02 March 2022
What was your big career break?
Let me tell you. It happened when Starent’s CEO Ashraf Dahod gave me an opportunity. The story goes like this …
At the age of 37, newly single, with a new mortgage, & a 2-year old son counting on me to provide for him, I realized that as an EA, I had little opportunity to advance.
On a mid-winter afternoon in 2007, I marched into my CEO’s office determined to ask for his support.
Thoughts raced through my head. I had heard about an entry-level marketing job that sounded like an opportunity for career growth. I had been considering my options carefully & going back to school was not financially viable in my present circumstances, but this job…this job felt like something to help me grow. I knew that given the chance; I would succeed. All I needed was a chance to prove myself. All I needed was a “yes” from my boss, the CEO.
But I am his EA, I support the whole executive team. Will he let me go?
Anxiety roiled in the pit of my stomach as I walked into his office. I remember the way the sunlight streamed through the window across his desk like it was yesterday. His answer had the power to be life changing.
I took a deep breath, and with no preamble, before I could change my mind, I told him, “There is an opening in the marketing department, and I want a transfer.”
He studied me for what felt like an eternity, then he smiled, and said, “I would miss you, but I cannot be selfish and stop your growth.”
I didn’t even realize I was holding my breath until I felt it whoosh out of me at his answer.
And just like that, with one simple “yes,” I got my biggest career break. With that one simple “yes”, I took the first step of my journey to becoming one of the best marketers in the tech industry & a C-level female executive.
And make no mistake, it was hard work. For a full year, I did both jobs—EA & marketing, learning all I could about the marketing profession, while as a single mom, raising my son.
I did not know back then that one day my story of “asking for more” might help others: other single moms, other immigrant women, other women struggling to make ends meet in entry-level jobs…in short, other women who want more. Other women just like me.
It’s taken me 14 years since that mid-winter day, when I asked for a job, I wasn’t sure I deserved, but each day, I make a conscious choice not to hide the extraordinary light of my true self and perform to my best ability.
Who was your hero when you were growing up?
My mom has been always my hero. She has been gone 10 years now. We fell out of touch during the last years of her life, but her unconditional love, and the hard work she demonstrated and taught me made me who I am today.
She got to be the person she was because she was a single mom to twin daughters in communist Russia. She worked extremely hard. Every weekday, she got up in the dark at 5 AM to get ready for work, then get on a bus for an hour-long ride to be at work by 7 AM. She was working as a secretary making just enough to cover basic food and clothing needs and we had hard times making ends meet. That meant that sometimes we had to borrow macaroni from the neighbors or walked to a place instead of riding a public bus. But she never gave up hope and she never allowed my sister and me to give up hope. When Russia was going through turmoil in the early nineties, she knew that her daughters “deserved better.” She sold what she could, an apartment, her jewelry, so her daughters could immigrate to Canada, because she believed we deserved better, and we could only build a better life in a free world.
Never in my wildest dreams did I, an immigrant woman and a single mother, imagine that I would become who I am today, a C-level executive.
All because of those words that my mother said to me when I was growing up “you deserve better”. Because of those words I would dream the biggest dreams.
If you had to work in a different industry, which would you choose?
A Hollywood actress! I still have some time to fulfill that dream once I retire from telecom though.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Don’t act like a victim.” This means that a person is always in control of their life. We cannot blame others for us not getting to our goals.
If you could live anywhere, where would you choose?
Anywhere where there is no snow. I grew up in Russia, then lived in Canada and now I have been living in New England for 20+ years. So, dealing with winter and all that cold and snow is getting old. I would love to live somewhere closer to the ocean (if I can afford it). The sounds and the smells of the ocean are very calming.
At some point in my life, I thought that I would go back to the big city life eventually, with lots of things happening. I have been living in the small-town USA now for almost half of my life and I appreciate the serenity and simplicity of that life. So, I have realized that small town is where I belong, just not with the snow.
Which law would you most like to change?
I would change any law where the government tells people what to do with their bodies. For example, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a fundamental “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion. And we still have many countries preventing women in 2021 (!) the right to choose what to do with their bodies.
What would you do with US$1m?
Let me tell you. First, I would give some scholarship money to my nephews and nieces. Student debt can cripple a young person when they get out of college. So, by giving them the scholarship money, my hope is to give them a leg up and start their adult life after college in a better position than many.
Secondly, I would donate to programs that help with food insecurity for school age children. My husband grew up very poor and the only meals he got were the meals that he got when he went to school, on the weekends he often went hungry. And he grew up in Massachusetts! During Covid when the schools were closed and just like my husband experienced, children did not have access to food, I drove food early in the morning to central locations where parents can pick the meals up.
Thirdly, I would establish a charity where I can help immigrant women like me to create better lives.
If you could have dinner with any famous person, past or present, who would you choose?
That would be Princess Diana. I relate to her as she was a simple girl and once, she fell in a position of power, she made sure she used it for good, to make an impact on the world.
Which place must you visit before it’s too late?
I miss traveling … My job and my personal passion for travel took me to many different places across the world, from Brazil to Japan. I am always fascinated by new cultures and excited to meet new people. I would like to go back to Paris and Venice. I also would like to visit Australia and the Pacific islands. Who am I kidding? There is not a particular place, I want to see all the 7 wonders of the world, all 1000 places a person should visit. Sign me up!