Joining Hands – Coverage of Iranian American Women’s Leadership Conference

By Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani

On Sunday, January 30, 2011, the first Iranian American Women’s Conference was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Irvine, California.  The Pathways to Success Women’s Leadership Conference attracted 570 participants and featured 40 Iranian American women who contributed to various panel discussions and sessions, ranging from health and nutrition to leadership.  The purpose of the Pathways to Success Women’s Leadership Conference was to provide connectivity between women in the community by bringing them to one place to discuss hot topics, as well as provide them a place to network and find support from peers.   PAAIA was a proud co-sponsor of the conference.  Conference videos will be available soon.  Below please find an article written by PAAIA member, Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani, about the event.  

February 6, 2011, Irvine, CA  – When I signed up to attend the recent women’s meeting in Irvine, California, titled Pathways to Success, I thought it best to keep my expectations low. I knew the Conference was coordinated by Coastline Community College and Coastline Foundation, whose executive director, Maryam Khosravani, happens to be an Iranian American. As a member of PAAIA, I also knew that PAAIA was a co-sponsor of the event. However, it was the impressive list of speakers that lured me to the Conference.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from such a meeting. Being a first attempt at something new, I believed that there would be room for improvement. However, I was grateful that I had been invited to introduce my new novel.

In the lobby of Hyatt Hotel in Irvine, friendly young volunteers welcomed me to the Conference and presented me with my nametag and an information package neatly designed to resemble a ladies’ purse. I thought that this was a nice touch for a meeting focused on women. Around the lobby, there were the usual booths to promote different businesses: skin doctors, consultants, jewelers and even a raffle table. 

Even though I knew that there was an impressive list of speakers on the program, the Iranian pessimist in me doubted that half of them would show up.  I have attended enough events to know about those infamous last minute cancellations and anyway… A friend had a laugh and told me, “Ya, right! Like, Anousheh Ansari has nothing better to do than to come to Irvine and be part of a panel of four! We’d see about that.”

My first surprise came from the timely manner in which the event began. By the end of the day, I could adjust my watch to the sound of that chime! No sooner had the soft bells echoed than ladies – and a few gentlemen – shuffled into the three conference halls to enjoy the discussions, which began within minutes. The same friend, who had doubted speakers’ attendance, had also warned me that, due to limited advertisement, fewer than the expected number of attendees had registered. Now with more than five hundred individuals present, the three conference rooms only had standing room capacity.  

Listening to the accomplishments of so many Iranian American women made me even more proud of being an Iranian.  On-site videos showed us a common theme that ran among many of the speakers – putting the needs and benefits of others ahead of their own – from the little Iranian girl who received medical treatment in US, to the natives in Amazon forests who were in need of rescue, these ladies had offered help around the globe. What astounded me was the fact that they all spoke flawless English and even Firoozeh Dumas spoke – and laughed – without an accent!

Over the years, I had heard much about the success of Iranian American men, but knew only a handful of stories about successful Iranian American women. The panel discussions were impressive and it came to a point in the conference where choice of which panel to attend lost its meaning as I knew regardless of the conference room that I entered, it would be a treat to listen to these impressive women.

At the conclusion of the conference, as an upbeat music brought all the participants on stage, the line-up of so many accomplished ladies brought tears of pride to my eyes. The day had turned into a surrealistic experience that I found not only moving, but also empowering.

Will they do this again next year? I certainly hope so. But considering the successful outcome, they’re going to need a convention center!

Zohreh Ghahremani is the author of Sky of Red Poppies, available now on Amazon and most bookstores. www.zoeghahremani.com

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