Rabia Khan is Women & Hi Tech’s 2021 Volunteer of the Year thanks to her involvement with the Communications Committee. By helping with event photography and website updates and maintenance, Khan helps Women & Hi Tech communicate its mission both creatively and practically. “I can go on and on about what I love about this organization,” she said. “First and foremost, the welcoming nature of the group. As a woman and a Muslim in tech, more often than not I have to make an effort to fit in and be welcomed. That has not been the case whatsoever at Women & Hi Tech. The members and the Board have embraced me for who I am, and that is such an awesome feeling.”
In addition to the inclusive environment, Khan says Women & Hi Tech also stands out for the innumerable opportunities for members to get involved. (Such as volunteering at events, as mentors, committee members and Board members. You may recall from previous issues of “Grown from STEM”, Women & Hi Tech is operated by an all-volunteer working Board of Directors, Emeritus members and member volunteers). “I have volunteered with other organizations where I have tried to get more involved, and it wasn’t as encouraged. Women & Hi Tech is always encouraging members to get more involved and offers many opportunities.”
Khan joined Women & Hi Tech in 2019, the same year she started her own business, Managed System Solutions. It is her vision to help small to midsize businesses and nonprofits manage their IT infrastructure in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Her company offers network IT deployment, preventative maintenance, cloud services monitoring, and disaster recovery. In 2020, she expanded her services to include event registration and ticketing, among other services. “These are two very different fields in tech, but I am passionate about both and succeed in both areas.” Khan is originally from Karachi, Pakistan, and emigrated to the US in 1999. In 2000 she enrolled at IUPUI, the same year she had her first child, and by the time she graduated in 2007 with a Bachelor of Computer Engineering, she had three of her four children. “I had three boys and I thought I was done. In 2018, God blessed me with a beautiful daughter. A year later, I started my business,” Khan shared. “She is the force behind my persistence and hard work. I want to be a role model for her, not just a mother, but as a woman in technology and an entrepreneur.”
Khan leveraged her degree and experience to attain career success in several positions at nonprofits, working as a Network Administrator and IT manager. On the advice of her mentor, Lamont Hatcher, Founder and CEO of AIS and Women & Hi Tech’s 2020 inaugural recipient of the OperationALL Male Allies Leading Light Award, she started attending Women & Hi Tech events around the same time she started her business. This led her to discover all she loves about the organization, including the incredible networking opportunities it provides. “There hasn’t been a single woman I’ve met who hasn’t referred me to ten other women. They make an effort to do that and to support each other. I really love that.”
During her career to date in tech, Khan has been encouraged to see changes in the demographics of education and the workforce. “When I was going through school, there were some classes where I was the only woman in the room. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t welcome,” she clarified, “but at the same time it did stand out to me. Today, women are not only more visible in the classroom, but also in positions of leadership and influence in STEM fields.” Khan says this isn’t just a cultural factor, but also the product of intentional action by Central Indiana businesses to make gender equality a priority in their organizations.
Khan also notes that the pandemic has brought to light some opportunities to level the playing field, both for businesses and for nonprofits like Women & Hi Tech. “Women have always been challenged to balance the needs of the home with their professional life. Now, in the pandemic, more people are working from home. While she recognizes for some the balance of these needs may still be squeezing women out of the workforce as childcare or helping older family members becomes more difficult.” For others, Khan notices that events like a child interrupting a Zoom meeting or a parent’s need for schedule flexibility have become more acceptable to businesses these days. What’s important, comments Khan, is that these allowances extend beyond the pandemic.
When asked about the future of Women & Hi Tech, Khan stated, “what Women & Hi Tech can do is try to make businesses aware of these challenges and help with creative ways to problem-solve. The goal is to increase the number of women in leadership roles, particularly in STEM fields and also allow women to have work-life balance during and beyond the present moment of crisis.” Khan pointed out that events like Women & Hi Tech’s Executive Women’s Forums are great opportunities to bring these conversations to the table and make businesses aware of the diverse and changing needs of an increasingly diverse workforce.
“Women & Hi Tech is doing so much within the organization and STEM community, to provide women in STEM with a supportive, welcoming, and inclusive environment,” Khan said. “Continuing to grow those values within the organization, and helping others grow that environment within their organizations, are initiatives that go hand-in-hand.”