Keynote speaker Shahid talks about advocating for yourself

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Well-behaved women seldom make history, Shiza Shahid reminded the audience during her keynote address at AVMA Convention 2018, held July 13-17 in Denver.

The entrepreneur, investor, and women's rights advocate gave the talk "When Passion Meets Empowerment," which was sponsored by Hill's Pet Nutrition.

Shiza Shahid
Shiza Shahid encouraged audience members at her keynote speech to allow themselves to push outside their comfort zones. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Shahid grew up in Pakistan—a country that consistently ranks in the World Economic Forum's top five worst countries for women. But she had parents who allowed her independence and a good education, which she says is uncommon for most girls in that country. While volunteering as a teenager, "I saw a very conservative, traditional view of what it means to be a woman—some of the most tribal parts of Pakistan where the very existence as a woman was a source of shame. It gave me a better understanding of the nuances and complexities of the world. How difficult it is to categorize a culture in simple terms. To effect change," Shahid told JAVMA News.

Today, she has become a mover and shaker in venture capital and the nonprofit world. She is particularly passionate about leveraging philanthropy, venture capital, technology, and the media to drive scalable social impact.

Her life has taken many turns over the past decade or so. In 2007, Shahid received a full scholarship to Stanford University. During the summer after her sophomore year, she organized a camp for girls in Pakistan's Swat Valley after the Taliban barred them from going to school. One of those attending was 12-year-old Malala Yousafzai.

When Malala was shot in 2012, Shahid traveled to Pakistan to be by her side. "I thought there was an opportunity to help her and her family share her story. I gave them the best advice I could come up with on what I thought she should do," Shahid said. "They trusted me with all their hearts. Even though I was 22, I was perhaps the only person who understood their culture."

She had been building a career as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, but at the family's urging, Shahid quit her job to become founding CEO of the Malala Fund, a New York–based nonprofit that aims to improve girls' access to education.

That took her on a 2 1/2-year journey, during which she worked with Malala to produce two books and a film about Malala's life. Shahid was there when Malala spoke before the United Nations and elsewhere globally, urging leaders to contribute more resources to girls' education. Shahid was also with Malala when Malala received the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17.

After that, Shahid felt compelled to resume pursuing entrepreneurship to effect greater change. So, she launched Now Ventures, a seed fund that invests in mission-driven startups. "For women and people of color, venture capital is not a friendly space at all, which is why I was drawn to it," she said. "I want to rectify or reclaim the image of entrepreneurs having to be ruthless. They can be people who are kind, have strong values, and want to make the world better."

For veterinary medicine, she noted the profession has its own issues with regard to a gender wage gap and a lack of racial and ethnic diversity.

She encourages female veterinarians and veterinary technicians to be more entrepreneurial, to have faith in their abilities, and to advocate for themselves.

"This can be made less daunting by cultivating a support network of other women professionals who can help them navigate these challenges and reassure them that they are not alone in these struggles. Often women are held back by the disproportionate responsibility they have in the home and parenting, and we need to shift those cultural norms. And of course, those in positions of power should proactively audit their payroll data to ensure they are paying all people equally for the same work," she told JAVMA News.

As for those underrepresented in veterinary medicine, she told JAVMA News that it's essential to address the systemic inequalities in the field that make the profession inaccessible to people of color.

"Whether that's bias in schools, lack of mentors, the debt-to-income ratio, or other factors. From an individual standpoint, I would encourage veterinarians to mentor people from underrepresented ethnicities proactively. Cultivating diverse teams is not just the right thing to do; it also leads to better practices and stronger businesses," Shahid said.

At the end of her keynote speech, she encouraged audience members to allow themselves to push outside their comfort zones.

"It's the only way to grow. The only way to change anything is to get outside of them," she said.