When I think of my childhood, I see myself in my mother’s laboratory. It was there that I learned the most valuable lessons that went far beyond science. It is where I learned the values that I carry with me today: work ethic, curiosity and fearlessness.
I never knew a world where women didn’t work. My mother went to graduate school, earned a doctorate in science and ultimately found a career in a university laboratory. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a strong, hard-working female role model in my life. Mom was always there, in her white lab coat, discovering new things and making real, scientific magic.
As new immigrants to the U.S., our resources were limited and both of my parents worked full-time jobs. Instead of spending our remaining income on a nanny or expensive after-school activities, my mother’s laboratory became my playground. In the summers, I would spend my mornings at the pool and then head to the lab for the afternoon. I was proud to be my mother’s observant assistant, in an environment that constantly challenged my intellect and expanded my understanding of science.
I even helped my mother with her scientific papers. She was a fluent English speaker—but as all scientists are, she was a perfectionist, and asked my brothers and me to review them for her. I was proofing reports at 8-years-old! Beyond giving me the satisfaction of a job well done, this exercise also exposed me to math and science at an early age, so they weren’t scary or daunting, but familiar and exciting.
What did all of this exposure to science do to me? It leveled the playing field. It made me comfortable with what we know today as STEM education. More importantly, it cemented the notion that not only do women have the right to work, but that building a career is immeasurable in terms of the sense of accomplishment and the pride it can create.
Today as a mother, I strive to provide the same fluid example for my daughters. I do not keep my work life wholly separate from my family life. I want my children to see the work I do and to set the “working mom” norm in stone for them. By removing any sort of stigma around dividing my attention between my family and career, I hope that I teach my children what my mother taught me: there are no gender-based limitations around what women should do or can accomplish.
But sometimes, we need reminders. I was surprised by my oldest daughter’s awareness of gender at a young age. During the 2008 elections, my daughter was 5-years-old and she asked me why all of the candidates were men. I wouldn’t have noticed the gender differences at her age—and for me, that means I need to try even harder to show her and her sister that stereotypical gender roles are not to be followed.
When I am tackling a new problem, I imagine my children watching me. I channel my strength and resolve, and approach the problem with zest, because that is how I want my children to approach the challenges in their lives.
Maybe it comes from watching my mom’s experiments and tests. Even if it was new, or if nobody had ever done it before, she jumped in and tried to solve the problem from every angle, with no fear in her eyes and with me by her side. I feel lucky to have spent that time with her in the laboratory.
It’s this memory that I use as my model for instilling bravery and confidence in my daughters, so that they too have someone that inspires them and defies expectations. As a woman in the male-dominated world of venture capital, I make it my personal goal to ignore the status quo and provide for them the best example of a woman setting and accomplishing her dreams—both in and outside of the laboratory.