Pakistani Women in Tech: Meet Engr. Dr. Shehla Saleem, Role Model, Wifi Engineer at Apple, California
Women Engineers Pakistan had the chance to speak to the amazing Engr. Dr. Shehla Saleem, a truly inspiring role model for Pakistani women in STEM fields, and in general as well. Shehla completed her engineering degree from Military College of Signals, NUST and followed her dream to complete a PhD from the prestigious University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. And she didn't stop, reaching all the way to work at Apple, California where she works in Wifi Engineering!! A true role mode, Shehla rose against all challenges to become the face of talented Pakistani women everywhere in the world. One question many women face during the progress of their career and education is how would they ensure a "work-life balance"? Dr. Shehla is a shining example of having done a phenomenal job at just that, and we think you should read on and be just as inspired as we are!
"Being the youngest of four sisters and a brother, I grew up in a big, busy family. A lot of my motivation to do well came from seeing how hard my parents worked every single day to provide for us. Each time any of us did well at school or elsewhere, I could see a unique sense of joy and pride in my parents’ eyes and I would resolve to always make them feel that way.
I was always taught that we must try to be good at whatever comes our way. Our approach to problems in life can be influenced significantly by how we learn to handle stress, success as well as boredom and failure from a young age. I enjoyed most subjects at school but when I found something disinteresting, rather than complain, I’d try to identify exactly what I didn’t enjoy about it. Thinking this way helps you learn what excites you and what your strengths are, and gives you clarity and conviction when you’re in a position to actually choose your path.
I chose engineering because I found mathematical topics stimulating and challenging. However, at the time, engineering was still a very “male-dominated” path in Pakistan and people had doubts regarding the place of women in that field. Rather than be deterred by it, I took it as an opportunity to change a widely held perception and I feel humbled at having played my small part in doing just that. I graduated at the top of my undergraduate engineering class and was the first girl to do that. For some, it was hard to accept that a girl engineer was finishing ahead of all the males, but I am thankful for the many more supporting and encouraging voices. The struggle didn’t end with graduation though. I was once employed at a telecom company in Islamabad that did not have a women’s restroom in their whole office space. I am glad that I had the courage to bring it to their attention and have them create a safe
and healthy work environment where both men and women can thrive professionally.
I do not subscribe to the idea of having one or even a couple role models. I believe that everyone who crosses our path in life, offers a new lesson, a new perspective, and we are essentially a weighted combination of all of those lessons. I have many role models, some taught me kindness, some humility, others taught me resilience and bouncing back from failure. If I were to choose one character trait, that can make a superior contribution to success, I would call on “grit” and the idea of not giving up, but at the same time, knowing when to walk away.
I believe in the power of collaboration, sharing of ideas and building meaningful relationships. I try to take initiative and raise my voice wherever I find it can be useful. It helps being thorough, because it gives you the right amount of confidence that you can be assertive without being combative. I had two kids during my PhD and their father and I were equal partners in everything related to our children. I believe girls must be sure of their rights and abilities and be prepared to stand-up against the status-quo to make sure they are neither silenced nor denied their rights. I would end by saying that while I strongly believe that ambition to succeed professionally is a noble pursuit, we must also feed our ‘human’ side all along. Find a cause that matters to us and commit to it, stand-by for family and friends, and always be willing to lend a helping hand. In my work-life, I go through periods of high-stress but that human connection gives me the support I need to keep going and see things through. Life is all about finding joys in the middle of any amount of chaos."
Who inspired you to STEM forward?
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