#iumienwomenmoversandshakers: Koy Saephan
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? I believe the most significant barrier to female leadership begins with the social constructs of female identity in the home, in the community and in society. Allowing others to define you by their experiences and their perceptions - can be both powerful and dangerous. Having a heightened awareness on how the narratives of others impact our own thinking and our behavior is important in self-identity and self-determination, key in female advancement and leadership. In order for us to compete in school or the workplace, we must advance to a place in our thinking that encourages broader ways of looking at the world. We must continue to question how the opinion of others impact our own truths. We go farther together so continue to empower women who support each other. What is the one event that helped shape your life? For me, attaining a college degree in English Literature was significant, and life changing, despite serious adversities. Like many of you, I came to this country with nothing more than the shirt on my back. I didn’t have shoes or toothbrushes until ten, and I didn’t speak a word of English. It didn’t help that I was part of the generation of young teens whose parents believed in the cultural practice of early marriages. On this front, I was ushered into marriage and had a child at sixteen, only six years after stepping foot on American soil. Needless to say, this is how you set yourself backward; not forward.
What is one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make, and how did it impact your life? Giving myself permission to pivot from one dream to another was impactful on various levels of my life, even though I did not know it then. Like many of you, I learned English quickly and I became the family and community interpreter. This also meant, I saw and experienced much injustice, at a young age, and I wanted to be a voice for myself and for others. My dream was to go to law school and become a lawyer. I received a full scholarship to do that. In the third year of my legal studies, however, I made one of the toughest decisions in my life. I left law school, and the safety and security of a full-time salaried government interpreting job during a down turn in the economy to pursue opening a language company, against the advice of many. Through this process, however, I developed the courage to make decisions that allow me to be authentic, to be the best version of myself, even if those decisions may not be popular with others. I never looked back. Today I operate a company that will continue to experience rapid growth, in ways I had never dreamed. The arc of my life has come full circle, and I am thankful I “turned” or “steered,” as my name suggests. I am able to bridge the language gap and help hundreds of limited English speaking individuals in communities across California, every day. What is an accomplishment you are proud of? I am most proud of my two children, Mandi, a UC Davis grad and Kyle who is still in school studying to become a mechanical engineer - both are thoughtful, loving and self-sufficient. I’m also proud of the fact that I employ a group of intelligent, opinionated women who help my business grow. If there was a young girl out there who wanted to do what you did, what would you tell her? Keep polishing your craft, whatever that may be. Do not let the voice of others create doubt in your ambitions, your dreams and your success. We live in a country where there are boundless resources. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Don’t be afraid of adversity and hard work. No one knows greater adversity than our refugee parents. Surround yourself with the right people and if you do anything long enough, without giving up, you will succeed. And when you do, don’t forget to thank the people whose shoulder you rode on that carried you forward. You may be the first of many things - in your family, in your community. This is not worth highlighting. Highlight the difference you make in the lives of those around you and encourage them to give back to our community. Don’t be afraid to innovate or disrupt the status quo. Go and blaze your own trail, and continue to empower other women. How can people get a hold of you? Feel free to message via FB or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org