As part of our Women in Tech series, we had the opportunity to interview Forough Khandan, Head of New Product Development at EMVision.
With over 17 years of experience in product development, Forough has made significant contributions to the biomedical engineering industry, helping to develop novel brain imaging devices that can potentially save countless lives.
In this interview, Forough shares her journey from Iran to Australia, her career background, the challenges she faced, and the essential skills required to succeed in STEM fields.
As a woman in a technical leadership role, Forough also sheds light on the unique challenges and obstacles she faced in her career and provides valuable insights on how to overcome them. Finally, Forough highlights the importance of promoting diversity and inclusivity in STEM fields and encourages women to pursue their passions and create a future built on knowledge, intelligence, and capability.
Hi Forough, thank you for joining us here today. Let’s get started with your career background. What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM, and how did you get your start in the industry?
My journey into the world of engineering began in Iran. Growing up, I was always fascinated by how things worked, and the science behind them, leading me to discover my passion for engineering. This passion translated into a degree in Biomedical Engineering and Bioelectronics, helping me land my first job as a software engineer at a car manufacturer.
In 2010, I made the decision to migrate to Australia, seeking new opportunities and experiences. Fortunately, my previous employer, Nanosonics, gave me the opportunity to apply my biomedical engineering qualification and complete an MBA.
This experience not only expanded my knowledge of business but allowed me to work with supportive and kind people who inspired me to continue my career in STEM. During this time, I realised a newfound excitement within me to explore the possibilities of using technology to improve people’s lives.
Getting a start at EMVision made complete sense to me, a cutting-edge start-up that was focused on commercialising a product that has the potential to save countless lives. My journey from academia to the workforce has been a lot of fun, and I am thrilled to apply my energy to my passion every day.
Can you tell us about your Head of New Product Development role at EMVision and what led you to this position?
As the Head of New Product Development, I am tasked with spearheading the development of novel brain imaging devices. My focus is on identifying new activities that can help bring our products to market faster, all the while ensuring that they are safe, viable, easy to use, and suitable to be commercialised.
For example, our world first point-of-care brain scanner was conceptualised at the University of Queensland. Since then, it has been my day job to translate this concept into a real-world product that can make a powerful impact on the lives of stroke victims in Australia and beyond.
As a woman in a technical leadership role, I am proud to be part of a growing number of women who are breaking down barriers in the STEM field. When I joined EMVision, we were just a team of two, but now in 2023, we have grown to a team of over 30. This team is special to me because over the years I have taken pride in selecting the right people for the job. Each member of our team brings a unique set of skills and expertise to the table, but we share a common goal.
The issue we are working on, making neuroimaging more accessible, is complex and multidisciplinary, both from an application and technology perspective. However, we are confident that we have the right team in place to beat this challenge because we support each other when needed and work collaboratively to overcome any obstacles we face on a daily basis. We are passionate about what we do, and we are committed to making a difference.
With over 17 years of experience in product development, what have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you overcome them?
Working in biomedical engineering, one of the biggest challenges we face is technological advancement. With rapidly evolving technology, engineers must stay up to date with the latest advancements to create innovative and effective products.
This requires an ongoing commitment to continuing your education and research. For me, this may take shape through interdisciplinary collaboration given that biomedical engineering involves collaboration with other professionals, such as medical doctors, scientists and business professionals.
After 18 years in the STEM industry, I’ve learned that you must remain adaptable, resilient and committed to your work. Like most careers, but particularly true in developing novel technologies, you must be willing to learn and collaborate with others, stay up to date with the latest technology and regulations, and find creative solutions to complex problems. Additionally, teamwork, effective communication, and a commitment to quality and safety are essential for success in this field.
As a leader in the field, one of my primary responsibilities is to motivate my team. There is an inherent challenge in an entrepreneurial role when advancing a new project or technology, whereby you must foster a drive amongst your team to contribute above and beyond what they believe they are capable of.
There is no singular recipe for success here, but I have found results in getting to know your team, how they work, and how I can best help them succeed. For this reason, the STEM industry should continue to place emphasis on important skills like creativity, social aptitude and team collaboration.
What are some key skills and traits you think are essential for success in STEM fields, and how have you developed and honed these skills throughout your career?
The key to success in any field, especially in the deep tech industry, is to remain curious and keep learning. To excel in this field, one must continuously upskill themselves and be receptive to new ideas. It is crucial to trust the experts and listen to them, while also being diligent and taking calculated risks. Agility is also a crucial attribute to have, especially for businesses dealing with new technologies that operate in a highly ambiguous market.
In my role, I have a responsibility to ensure steady progress, generate knowledge, and manage resources wisely. Soft skills are vital in managing complex technologies and human resources. Effective leaders understand the importance of creating a safe environment for their team to flourish. While it is not necessary to be an expert in every field, having a fundamental understanding of science and technology is a must to combine with other skills, to lead effectively.
Another critical aspect of succeeding in STEM is to leave your ego at the door. It is essential to understand that we are evolving and learning together, and the ones who are nimble and humble are the ones who will succeed.
As a woman in a leadership role in STEM, have you faced any unique challenges or obstacles in your career, and how have you navigated them?
One example that comes to mind is that despite women making up a significant portion of the workforce in the accounting field, the unfortunate reality is that more men are promoted to leadership positions. This highlights the ongoing issue of gender inequality that still persists in many industries, where women must work harder and provide more evidence to show their capabilities. Over-confidence with no content or actions seems to have worked well for millions of years for men, it is time to bring content and action to play and change the future.
In order to succeed as a woman in STEM, it’s important to continue to work hard and prove your worth, while also advocating for yourself and seeking out opportunities for growth and advancement. Additionally, it’s important to support other women in the industry and work towards creating a more equal playing field for all. By doing so, we can create a future where gender no longer dictates one’s career trajectory, and instead, success is based on merit and hard work.
It’s important to remember that progress is being made, albeit slowly. More and more companies are recognising the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and are actively taking steps to address gender imbalance and promote women into leadership roles.
What advice would you give to other women interested in pursuing a career in STEM, but may be intimidated by the male-dominated industry?
If you are passionate about a subject, sport or any other field, just go for it! Gender should not limit your potential in any way. While it is true that women may have to work harder than men, the rewards for all your efforts will be worth it. The world may have been male-dominated in the past, where physical strength was valued over other qualities. However, the modern world is changing, and the future belongs to those who possess knowledge, intelligence, capability, agility, flexibility, and the ability to process data quickly.
The age of the “strong” ones is being replaced by the era of the “smart” ones. Women have a unique perspective and set of skills to offer and can contribute to the world in meaningful ways. By embracing our capabilities and continuously learning and growing, we can create a future that values knowledge and intelligence over physical strength.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing women in STEM today, and how can we work to overcome them?
Gender diversity in the workplace is essential for driving results and innovation in STEM fields. Studies show that companies with greater gender diversity perform better than those with less diversity with gender-inclusive teams often generating more innovative ideas. It is for these reasons I will continue to encourage and enable women to pursue careers in STEM and support them in their efforts.
If you are in a position to provide opportunities, you should ensure they are offered equally to both genders. Create an environment that fosters growth and progression for everyone, regardless of their gender.
We are all subconsciously biased due to years of conditioning on “the more capable gender”. Therefore, we must actively check ourselves for any discriminatory tendencies and address them to promote gender equality. It is our collective responsibility to create a level playing field where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.
If you are a woman in the field, do not be afraid to ask for what you deserve, and don’t stand for any form of discrimination. It is vital to stand up for yourself and fight for your rights. Do not accept the status quo. By promoting greater diversity and inclusivity in the STEM fields, we can pave the way for a better future that is built on knowledge, intelligence, capability, agility, flexibility, speed of thinking, and processing data. It is time to break free from the age-old conditioning that favours one gender over the other and embrace the potential of everyone to drive innovation and progress the world.
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