you admire and why? 

I must say that recently, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, has shown outstanding leadership on the world stage. Her conduct has been outright norm-critical, which is rather counter-intuitive. You would think that the way she conducts herself and deals with the situations should be the norm, rather than critical or counter to the norms! Well, it shows where we collectively are with our humanity. Overall, she has given me hope for politics and its direction.

An outstanding woman to admire from the world of sport is Billie Jean King. A tennis star in the 60’s and 70’s, her contributions to making the world a better place for everybody, not just in sports, are immense. Remember to check out “Battle of The Sexes” and/or watch any one of a number of documentaries and movies with the title.

And last but not least, for a woman in tech to admire, I will bring attention to Anousheh Ansari. She is originally from Iran, an Electrical and Computer Engineer, a businesswoman, the first self-funded woman to travel into space, and currently, the CEO of XPrize Foundation.

Want to share thought and grab a coffee with Leila?

Please be in touch with Leila via LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/leilagharavi/