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Postdoctoral researcher Dr. Mahasti Khakpour (PhD). (Photo submitted)

Women in Leadership: Mahasti Khakpour

As a postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Mahasti Khakpour (PhD) talks about her personal experience with gender bias and discrimination and why she made it her mission to fight and overcome gender-based barriers.

March 8 is recognized as International Women’s Day, and the theme for 2021 is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world."

Taking our cue on that theme, we are profiling women in leadership at the College of Medicine, selecting from a variety of positions including learners, staff, faculty, and senior administration.


What is your current position and/or leadership role/title?

  • SCPOR IPHRC Trainee, Postdoctoral Researcher in Community Health and Epidemiology
  • Previous Executive Director of a non-profit organization dedicated to diversity equity, harmony, and providing services for immigrants and refugees.

Describe one barrier you experienced, and something that helped you overcome that (or another) barrier, in your journey to leadership?

For me it’s a lived experience. I come from a society where gender bias and discrimination exist to a very large extent. Everything that I have done and become is from facing and overcoming many barriers.

When I started my Bachelor of Economics in Iran, there were 5 women and 35 men in the class. The professor on the first day said “ok women in the class, home economics is a better choice for you. You can get married and somebody can provide for you so you can do arts and crafts.”

So that’s the environment that I studied in and yet I excelled and got the highest GPA of all the students. I made it my mission to fight gender discrimination. We have to believe in ourselves as women.

How do you think COVID-19 has affected women's progress in your field or the workplace in general?

In many cultures, women traditionally take on more responsibilities of the children and home chores. So mixing the work and home environment has created a restless situation for women. I witnessed a woman presenting at a conference and the children started crying during the Q & A portion. You can imagine how distressed the mother was. The only thing the facilitator could do was to move on to the next person. So this professional opportunity is taken from her.

The other thing that I really want to emphasize is the increased domestic violence that is happening right now during COVID19. It might come across as lack of enthusiasm for work, so is creating a lot of anxiety in the workplace for women.

What advice would you have for people (of any gender) in leadership who wish to be allies in advancing women in the workplace?

I think we should talk about “removing” barriers and not “erasing” them. Erasing means “ok, let’s not hire a woman so we can avoid these problems”. It takes both women and men to make an inclusive and safe work environment and both need to embrace gender equity. We need to advocate for fair workplace policies and make champions of both genders. The institution needs to be safe enough so we can talk about barriers freely. Working on mutual understanding of different cultures and perspectives is important. Also moving from the concept of mentoring to sponsoring.


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