Anastasia Grilley

Committed to Making My Community StrongHer

By Anastasia Grilley

As I approached college, I knew that I wanted a degree that would help me become a problem solver. I had always had a passion for fixing things. Both my grandfather and aunt were engineers at NASA, and I had always looked up to them. So, when the time came for me to decide on my own career path, I too chose engineering.

Engineering school, however, was very difficult for me. I found I had less passion for mathematical equations and technical details. I also encountered sexist comments from professors and lab mates. For example, they told me that I should be the one to clean the lab because I was a woman and must have an innate talent for it. This was certainly a bit of a shock (we like to think such occurrences are things of the past, but I was in engineering school less than four years ago).

Anastasia Grilley and her fiancé in Paris, France.
Anastasia Grilley and her fiancé in Paris, France.

I’m proud to say that, despite all these challenges, I persisted and received my engineering degree. This was a big accomplishment. I told myself I would do it—and never really considered quitting—but there were times when I questioned if I was physically capable of doing so! Along the way, I realized that I had a knack for seeing, organizing, and managing the bigger picture. Since I wanted to enter the workforce playing to my strengths, I did some research on potential jobs and discovered that project management would be a good fit for me.

So, I completed my certification as a Project Management Professional and have been at Nokia for four years. Nokia has been an ideal place for me as a woman engineer. The company has very strong targets for inclusion and diversity, focusing on their DEI goals even in operational calls, because they recognize that people come first. Among other DEI topics, Nokia emphasizes gender inclusivity.

As a part of this mission, six French Nokia employees founded StrongHer, a women’s empowerment organization, in 2011. I now lead this employee resource group in the United States. We focus on helping our women employees with career development, personal development, networking, and education.

Fighting Bias

Young women continue to need strong role models (and allies) to show them possible STEM careers and to support them. Similarly, in higher education and in the STEM workforce, we need more women leaders and allies who sponsor us.

The challenges still facing women in STEM grew out of larger issues we faced historically in our patriarchal society. Traditionally, the man was the financial head of the household and derived power from controlling the money. Women were expected to maintain the home, to please their husbands, and to provide children. Of course, there were always exceptions, but the discussion of women’s rights wasn’t part of public discourse until the mid-19th century.

For the past century, at least in the United States, society has been trending away from these rigid and discriminatory designations. The patriarchal mentality persists, nonetheless, in our unconscious biases. Young girls and boys may feel pulled (or are steered) toward stereotypical pursuits. Although women are making gains in STEM overall, their proportion in fields like computer science (16%), engineering (21%), economics (27%) and physics (38%) is still far less than that of men.

StrongHer's Coded Bias movie debrief at the Nokia Dallas Campus.
StrongHer’s Coded Bias movie debrief at the Nokia Dallas Campus.

Across the tech sector, men tend to outnumber women. Therefore, we have fewer inspirational examples to follow, and the culture is more oriented toward men. For example, most of us view assertiveness in a man as an admirable leadership quality. However, we may view a woman who is assertive as aggressive or pushy. I personally have been insulted in this way, not at Nokia but in other places and at many times throughout my life. In sports, I have been called aggressive when I was competing in the same way that my male counterparts were.

These deeply ingrained beliefs are informed by our lived experiences: by our teachers and schoolbooks, by the movies and advertisements we’ve seen, and by our newsfeeds. We are inundated with information, and our brains categorize it to create order from the chaos, to promote rapid recall, and to keep us safe. If you eat a red berry that makes you sick, your brain might tell you to avoid all red berries in the future, but this level of generalization is flawed. Similarly, we cannot apply broad stereotypes to every individual in a particular category. If we do, even unconsciously, we promote bias.

Anyone, regardless of gender, is capable of harboring unconscious gender biases. If left unchecked, these biases can affect every aspect of an organization. The way to fix this is through confronting unconscious biases. Nokia has required unconscious-bias training for all employees to raise awareness and to share strategies on how to navigate it.

Finding Community and  Dreaming Big

I think as society has gotten more technologically sophisticated, people’s sense of community has gotten weaker. Historically, communities worked together to generate food and to protect one another. These efforts were largely driven by people’s proximity. Now that the world is so interconnected by technological advances, including those related to transportation and the internet, we have lost that more personalized sense of community and of belonging together.

This is why I have sought out communities to join in my career and personal life. I try to find groups that represent something important to me, and I actively participate in these groups to strengthen them and to try to pull in other people who can benefit. I have found life to be much more enjoyable when I am part of a group than when I am on my own.

What I really want is to be a positive driver for change, both at Nokia and in the world. I try to question what I am doing, why I’m doing it, and for whom. These questions help ensure that I am living a life that is authentic to me and that I am intentionally pursuing what’s important to me, rather than just following others.

I am co-president of a local nonprofit that provides underrepresented groups with financial literacy programs and preparation for higher education. Getting involved in my local community has been a passionate pursuit for me, and I have gotten a lot of satisfaction out of making an impact through the scholarships that we give and the programs that we offer.

Anastasia Grilley's artwork includes a digitally altered photo of herself and her fiance in New Orleans, a digital art rendition of a cat named Gracie, a digital art rendition of the Banteay Srei in Cambodia based on a photo taken while visiting the site, and a hand drawing based on a maritime book.
Anastasia Grilley’s artwork includes a digitally altered photo of herself and her fiance in New Orleans, a digital art rendition of a cat named Gracie, a digital art rendition of the Banteay Srei in Cambodia based on a photo taken while visiting the site, and a hand drawing based on a maritime book.

I also make sure to invest in my personal life and to continue to grow artistically. I have taught myself to play the guitar. I sing and create digital and physical art.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of creating something exceptional, something that really changed the world through one finite act. But as I have gotten older, I have realized that big changes come from a lot of people working together and from taking small steps together toward a shared goal. So, I have walked back my initial aspirations of individual glory and have decided that I want to surround myself with people who challenge the status quo, people who ask, “ Why can’t it be different?”

I would love to connect with any AWIS readers who have a passion for this space or who could share insights into how they support gender inclusion in their own organizations. Let’s collaborate and learn from each other about how to address these challenging topics, rather than regularly reinventing the wheel.

Anastasia GrilleySince 2019, Anastasia Grilley has been a project manager at Nokia, where she has focused on project digitalization, network deployment, and network optimization. She received her BS in mechanical engineering from Southern Methodist University in 2019 and joined Nokia later that year as a member of a new graduate program. In addition to her primary role at the company, she serves as Co-President of Nokia’s US Women’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) and as Vice President of the Dallas Women’s ERG; as a representative of the Dallas LGBTQ+ ERG; and as a coach for a Complex Adaptive Leadership program. In her free time, she serves as the Co-President of a local Dallas/Fort Worth nonprofit that focuses on financial literacy and preparation for higher education, and she pursues various art disciplines, such as digital art and multimedia physical art.

This article was originally published in AWIS Magazine. Join AWIS to access the full issue of AWIS Magazine and more member benefits.