On Changemaking

Dr. Bushra Anjum writes an op-ed to conclude the month that celebrates Women in Science Day.
On Changemaking

I work for a San Francisco based health tech firm, Doximity, as their Senior Data Analytics Manager. Doximity provides digital workflow tools for medical professionals such as doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and pharmacists in the US. It is surprising how the health care system is one of the last benefactors of the digital revolution. My team, the data department consisting of data analysts, ML engineers, etc., ensures that we accurately understand user engagement, needs, and preferences. We then advise the product decision-making accordingly. We are also building out advanced analysis pipelines and prediction models to support digital fax, appointment and referral, health records sharing, continued medical education credits, and other services. It will not be incorrect to say that my team, and Doximity in general, is leading the efforts to bring the health care systems to the 21st century.

As senior women in tech, we are often asked the question, “what advice will you give to students and other women in computing?” I have thought about it quite a bit, and I believe everyone can benefit by clearing two misconceptions early. The first misconception is you have to be an expert to volunteer in the field, and the second is needlessly imposing options when it is not required to choose.

First, I would encourage everyone to start giving back early, to volunteer! There are a few reasons that hinder people from volunteering. For example, I struggled with the notion that “I am not experienced enough to give back.” In my mind, people like doctors and lawyers volunteer when they have a thriving career and success record. I used to think, what can I, as a student or an early career professional, offer? I have learned over the years that even if you lack the experience or financial resources to have an impact, you have the same amount of time, the same 24 hours, as anyone else. Time is the world’s most coveted resource. You can use this invaluable resource to make a difference.

Talking about time, the other most common reason people don’t volunteer is that they think “we don’t have extra time”. I challenge you to reconsider that you need to have “extra” time to volunteer. Volunteering is an intrinsically rewarding activity and can realign you with your values in life. If the “feel good” factor is not enough for you, know that volunteering is one of the best ways to build trust and rapport with people who can be critical in your career growth and success. I am currently a volunteer at Association for Computing Machinery – Women, Rewriting the Code, TechGirlz, MentorNet, to name a few, and some regional groups like Pakistani Women in Computing. Some of the most rewarding experiences in my life have been as a volunteer, and I have been able to build a strong and lasting network that shares my values. I would want the same for you.

Second, recognizing and embracing the power of a simple three-letter word, “AND”. The biggest way this has helped me is to realize that I don’t have to negate parts of my personality to be perceived as competent. For example, have you heard (admittedly well-meaning) statements like, “humility is a good value, BUT it’s time for women to set it aside and unapologetically talk about your achievements”? In my humble opinion, the notion of BUT is problematic. “but” imposes a choice, “but” creates division. It doesn’t have to be a choice; it doesn’t have to be one or the other. How about we use “and”? You can be humble AND work on self-branding. You can be polite, flexible, and accommodating AND not let people take advantage of you. You can use the word “sorry” in your conversation and the word “just” in your emails if it is part of your politeness language AND make sure you are being taken seriously. Whatever comes naturally to you, feels authentic, is ok to hold on to while still evolving to a better self. If you want to change and leave some personality traits behind, that is fine as well, as long as you don’t feel obligated to do so. AND I am not suggesting you anything different from what I do daily.

Here is one more “and” for you. Don’t actively scan for discriminatory behavior, as that will put you too much into the fight or flight zone (thanks amygdala!), AND if discrimination finds you, fight against it with all your strength, courage, and prudence. Please understand that “and” creates togetherness, whereas “but” negates whatever precedes it; “and” builds rapport whereas “but” creates friction. Let’s all be kind to ourselves and others. Let’s embrace the power of AND, both in our language and our life choices.


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