How I Started In STEM with Travelers CTO & COO Mojgan Lefebvre

Mojgan Lefebvre is the Chief Technology and Operations Officer for Travelers. She has been honored as a member of the 2021 Forbes CIO Next list as one of the world’s 50 most innovative enterprise technology leaders. She has also been named one of the Women to Watch in Science and Technology by the Boston Business Journal.

How I Started In STEM with Mojgan Lefebvre

I was living in Iran, which is where I'm from and as you may know, there aren't a lot of opportunities for women in that country. So I decided to leave after 12th grade and on my own came to the US with just a few hundred dollars, let's say, in my pocket. I couldn't really afford to study medicine. So, I looked around and because I love math, everybody was like, well, you should probably go into computer science. And I was like, but I've never even seen a computer in my life. But they're like, no, it doesn't matter. You're gonna learn. So that's really, I'd say how I got started.

What passion still drives you in STEM?

I'd say today it's probably one of the best times in the world to be in the world of technology because anything anyone does has some sort of technology connected to it. And when you work for a corporation, I'd say everything from generating revenue to running your HR organization or running your finance organization has an element of technology to it. And a lot of companies are doing transformation. They're transforming themselves to become more and more digital. So that means a lot of really exciting opportunities in the world of technology, really leveraging technology to enable business outcomes and in some cases drive business outcomes. So I love the part where I'm leveraging technology to really take the company to another level.

HISIS Mojgan social card
HISIS Mojgan social card

Best advice you received for your career in STEM

When I think back to some of the best advice I've gotten, I'd have to say it was one of my managers who really made it clear to me that being successful in your job isn't just dependent on the hard skills. And I guess in the case of STEM, I'd say, you know, being good at the work that you're doing, whether you're a programmer or an engineer, but it's also dependent on the soft skills, on the communications, on having presence. And so he said, make sure that when you leave a room or enter a room, you have an identity that's just yours and that people remember you by that. Because people are impacted more by how they feel once they've had the conversation, not necessarily always just the content. So, that stuck with me and I'd say probably in today's world, everybody says, be authentic. For me, I feel like that was him saying, be authentic and be yourself, and have your own specific identity. And I think that's been hugely helpful because again, you always wanna stand out when you can.

What is the hardest part about working in STEM?

So one of the hardest things about being in STEM fields is probably, you don't see as many people who are similar to you as a woman. Whether it's in your classes in college, where I was really probably in the 5% of the total class, meaning there were very few women studying computer science at Georgia Tech. Or even when you get into leadership roles, while there are many, many women who certainly enter the organization, but for some reason as you go up the ladder, the number of women is less. I'm sure some of that is based on society and how it's set up but some of it is also, I find sometimes women take themselves out of the equation and in those years where they're gonna have children, and that's really when you can potentially start getting into leadership roles. The two things don't necessarily match as well.

Importance of representation and diversity in STEM

I think it's critical to have representation. I think probably one important thing is that STEM fields really do contribute to people's economic well being. And so I actually see STEM and specifically I would say computer science as one of the elements that can be leveraged to make sure women and young girls who are in marginalized communities actually have the opportunity to gain a much better living than their parents. So I think it's important to have representation. It's important because when you look up or you look around and you don't see people like yourselves, you may not really enjoy being there or it may not be as much fun. And I actually think you should enjoy what you do day to day. Now even if no one looks like you and they're not around you, I would suggest that you are actually probably setting the model for those who come after you. So I would say don't give up and if you like what you're doing continue to do it and be a role model.

Finding culture and community from employers in STEM

We spend so much of our time, um, at work when, you know, when you think of like five days out of seven days and then, um, every day you're not at least eight or nine hours, I'd say. You wanna make sure that you're enjoying those hours. And so being among people that, um, you enjoy being with you like can also be your friends, I think is absolutely critical. So whenever you're thinking of joining an organization, I would say, you know, don't just focus on am I making enough money? Do I have the right title? Absolutely make sure that you enjoy what the company does, you know what their mission is, and they have the kind of culture that you wanna be a part of. And usually people really, if you just talk to folks who work there, whether directly or going on Glassdoor, many other sites, you absolutely get a feel for the culture of, of a place. I'd say that's very important to keep in mind.

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