Breath of Fresh Air: Diversity Heroes – Bushra Anjum

As a community, we embrace our diversity; diversity makes us better, stronger. We cannot do enough to applaud all of our heroes in their diversity. They are people who are ACM members, volunteers or experts in their field.  We’ve been talking with a number of heroes about their tech career journey, their perspective on intersectionality and reflect on initiatives for equality. This month’s guest is Bushra Anjum.

Bushra Anjum, Ph.D., is a health IT data specialist currently working as the Senior Analytics Manager at the San Francisco based health tech firm Doximity. Aimed at creating HIPAA secure tools for clinicians, she leads a team of analysts, scientists, and engineers working on product and client-facing analytics. Formerly a Fulbright scholar from Pakistan, Dr. Anjum served in academia (both in Pakistan and the USA) for many years before joining the tech industry. A keen enthusiast of promoting diversity in the STEM fields, her volunteer activities, among others, involve being a senior editor for ACM Ubiquity and the Standing Committee’s Chair for ACM-W global leadership. She can be contacted via the contact page or via Twitter @DrBushraAnjum.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself? What was the atmosphere at home like while growing up? What are the things that drew you closer to tech?

Born and raised in Pakistan, we have been a tightly knit family of five, my parents and their three daughters. I am the youngest of the three. My parents’ dream was to see their daughters well educated, financially independent and socially productive; they achieved it. My eldest sister is a medical doctor in the UK, the other one has an MBA and works for a nonprofit in the US, and I am a computer science professional.

After matric (which is roughly equal to finishing secondary education), in 1999,  when it was time to choose subjects, the traditional choice for me was to choose between pre-medical and pre-engineering. I knew I did not want to become a doctor (sibling rivalry) so was considering pre-engineering when we came to know that one of the colleges has started a completely new discipline, intermediate studies in Computer Science, with the main subjects being Math, Physics and Computer Science. Studying Computer Science seemed intriguing. Hence I opted for it, loved the discipline and never looked back. Those were interesting times. My first programming language was FORTRAN, and I worked with floppy disks for my projects and assignments. We used to make copies on multiple floppy disks as the disk’s life was restricted to 2 to 3 reads. My first ‘high-tech massive memory’ gadget was a USB with 128KB of memory that cost me more than 10 times what a 1TB USB costs today. I have closely seen computer technology grow exponentially in the last 20 years. I am excited about the next 20.

 If you were to change something in the way we run tech communities and networks, what would you change?

The statistics indicate that the lack of women in tech is a global issue. We are stuck in a vicious cycle where young women do not opt for technology careers because they do not find role models, and there are limited role models because women are not entering the technology field. We all need someone to look up to for inspiration and reach out to for guidance. There are numerous trailblazing women in technology. However, they do not get their fair share of visibility. We need to get better at promoting women leaders and technologists in print and electronic media. I am extremely appreciative of the initiatives taken by ACM-W in this regard, such as this series “Diversity Heroes” by ACM-W Europe. 

Another initiative that I am leading for ACM-W is “Celebrating Technology Leaders by the ACM-W global leadership team. We have designed the series so students and early career professionals can expand their horizons, and make informed choices about the next step in their professional journeys. At the same time, staying true to the ACM-W mission, we aim to celebrate women in computing. Thus in each episode, I invite women in computing who have excelled in their careers for an online panel discussion. We feature panellists from all career levels in research, industry, government, and nonprofits. During the one hour conversation, we highlight their journeys, share inspiring stories, and learn what it takes to succeed in their career of choice. You can view our past episodes on-demand on the ACM-W YouTube playlist

What challenges have you faced?  Were you able to overcome them? How?

I face the same challenge that every other woman in the technology world faces, the dichotomy of dual expectations. This is best explained by Dr Deborah Gruenfeld, a social psychologist and professor at Stanford Business School. She defined the dual expectations as playing high, which means you show your authority, power, influence, and playing low, which means you are more approachable and likeable. As leaders in the technology field, we are expected to play high, but as women, we are traditionally expected to play low. So, when we play high, we are deemed not likeable, and when we play low, we are considered to be not competent! It’s a continuous balancing act. Patience, good judgment, and wisely picking my battles have been my friends in this journey.  

What has been your career highlight? What are you most proud of?

Volunteering and community service gives purpose to my life. I work as a Senior Analytics Manager at Doximity, the medical network for physicians with 80% of US doctors as its usage. I like my day job, it allows me to solve interesting data puzzles and gives me the financial freedom to embark on other adventures. However, the true satisfaction in my life comes from volunteering. Other than ACM, I volunteer with GlobalTechWomen, Pakistani Women in Computing (PWiC), CRA Widening Participation (CRA-WP), Rewriting the Code (RTC), Empowering Leadership Alliance (ELA),, TechGirlz, CodeGirls, among others. 

I am blessed to have my work and service contributions recognized by several international venues. I am a humble recipient of the Tribune Top 20 under 40 award for career excellence and community service in the USA. I have also been awarded the LUMS Vice Chancellor’s Alumni Achievement Award (my alma mater in Pakistan) and NCSU Young Alumni Award (my alma mater in the USA). All these are extremely close to my heart. The award email for the alumni award stated, “we are appreciative of how well you have represented and demonstrated the positive impact of our alumni to the communities we serve. Your leadership, commitment and contributions personify values that make us extremely proud of you.” These words are an award in themselves! I am both humbled and proud that these community service efforts are getting recognized.

 What would you recommend to young people thinking of a career in computing?

According to the Diversity in Tech 2021 Report by mthree (Wiley), when looking at the female-identifying respondents, 48% are worried about not having the right qualifications, 33% believe they don’t have the right educational background, and 32% don’t know anything about the different technology jobs that are available. When looking at the 18-28 year old respondents, 39% responded they were never given any information about tech careers at high school/college.

We all need to play our part in fixing these reasons deterring young people from pursuing a career in technology!

For those looking for career guidance and role models, I would again refer to the ACM-W “Celebrating Technology Leadersweb series. In each episode, we highlight the stories of successful technical women who are leading diverse careers in the technology industry. We aim to inform our audience about the multitude of careers open to them, enabling them to take educated next steps in their professional journeys. We have demystified various career options in the past, such as data, UI/UX, cybersecurity, robotics, technical entrepreneurship, returnships etc. You can watch our previous episodes here. Our future sessions are planned for machine learning, AI, blockchain, careers in non-profit and many other topics of interest for our audience. For our upcoming episode announcements, please follow us  @DrBushraAnjum and @OfficialACMW. Announcements will also be made via the ACM-W Europe newsletters.

We will definitely tune in to hear from inspiring women. Thank you for this interview!

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