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Conversations with Leila Sabet

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leila Sabet.

Leila, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
At an early age, I was made to feel ‘different’ because of my Middle Eastern background. This planted a seed of self-doubt that dimmed my light for many years.

After graduating, I leaped at the opportunity to work for a Top 3 Fortune 500 company as an Operations Area Manager in a warehouse where I found myself, again, in a culture where I was ‘different’ not due to my ethnicity, but my femininity.

My purpose was born through emerging from a very low point in my career. Feeling completely defeated, I believed I had made a huge mistake in the goals I had set for myself. I was at the point of giving up and quitting.

I was not thriving within a very new environment for me, one that I felt did not value what I brought to the decision-making table. As a manager, my job was to lead, but I found myself focusing on working harder to have to prove myself not daily, but hourly. Thankfully, I had incredibly intentional mentors who reached down to lift me over the barrier that kept me from advancing, only to look back and realize my biggest barrier was my own belief that my voice and skills have value.

As a very feminine “girly girl,” I took an opportunity as an entry-level manager right out of college in a male-dominated industry, finding myself in a warehouse, where I was the youngest and only female leader at nightshift. I felt completely out of place and found myself trying to lead like the men around me because I thought that is what was necessary to be successful in this environment.

After a multitude of conversations with mentors, I realized that if I struggled to find my authentic voice, even after leading in many other spaces before, then thousands of other women were facing the same thing. With nothing left to lose, I began to show up as my feminine, bubbly, and empathetic self. Instead of asking my peers what the “right” way to handle something is, I trusted myself to make good judgments. That was a game-changer for me.

My associates began responding more positively to me as a leader. By showing up authentically, I was able to form a deeper connection with my team; they felt seen, heard, and valued, leading to a more effective team dynamic. They started to perform better, and when they performed better, I performed better too. I was no longer drowning and began to transform with empowering confidence that I was valuable just as I was. As a result, I established the value of feminine leadership in a space where there was no previous visibility on that for women.

This experience ignited a fire in me to work toward eliminating a barrier to advancement for the next generation of women. I discovered that the foundation of this pervasive barrier lies within each of us. Identity-based stereotypes lead to bias that affects our assumptions about others, as well as the beliefs we internalize about our own value, competence, and ability.

What our world is currently experiencing is another industrial revolution, where the skills required, such as insight, perspective, and creativity, are replacing physical labor. The kind of innovation required to compete on the global stage and advance as a nation requires collaborative teams that offer diverse perspectives. I believe that the solutions to the problems that we don’t have answers to will be found in the voices that aren’t being heard.

When women flex their leadership muscles, they bring skills, different perspectives, and structural and cultural differences. This ultimately drives innovative solutions for companies and organizations. Through Lift & Be Uplifted, I intend to level the playing field by changing perceptions about the value of what women bring to workspaces, as well as investing in our girls and how they view themselves in the world.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Starting at a young age, I allowed the biased influences of others to affect my sense of belonging. When I was cyberbullied in high school, I hid my ethnic identity in order to fit in. When I was othered early on in my career, I hid my femininity in order to fit in, as a woman navigating a non-traditional career for women. I can identify personally with that internalized sense of rejection for not feeling “good enough.”

Lift & Be Uplifted focuses on the idea that bias extends to ourselves. We can find ourselves conditioned by cultural influences to internalize the belief that aspects of our identity, appearance, or ability are less than or flawed. This will likely cause us to hide parts of who we inherently are in order to fit in with others in our schools, teams, workplaces, and society. Not only are these negative beliefs self-limiting, but they are simply not sustainable. This holds us back from reaching our full potential.

A great lesson I finally learned: Your differences are waht made you remarkable.

I encourage women to utilize self-reflection to understand how to show up authentically. This is the single most empowering thing you can do for yourself and for the communities you engage in. I always tell women that no one can be more “you” than you can be you. That is your superpower!

This mission tugs at my sense of humanity and personal desire to serve others. As a child of an immigrant whose family escaped an oppressive regime, the importance of creating a sense of belonging for everyone and educating others about the value of diversity has significant meaning to me.

Our greatest struggles in life ultimately lead us to an understanding of universal truths. I encourage you to look outward to what is needed in the community around you, then inward at what you can contribute that is unique and will have an impact. I want to continue to encourage others to put in the work to learn what they are good at.

You have to use your strengths to put visibility on what is possible for others. What will you champion? Will it be people? Our planet? Whatever it is, I believe in you.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I began my career in Management and Operations in Amazon Fulfillment and recently transitioned to a Senior Program Manager in Fleet Operations for Amazon Logistics. Leadership has been an underlying theme in my life from a young age, as well as serving my community. Many young women were reaching out to me for career advice, so as a result, I recognized a need to share my experience and lessons learned on a larger scale.

What I am most proud of is taking the initiative to effect positive change where I have influence. I leveraged my behavioral science education, psychology research, leadership training, and professional experience to found Lift & Be Uplifted. The mission of Lift & Be Uplifted is to inspire women to elevate their dreams and aspirations, incorporating education, inspiration, and advocacy to ultimately increase women’s influence in the professional world.

My initiative began with my Inspiring Women Blog, then led to interactive workshops. I was honored to serve as one of the Board Members for Girls, Inc. of Pinellas County before moving to Central Florida, which was the inspiration behind creating a Management Career Workshop for Girls. This is in addition to advocating for United Nations initiatives that support women and girls globally through my involvement with UNA-USA, as well as supporting charitable organizations that uplift women, like Dress for Success, and Girl Up.

I originally founded Lift & Be Uplifted to address biases, then took it a few steps further. My intent is to develop, in every young woman, an unshakable belief in her value as a leader and to inspire her to play bigger, never giving up on her goals. The task of creating inclusive cultures will not simply come from the top-down policy but driven by each of us being brave and bold.

Lift & Be Uplifted was founded to prepare and equip young women to influence cultures where everyone can thrive and reach their fullest potential. This is how women’s leadership will become recognized for the strength that it is, and will become the norm, rather than the exception.

I developed Lift & Be Uplifted interactive workshops that serve to empower women to own their own development, equipping them with the knowledge of what makes them truly remarkable, and why their feminine traits are important strengths for effective leadership.

I also founded The Inspiring Women Blog, where you will find more than 20 interviews that authentically represent women in the fields of non-traditionally led female careers in STEM, business, sports, and nonprofits – all who are the leaders the world needs, reaching back to uplift the next generation of women. My blog features professionals as diverse as the head of Innovation for Microsoft, Executives for the WNBA, to physicians – All from different backgrounds, beliefs, and ethnicities.

I believe that it is important to remove the misconception of “overnight success” portrayed through media, to reveal the reality of the many factors that can influence the direction of your life and career, the hard work required, valuable insight, and why it is worth it to gain visibility as female leaders to show the next generation of young women what is truly possible. I like to believe in The Inspiring Women Blog as a form of virtual mentorship.

When young women see someone who looks like them leading and doing what they couldn’t initially imagine for themselves, my hope is that they will think, “maybe I can do that too.”

Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
As we gain influence and credibility in the spaces we are in, we must reach back and lift up those who come after us in order to truly serve and leave an impactful legacy. I’ve first-hand seen how when we lift up women, we lift up entire communities.

It is important to recognize that although women were created to be different than men, what we bring to leadership is equally valuable. My message to young women and girls, especially those with goals in STEM fields, executive management, business, and politics, is to own their femininity as the strength that it is, in order to challenge outdated norms.

To not be afraid to take up space in a room of mostly men. To not adapt to the energy in a room, but instead, make efforts to influence the energy in the room. By doing this, we will hold the door open for each of the women coming after us.

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Headshot photographed by RTW Photography

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