GE Women in STEM: ‘Go with Your Strengths and Your Passions’
Cici Safavi had to change schools at one of the most difficult times in any young person’s life: her senior year of high school. What’s more, she was moving to a new country where she hardly spoke the language. Assessing her situation, Cici decided to focus her studies in an area that relied less on language and more on her other strengths.
“I felt that I was better in numbers, and I was good in physics. It was something I knew and performed well in, so I began with physics in my first year in university and moved into electrical engineering and more applied uses of science in following year.”
But this interest was not only driven by her confidence in the subjects, it was fueled by her enduring interest in figuring out how things worked.
“I’ve always been interested in better understanding my environment and the world we live in, and this can be understood and explained very well by physics and math.”
She earned a BSc in Electrical Engineering from Case Institute of Technology University and later earned an MBA combined with a Master’s Degree in Information Systems from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.
Manager of large, complex projects
Today, Cici is Director of the Project Management Office for Eastern Growth Markets at GE Healthcare. Although she doesn’t use her physics or electrical engineering background as much, she does rely heavily on her Information Systems training in her current job.
As head of the PMO unit, she leads a team that manages large, complex healthcare projects, such as a current multi-year project to equip a 1,000-bed hospital in Kuwait with all the equipment and software assets it will need to operate.
Cici also formally and informally mentors young women within and outside of GE.
These efforts are part of a global GE initiative to employ 20,000 women in STEM fields by 2020. At GE, this includes fields such as computer science, engineering, product management and manufacturing.
Already, across the MENAT region, GE employs more than 300 women in STEM fields. These numbers are growing, driven by projects such as GE Girls, which reaches out to eighth-grade girls, and a mentorship program for female university students in STEM fields.
Only three in a class of 25
Although she has more female colleagues now, when she was in university, there were few fellow students who were women, but that never stopped her.
“I was one of three women in a class of 25, but my motto was always to go where your heart pushes you. Don’t be intimidated because there aren’t as many women or you are getting pushback as a woman. Just follow your interests.
“I’m not saying all women should go into engineering, but rather that if that is your passion and if you’re interested, push through and follow your heart’s desire, don’t look at or be distracted by anything else.”
But she also adds that even if technology or digitization is not a passion, given the outsized role it will be playing in all parts of business, she advises the next generation to become more adept at this field.
Reflecting her pragmatism, Cici advises young women to “aside from your passion, to look to where the impact will be in the future, which is in the area of digital. The more you know about it, the more options you will have in your career.”
She also recognizes that mentoring and supporting other women in the workplace is always important, whether or not they are in STEM fields.
“It’s so important for more CEO women and other senior women to support their juniors, to help ensure their voice is heard. With support, they will feel more confident and be able to ensure their voice is heard at the table.”
“Organizations need to have this type of focus to support, especially younger female colleagues, to follow their interests & passion and to know that they have the support of their peers and their superiors who are trying to help them in their careers.