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#iumienwomenmoversandshakers: Crystal Saetern


What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? I believe the most significant barriers to female leadership are the preconceived notions and “gender norms” of how a woman “should” be that can lead to the lack of empowerment. When people around us resort to comments like: “girls shouldn’t do that”, “why are you so outspoken when girls (especially Mien girls) should not cause any problems”, or “don’t be so ‘emotional’” when the “emotion” is really passion and voice for their beliefs. Progress has been made but there’s still so much that needs to be unpacked and improved. The same standards are not applied to the male counterpart and is especially difficult in a traditional Mien patriarchal family. Imagine a world where women are always (not only sometimes) encouraged to voice their opinions, empowered to challenge the status quo, and where both men and women celebrate the passion and drive that we women can contribute. What is one event that helped shape your life? It’s hard for me to pinpoint only one major event that has helped shape my life, but if I could narrow it down to two, I would say being raised by a strong single mother and being a part of the Iu-Mien Student Conference (IMSC), both as an attendee and co-chair, has tremendously influenced my life. Being raised by a single mom, who came to the US as a refugee in the late 1980’s, has taught me what it means to have a strong work ethic, to be independent, to have compassion, and to enjoy your life fully. Watching her grow and navigate the system from having little to no English and very little education when she first arrived in the U.S., to sending herself to community college, teaching herself English so she can now speak fluently and now have a career at the State, and working two jobs when I was younger to make ends meet, all on her own, has been so humbling and inspiring. Combined with that, being a former attendee and co-chair of IMSC has taught me the importance of preserving our Mien identity, importance of higher education, and the importance of believing in yourself no matter what. The parallel in these two examples emphasize how critical it is that we honor our history and honor the hardships that our families had to undergo by making sure we do not let the opportunities we have now slip away.    What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life? I would say one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make was leaving a stable career in the public sector with lots of security to becoming self-employed, with zero security, as an independent consultant. That decision led me to moving from the Bay Area back to Sacramento and really pushing myself to find out what it is that I truly wanted to do. That was difficult for me because having a fulfilling job has always been so important to me, especially since we spend so much of our lives at work. I wanted to make sure that whatever I ended up doing was something I valued, believed in, and fulfilled me a way where I felt like I was making a difference in something much larger than myself. Leaving the non-profit and public sector was a really difficult personal decision for me as I didn’t want to feel like I was “selling out”, or not “giving back” anymore, so I struggled with that a lot. However, if I did not challenge myself to leave what I was comfortable with, I would have never found a new career at consulting firm that also values giving back to nonprofits and helping them flourish and grow to continue to do good in the world. I realized that you didn’t have to sacrifice your values while sacrificing other parts of yourself. What is an accomplishment you are proud of? One accomplishment I’m proud of is being a first-generation college graduate from a 4-year university. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UC Davis with a double major in Economics and Sociology. Pursuing a college degree was rewarding in so many ways, not only intellectually, but personally, emotionally, and professionally. I felt like I owed it to my mom to get a good education and embrace the opportunities that I have in the U.S. since she did not have same opportunities when she was younger. Additionally, the things you learn in college is not just what they teach you in the books, but you learn about yourself as an individual, you’re challenged to think critically, and you get exposed to so much of the world that you wouldn’t have gotten exposure to without school. Getting an education opened my eyes to view the world with a different lens and also opened my heart and mind to curiously travel the world. If there was a young girl out there who wanted to do what you did, what would you tell her? Believe in yourself and keep on working hard at what you want to do, no matter what. I know that sounds cliché but it’s so true that if you find the courage and confidence to trust that you can truly do what you set your mind to and work hard for it, you can make anything happen. It’s also important to challenge yourself. It will be hard but the act of pushing yourself to go outside of your comfort zone will teach you the confidence, creativity, and resilience to help you get through the lemons that life throws at you. Spend the time to find your voice and your purpose; that will help with finding your passion and drive to accomplish your goals. How can people get a hold of you? · Email: cmsaetern@gmail.com · Facebook: www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=546488096

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