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January 14, 2018

Long before STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) was chic, there was Smita Shah

There’s a reason Smita Shah works so hard to bridge the gender gap in science and technology fields. She remembers how difficult it was to build her engineering company in the male-dominated industry.

“They thought I was the marketing person. They couldn’t fathom that I was the CEO,” the founder of SPAAN Tech. Inc. said of those early days meeting with potential business clients.

Shah doesn’t have a #metoo story, per se, but she remembers vividly feeling patronized and being ignored by businessmen who sat across from her in boardroom deals.

She’d often bring along accomplished employees to those meetings–given the industry, most were men. Business execs on the other side of table would direct their questions to her colleagues instead of her.

“For better or worse, I looked at it as a part of life. And like a lot of women, I had to do what I needed to do in order to get my job done,” she says. “It was often more frustrating to the people who accompanied me to see that, than to me.”

Bringing along those male employees also helped Shah avoid uncomfortable situations.

“My dad early on pointed to professional women and how they would handle themselves to protect themselves, even before I really understood the issue” (of sexual harassment), she says. “So from the beginning, I was careful to take certain steps, including managing compromising situations.”

Shah is quick to add that over the years, the number of people who gave her a chance and respected her position “outweighs those who would disregard me.”

And that’s what she focuses in volunteer work away from the office.

Shah speaks often about why girls should embrace science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

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