04/04/2014 10:56 am ET Updated Jun 03, 2014

Inspiring Others to Lead Through My Immigrant Journey

In my most recent blog, I shared some thoughts on the topic of women in positions of leadership. I referenced a panel conversation at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology convened to engage women leaders and to invite their reflections on their journey toward a leadership role. After the panel, one of our students asked to connect with me and, when we did, she humbly shared a most compelling story of her journey to the U.S. from Iran, her experience as a female scholar in her home land and her aspirations for her future career as a psychologist. The student also shared her thoughts on pursuing her graduate studies at a school led by an immigrant female and what that role may represent to others attending The Chicago School who are from other countries and challenging the norm. Now, I have lived in the U.S. since 1994, and I have had my share of obstacles to overcome as I moved into a position of leadership; however, I never imagined that my status and subsequent journey would be an inspiration to other immigrant students.

The mission of our institution invites students and employees to dedicate their time and effort to advancing multicultural awareness and to dedicate their services to underserved populations. I work to keep our mission at the top of the school's agenda. Despite this focus, and my personal commitment to it, I found my own awareness of diversity challenged in a new way and at a very personal level by the student's comments. Women are often on the defense when it comes to matters of leadership, and immigrant women often have an added layer of complexity to manage.

At The Chicago School, 80% of our students are women, and many are from countries where opportunities for women may be limited. For women new to the U.S., successful female role models are considered a statement of strength in terms of what this great country has to offer. There is an eagerness to hear personal stories of how adversity was overcome and the skill set needed to rise above adversity and prevent it from overshadowing a leadership trajectory.

The question on the table remains: What are the skills women immigrants need to be successful in the U.S. and the connected, global economy of the 21st century, and how as educators and mentors can we inspire?