Stepping outside of your comfort zone is daunting, but, according to Aliya Janjua, it’s the key to your personal and professional growth. Aliya sat down with us to share her experiences and advice for other women looking to challenge themselves.
Aliya Janjua is the Director of Client Services at Advent Software and founder of the podcast Confessions of Successful Asian Women. She is dedicated to giving back to her community through mentorship, where she can help girls and women realize their dreams. Born in San Francisco, Aliya is the oldest of three daughters to Pakistani immigrant parents.
Welcome to The Expat Woman, Aliya. Thank you for answering a few questions for us!
You’ve said that “growth is found outside of the comfort zone.” Can you tell us about a moment of growth that helped you to realize that?
“I had a fear of public speaking, especially with speaking in front of large groups. As I was progressing in my career, I quickly realized that I needed to get over this fear because it was preventing me from being ‘seen’ as a strong leader. As a women leader in tech, it’s very important that you’re seen and heard from within the organization. There came a point where I couldn’t hide behind a screen any longer. I had to take action if I wanted to break glass ceilings.
I made a commitment to do something about my fear. I enrolled in Toastmasters and took many public speaking workshops, including Improv. I knew that this was a long-term investment. There was no magic pill that will help me become an amazing speaker overnight. I put myself outside of my comfort zone. I sought opportunities where I can speak in front of large groups.
In 2017, I had an opportunity to give a keynote to a group of over 150 high school girls on International Girls in ICT Day, celebrated annually around the world with the purpose to raise awareness on the growing importance of digital skills to pursue successful professional careers across sectors. It was a proud moment for me. After the keynote, I had so many of the girls and their teachers come up to me to thank me for sharing my story.”
How do you push yourself outside of your comfort zone often?
“I am always looking for opportunities to teach and develop others. I believe that you can only become an expert at something when you are able to teach what you’ve learned. Since I made a commitment to overcome my fear of public speaking and I made it my mission to keep learning, I stretched myself even further by teaching these concepts to my colleagues throughout my organization and to youth globally. As a result, I started an Improv for Professionals workshop at my work. I also teach a Women in Leadership workshop on the weekends, and I teach public speaking workshops within my community.
As I have tendencies to be an introvert, this is something that truly pushes me outside of comfort zone. It has also been one of the most rewarding experiences. Through teaching, I’ve built so many relationships and connections with so many interesting people. My tribe keeps getting bigger.”
In your role as Director of Client Services at Advent Software, what methods have you found useful for helping your team grow in their own careers?
“I believe that learning never stops, especially since we live in a time of rapid change and growth. I am always looking for ways to grow my team. I started a book club on my leadership team. Every quarter, we pick a book and read it as a group. We’ve read books like Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last and Pat Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player. We take leadership concepts and we find ways in how we can connect them back to our teams. The books are a catalyst to brainstorming sessions and dialog in how we can do things better. I want my team to keep expanding their leadership mindset. I encourage them to learn from outside thought leaders through attending workshops and industry conferences.
One of my favorite quotes is by David Marquet from the book Turn the Ship Around. ‘Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.’ I believe that my job as a leader is to eliminate barriers, to help everyone see their own leadership potential and to create safe spaces so that individuals can build the self-confidence to achieve more. I do this by empowering them to run with initiatives while I take a step back. Sometimes things don’t go well and failures happen. I believe that this is a necessary part of their growth.”
Through She-CAN and TechWomen, you mentor women to achieve their professional and personal goals. Why is mentorship so important to you?
“Mentorship is important to me because everyone needs a tribe of cheerleaders. Everyone needs a personal advisory board. Everyone needs a guide at some point in their life to help get them to their destination. Everyone needs connection, validation and support. Everyone wants to serve and to share—it’s part of our DNA because that’s what gives us purpose and meaning.
I didn’t have mentors growing up and I struggled because of that. I found mentors later on in my career. I saw the tremendous value of having them. I saw how mentors had the capacity to create impact for themselves and for others. I’ve seen how organizations like TechWomen and She-Can have created massive communities of women who help and support each other.
I’ve had the fortunate experience of mentoring strong, powerful women from Morroco, Gaza, Rwanda, Turkmenistan and Cambodia. I’ve learned so much through these relationships. I’ve learned that we all face the same challenges as women. But what makes us stronger is community.”
What advice do you have for women looking to make the most of a mentor/mentee relationship?
“Invest in a long-term relationship. Mentorship is never transactional and it’s never one sided. It’s a formal relationship that becomes a friendship where both of you are invested in each other’s success. Each of you will learn from each other. Each of you has something to offer to the other. Each of you will invite each other to become a part of their networks.
My advice to mentees is: Get specific in what you need help with from your mentors. Set up a regular time for check-ins, even if it’s just for 30 minutes once a month. Follow through on your commitments and update your mentor regularly. Your mentor will get busy, but it doesn’t mean that she/he doesn’t have time for you.
My advice to mentors is: Be a sounding board. Talk less, ask questions and listen. Connect your mentees to others in your network. You won’t have the answers to everything, but others will.
On your podcast “Confessions of Successful Asian Women,” you interview incredible women about their careers and experiences. What inspired you to create this podcast?
“As an avid podcast listener, I noticed a void in podcasts that centered on women, especially Asian women. A lot of them were by white men for men.
I founded the podcast Confessions of Successful Asian Women on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2016 because I had an AHA moment where I realized that my mission on this planet is to bring light to women, to give them a voice and to light the way to possibilities for others. I know so many ‘kick ass’ Asian American women; but no one is telling their stories. Stories of powerful women like Nancy Hoque, a solutions engineer, who learned to speak up to harassment and to shut it down in the tech space. Listen to Nancy’s inspiring story.
I believe that podcasting is a powerful medium for storytelling, mentoring and conducting profound interviews. ‘Confessions of Successful Asian Women’ is a medium to give Asian women the courage to speak their truths and it is a platform for women to connect, share and inspire each other. Through the stories of the women I feature, I want to show women that there is no one definition of success, there is no one path that leads to success, and that women have role models they can follow.
And what is your ‘Confession for Success?’
“My definition of success is connection—keep building relationships, radical self-acceptance—keep embracing yourself, including the good and the bad, and keep going even if you fail.”
Thank you, Aliya!