Mindset shift: Thriving is out of reach. Surviving is enough.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place. As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Naziri.
Jessica Naziri is a technology and digital media entrepreneur and founder of TechSesh, a community and sisterhood for young women in tech. Her mission is to help create and endorse a growing number of female role models, advocate a more equal gender ratio, and empower more women leaders in the tech space. With more than 10 years of experience in journalism, social media, video content strategy, writing and editing, Jessica is also a weekly on-air technology contributor on CBS and works with brands on first-look tech stories, gadget round-ups, and social media takeovers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
You know that one friend you have, who you always go to for tech tips, the trendiest gadgets, or the best apps to organize your life? That’s me.
As a woman in STEM who never expected to be in this industry, I have now spent more than 11 years working with some of the most amazing tech outlets, brands and start-ups on the planet. I have experienced the subtle and not-so subtle discouragement, outright harassment, being stereotyped as someone who doesn’t understand tech simply because I am a woman. This only challenged me to keep hustling and working harder.
I saw a void and wanted to make a difference in order to encourage more girls and women to break the stereotypes in the tech space. Even after Googling “women in tech meetups and sisterhood” I found no resource at the time.
TechSesh was born out of my passion for creating a platform that celebrates incredibly dynamic females in the tech space and a place where women can talk candidly about their journeys and share actionable advice. Our goal is to inspire girls to explore the possibilities of technology to empower their future careers, through events, meet up and our annual San Diego Tech Women’s Conference.
My drive and passion come from the lack of what is out there. I wanted to close the tech creative gap and come up with development solutions and show that it is okay to be creative, fashionable and involved in the tech industry. I feel like that’s something this industry can expand on.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
It’s a combo of interest and unreal.
CES 2019. The annual Consumer Electronics Show…also known as Nerd Mecca. It’s a who’s-who of the consumer tech world, with every major international and US media outlet covering every tech headline around the clock. And somehow, out of 180,000 people who all congregated in Las Vegas, Nevada, I swear I was the only pregnant woman there.
I’m a techie, I’m obsessed with gadgets, and I was 100% in my element. I loved CES and looked forward to it every year. But I have *never* felt so much like a fish out of water, an extra-weird weirdo among people who, let’s be real, already aren’t exactly considered the most “normal” either. I was 6 months pregnant with my son, but you would’ve thought I was 6 months pregnant with an alien. Walking around the massive showroom with my big belly, I got questions like:
Are you pregnant?
How did that happen?
What are you doing here?
You’re still working?
People’s reactions implied that I couldn’t possibly have a belly and a brain at the same time. Everyone from security guards to PR people to venture capitalists and CEOs would audibly gasp as I walked around just minding my own business and doing my job. I wanted to scream at their insensitive remarks and stares, but instead I took it in stride. I reassured people with answers like:
YES, I’m here because I want to be here.
This is how much I love what I do.
I cover tech for moms but also tech for everyone.
And if you don’t know how a woman gets pregnant, well… that’s your problem.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We had a slew of events lined up for 2020, and unfortunately had to postpone our meetups. But as a team, we realized this year is about pivots. Now we are working on digital programming and scheduling weekly IG lives, overing different topics like, “How to find a mentor” or “How to land a job in tech with no technical background.”
I am super excited about this and really hope it helps while we navigate this new normal.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
For every time I’ve been told “no” and been flat-out rejected, I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from the goodwill of others to help me pick myself up and get to the next step of my journey. Something I’ve always had a knack for, that’s on the other side of that same passion, is a love for fashion and lifestyle.
When I was covering the stock market for CNBC as a reporter, I noticed there was a financial angle around a topic very few people in that world were paying attention to: Fashion Week. I begged the videography team to help me shoot this story, and got turned down by every single photographer. So I hired my own, even though I had no money. I had secured an interview with the fashion designer Elie Tahari, through the kind introduction of a friend.
She expected nothing in return, but knew I loved fashion, that I needed a break, and that I desperately needed an “in.” My shoestring crew and I got to go backstage at Elie Tahari’s show and ask him some questions, and after I had the raw video, I spent two days teaching myself how to edit. None of the all-male editing team would help me, but I figured out my own workaround that didn’t rely on them. And I knew how to tell a story for a digital audience, while they were all still working in analog for broadcast. I knew what I liked to watch on dot coms, and what types of stories got me to click. I saw a void and I went ahead and filled it. I submitted my video to my manager, it went up on the site, and it ended up doing really well. After that win, I was given the respect I needed to pursue other stories I was passionate about: fashion and lifestyle, yes, but also trends in tech IPOs, and women being underrepresented in venture capital. I was given the right help at the right time, and I grabbed the torch and ran with it.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
The truth is, around the world, almost everyone is facing the same family related challenges women in STEM are facing right now. Being a stay-at-home mom is hard, and being a working mom is hard, but being a work-at-home mom is the hardest of all.
Still, I feel lucky that I can work from home, and the truth is I used to WFH (or anywhere with strong wifi) before having my son. Once he turned 6 months I had to escape to the office to get work done. And now that he is a year old, he needs all my attention, which makes this time all the more challenging. He heeds 100% stimulation.
I am mommy day care while working. I am preparing breakfast, lunches, snacks and dinner while working. I am policing screen time while working. As if that’s not enough, I do the planning, the organizing and the remembering of everything that needs to be remembered. The mental load that comes with that work has grown exponentially in recent weeks.
The hardest part is dealing with the waves of guilt and stress that come with not doing any of those things particularly well or 100%.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Mindset shift. Thriving is out of reach. Surviving is enough.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
Now, most of my work is done on video calls. From my Zoom meetings, to FaceTime team stand ups and back-to-back-to-back check-ins with clients, as well as my tech segments on CBS, and admittedly it’s a little nerve racking. Remember, the now infamous BBC interview with Professor Robert Kelly, video conferences and kids are, well, an unpredictable combination. It can be stressful when you’re trying to be professional and your baby is pulling your hair and/or crying and/or trying to steal your keyboard. Also, it’s very distracting and I find myself having a hard time concentrating on the call.
On top of that, I feel like a lot of us are overcompensating for lack of face time so we need even more communication. Oh and the expectations — stated or implied — that people respond to messages ASAP.
It’s understandable. Anxious managers want to make sure the pace of work doesn’t slow, while anxious employees want to prove they’re “at work” and not taking advantage of the situation to slack off.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Working from home means none of the commute–but a double serving of guilt. I’ve learned to do the best I can to plan in advance and take calls during naps. Feels like life is now choreographed down to the minute.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
Structure the day. With the usual routines thrown off, establish new daily schedules. Break up time for yourself, time to work, time with the baby. And most importantly, time to unwind.
Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of your work hours while working from home:
- Snooze all your notifications. Seriously. Do it now. Studies have shown that people who work on their computers are distracted every 10.5 minutes.
- Prioritize deep work, or when you work on difficult tasks that draw upon all your mental reserves and require singular focus. THIS is the hardest for me, because obviously I am dealing with interruptions. Remember, the better you are at maximizing your productivity, the more time you have to enjoy with your family.
- Batch your tasks. From batching content on my Instagram to checking my email inbox only two or three times a day. This helps me power through my responses and ensures that I won’t be sidetracked by incoming email throughout the day. Also, that way I know I will actually respond and not let the email go un-replied for a few days. I also batch my household related tasks during my lunch break. This way, I know they won’t be dangling over my head as a potential distraction when I return to work.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
My husband gives me 40 minutes to myself in the morning and I get a quick sweat in — so important. I know this is COVID 19, but I don’t want the 19 extra pounds.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
As a parent, your time and energy are your most precious resources. When you’re working you need to be as efficient as possible so you can truly disconnect when it comes time for family. It took a pandemic to show me how busy my family has been. Maybe too busy.
What’s interesting is ALL the tasks that had been outsourced to, grandparents, nannies and sitters are now falling squarely on me (my husband goes to work). I always felt so busy, and realized how much time I missed out with my son. Now that I am spending more time than ever with Jordan — I realized I can make more time for him if I am organized with my schedule and plan out days with my husband so I can also get a little me time in before he’s off to work. And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
When your day hasn’t gone right and you leave the work day with most of your to-do’s unchecked, give yourself permission to just let it go. Dwelling on the past is one of the least productive things you can do. Research suggests that practicing self-compassion when you haven’t accomplished as much as you want to actually corresponded with more productive behaviors on similar tasks in the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When you feel stuck, remind yourself that things won’t last forever.
This stay at home order is not a forever thing — keep reminding yourself.
How can our readers follow you online?
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/jessicanaziri
@jessianaziri on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jessicanaziri/
On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessicanaziri/
Our website: www.techsesh.co
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!