Voices of the Community

Iranian Women in Computing: From a Small Gathering on a Balcony to a Global Community

by Maral Mesmakhosroshahi

Standing on the balcony of the Houston Convention Center, surrounded by Iranian women from across the country, Maral Mesmakhosroshahi knew something special was forming. From that initial gathering at Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) in 2015, the Iranian Women in Computing (IranianWiC) community has grown to include active members in more than 86 cities from 39 states in the U.S. As a nonprofit organization, they focus on supporting Iranian women in computing-related fields, especially graduate students and early stage professionals.

As the community leader for IranianWiC, Maral envisions a world where every person interested in technology can have an equal chance to pursue their passion regardless of their gender or nationality. The IranianWiC mission encompasses building a strong community of Iranian women in computing and their allies, along with offering different programs including peer mentorship, networking events, and social media engagement. Much of the group’s success can be attributed to their dedicated Board of Directors, who have been the backbone of the organization along with several volunteers that work hard to contribute to our community.

Maral’s personal journey into tech grew out of a passion and expertise in math. She went on to receive a doctorate in electrical engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology.

“I was confident about my skills in math, and my family and teachers helped me gain more confidence to follow a path in technology,” Maral said. “I ranked 56th among around 400,000 students in the national university entrance exam in Iran and could enter Sharif University of Technology, which is the most prestigious STEM school in Iran to study electrical engineering.”

A point of pride for Maral is establishing IranianWiC’s peer mentorship program, which aims to support Iranian women studying and working in computing-related areas at different stages of their academic and professional lives. Under the guidance and advice of more experienced members, they are empowered to overcome challenges and learn new skills.

“Our mentees have the opportunity to get many interviews and new jobs, publish papers with their mentors, and grow their technical, academic, and professional skills,” Maral shared.

More than 50 Iranian women have been matched with a mentor from the community to receive further guidance and build their professional career paths. In addition, they offer speed mentoring during major conferences and events, especially GHC, to connect the Iranian women attendees with mentors who generously volunteer to help their peers.

Maral knows the impact having a solid support system can have. “I believe in the power of community and support network,” she explained. “Struggling with being a female immigrant in STEM, I have learned that no matter how successful you are, the most valuable thing you can have in your life is a good support network; a network that cares about you and your future, supports you in your ups and downs, and helps you overcome the challenges and build confidence to follow your passion.”

Since 2018, IranianWiC started a series of events called #TogetherWeThrive where they join hands with other communities that align with their vision, mission, and values to show the power of collaboration between individuals and communities. Some of their past collaborative events include our #TogetherWeThrive with Iranian Googlers ERG, Iranian-Americans’ Contributions Project, and Pakistani Women in Computing.

“We recently received a generous grant from the Hand Foundation which is a great support for developing our plans,” Maral added “We would like to thank the Hand Foundation and Noosheen Hashemi for their contribution.”

Read more posts from the thread “Voices of the Community,” or check out all of our Anita’s Quilt stories.