Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In sparked a long-awaited conversation around women in business, dynamics of gender roles (both professional and personal), and how women can advance their careers. Her message also hit a personal chord for women like Nancy Hoque. Nancy, a second-year student in the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA program, could relate to juggling multiple roles at home and at work.
As a wife and working mom of two children, Nancy was familiar with the challenge of balancing personal responsibilities with professional goals—she almost didn’t pursue an MBA because of it.
“I had my Master’s in engineering, and I was hesitant to go back to school to get my MBA," she says. "I started a family at a young age, assuming the role of wife and mother as my engineering career was starting."
Before deciding to attend Berkeley Haas, Nancy lived in Singapore, working remotely as a sales engineer for Motorola. "For three years I played the role of expat homemaker and mother by day, and engineer by night. Through these experiences, I learned to find my own strengths, drive, and a way to make room for my aspirations."
“My husband pushed me to apply for my MBA. He was very supportive and goes above and beyond in taking care of the family, making room for me to pursue my business school and career goals. He leaned in, which is why I am at Haas today.”
Starting lean in circles to connect with others on gender equity
After reading Lean In, she was inspired to start Motorola’s first virtual Lean In circles. "While I was remote, I still wanted to connect with people. I found the framework for starting Lean In groups to be very approachable. Within three months, over 200 employees signed up for our virtual Lean In.”
During her time abroad, Nancy also started a side business designing head scarves for Muslim women. Her hobby-turned-business became a passion project a way to connect with other Muslim women and test a more entrepreneurial path.Eventually Nancy’s desire to shift from sales engineering to product marketing led her to business school. "I decided to get an MBA because it would help me push beyond my technical background into a leadership and business-oriented role, opening doors that would help me accelerate my career."
Nancy's passion for continuing the conversation about women in business and the dynamics of gender roles at home and in the office followed her to Haas.
"I have struggled with acceptance all my life: Of people accepting my identity as an American Muslim woman, or being one of the few women engineers in a male-dominated, U.S. military-charged environment. At work, I had an invisible barrier to penetrate in order to prove my technical and business worth. But I learned to demonstrate my abilities, and became part of the team. "
Expanding the conversation among women MBA students—and allies
With support from Haas’ Women in Leadership (WIL), Nancy initiated a Lean In group at Haas, starting with a Facebook page that welcomes the entire Haas community. “We discuss topics like making negotiations or speaking with confidence. We also discuss issues that relate to our current political climate. For example, after the election, many students wanted to discuss ally-ship. The objective was to address how we help a group of marginalized people, who may be in a difficult situation, feel comfortable.”
One thing that was important to Nancy in Haas’ Lean In circle was to expand the scope of conversation beyond just women. “I didn’t want was for this to be a discussion between just women MBA students; we wanted male students to participate, and our Haas Lean In circle is almost 40 percent men. They realize we’re talking about how to navigate corporate situations and that it’s a topic that affects us all.”
Haas’ Lean In circle soon evolved into in-person meetings that, like the Facebook page, welcome all of Haas. Nancy is also starting a virtual Lean In circle at Symantec, where she was recently hired as a product marketing manager for the Global new Ventures group.
With a full work and home life, one might wonder how (and why) Nancy makes time for this cause. “I care about giving a voice to others who don’t have the privilege or advantage to speak for themselves. I feel comfortable with the voice I’ve found, and I want to others to find their own, or at least speak for them if they can’t.”