Celebrating Women’s History Month: Kiana Pourjanfeshan
Working as a woman in a male-dominated field like tech can be difficult, and progressing in your career even more so. We spoke to Kiana Pourjanfeshan, Director of Technical Program Management at Treasury Prime about what’s it been like being a female in STEM and how she’s navigated instances of sexism while building a successful career in tech. Originally joining Treasury Prime over two years ago as a Technical Program Manager, Kiana previously worked at much larger companies, rising in the ranks at the likes of Hewlett-Packard, The Walt Disney Company, Northrop Grumman Corporation, and Macy’s.
You’ve worked at several large corporations; what drew you to a startup like Treasury Prime?
After working at larger companies, I knew that I wanted my next step in my career to be at a startup. I wanted a change of pace. When I began interviewing I was actually interviewing at places like Reddit and Waymo. And to be honest, I didn’t really think banking as a service was “cool” compared to something like self-driving cars.
After interviewing, though, I realized that what is special about Treasury Prime is the people. I knew that these were people that I wanted to work with every day. You always hear “it’s the people that make the difference,” and for me, that really rang true.
How have the people and culture at Treasury Prime supported your career growth?
I’ve definitely felt supported at Treasury Prime, even from the onset. Treasury Prime has grown so much since I joined in early 2021, and the team has done a great job at retaining the culture that originally attracted me to the company. Since the beginning I’ve felt empowered to be myself and that I don’t need to be anyone but me to be successful here.
It’s also great to see female leaders like Deirdre and Carrie in the company; I think seeing them shows me, and other women in the company, that I can grow here, regardless of my gender.
I also appreciate that Treasury Prime offers a good parental leave policy and flexible time off for parents. Policies like these typically affect women more often and I’m glad Treasury Prime is supporting their employees in this way.
I hope that as the company grows we’ll continue to hire more women, especially for our engineering team.
What was your experience like working in tech before you joined Treasury Prime?
It definitely wasn’t always easy.
I studied computer science and engineering at UCLA and was one of the very few women in all of my classes. When I would tell people what I was studying I was always met with disbelief.
“What, are you serious?”, “Wait, you must be joking.” It felt like people simply couldn’t grasp it.
In the workplace, I also had some negative experiences. In a previous position, I was wearing a dress in the office, abiding by the company’s business casual dress code. This company was predominantly older white men. As I was on my way to the restroom, one of these men stopped me and told me that I “can’t wear a dress like that. All the boys are going crazy.”
I left very shortly after that.
How do you reconcile with those types of situations? What would your advice be?
I think it’s really about persevering. You will always encounter people who make snap judgments about you and think that you can’t succeed or that you aren’t right for something. Whatever the reason may be, remember that none of it is rooted in reality. None of their misgivings are a reflection of who you are.
It’s all about knowing and demonstrating your worth and your value — even in environments where you may not feel supported or appreciated. After that situation with my dress, when I put in my notice, I was asked what could be done to keep me. At that point, there was nothing they could do and I knew that I would succeed elsewhere.
Can you share what your upbringing was like?
I’m lucky to have grown up the way I did. My parents left Iran for the U.S. in their early 20s. They left their families, didn’t speak the language, and didn’t know anyone. They went through a lot to provide our family with more opportunities. If I had been born and raised in Iran, I’d likely be leading a very different life where I couldn’t have studied engineering, have my career, and live as independently as I do now.
I really look up to my mom because of everything she endured and everything she sacrificed to give me and my siblings more opportunities. She’s always reminded me in moments of self-doubt that I can do anything. She’d always tell me, “if you can’t do it, then who can?”, and I always think “oh yeah, she’s got a great point.”
What would be your advice to other women who are aspiring to work in tech like you?
Simply, work hard and don’t listen to other people’s doubts.
Also, take advantage of any resources you have at your disposal. For instance, I was part of the Society of Women Engineers while studying at UCLA.
And make sure to maintain and grow a network of people who will vouch for you and are willing to go to bat for you.
When you’ve built a successful career, don’t forget to pay it forward to other aspiring women in tech, whatever that looks like for you. For me, it means volunteering. I work with an elementary school in West Oakland and I previously mentored incoming female engineering students at UCLA. Progress is incremental and it requires work from all of us.
Looking back now, what would your advice be to a preteen Kiana?
Don’t stop trying.
And don’t worry. When you’re 35, you’ll be able to buy your mom a new car and show her how much you really appreciate her.