Rabab Iqbal


CV in brief :   Career so far:  Mayor's Graduate Intern,   City of Little Rock   | Program Assistant,   WIN - Women's Information Network   | Development Assistant,   Memphis Leadership Foundation   | Resident Assistant,   Rhodes College   | ESOL Instructor,   Memphis Leadership Foundation   | Bonner Scholar,   The Bonner Foundation   | Summer Intern,   Heifer International     Education:  The George Washington University |   Rhodes College     Find Rabab online:    LinkedIn       Exclusive interview by  Lucie Goulet , December 2016

CV in brief:

Career so far: Mayor's Graduate Intern, City of Little Rock | Program Assistant, WIN - Women's Information Network | Development Assistant, Memphis Leadership Foundation | Resident Assistant, Rhodes College | ESOL Instructor, Memphis Leadership Foundation | Bonner Scholar, The Bonner Foundation | Summer Intern, Heifer International

Education: The George Washington University | Rhodes College

Find Rabab online: LinkedIn 

Exclusive interview by Lucie Goulet, December 2016

What do you do?

I am a part-time incident analyst at a global data analytics company. I assess risks and report domestic and international incidents to our clients, including large and small companies all over the world.

What do you qualify as an incident?

Anything that could affect our clients’ business, employees, buildings, etc. It could be protests, accidents on highways or bigger incidents such as mass shootings, bomb threats, or explosions. Unfortunately, those happen everywhere, almost every day.

We find incidents through open-source intelligence and we analyze if and how it might affect our clients, the level of priority we should assign it, and then we report it.

How do you split the work within the team?

We don't have clients assigned to us, but sometimes clients will request us to focus on a certain incident or area. I am not assigned to a region because I work part-time, but some full-time analysts are.

However, when I started the job, I was one of the few people with a background in South Asia so they have given me space to kind of expand on the South Asia and wider Asia region focus.

How is studying at the George Washington University (GW)?

I love studying there. I'm a Master of Arts in International Affairs (MAIA) candidate with a focus on International Development and Affairs. I'm a full-time student there and I work part-time. GW is a challenging institution, but it is preparing me for the jobs that I want.

In what way is it challenging?

The professors we work with are notable in the international relations field. I do feel like we are held to a high standard in our classes individually and as potential GW graduates.

Our classes are in the evenings, making it easier to intern or work during the course of the program. GW encourages their MAIA students to take advantage of the opportunities around them and do something with their time that will complement their studies. Some people work full-time in addition to their degree, which is a huge responsibility.

We are close to the State Department, USAID, USIP and many organisations and people that can help our careers. Balancing school and those expectations is challenging, but it's worth it in the long run.

How do you manage it?

Planners! I am much more productive when I can plan out my day and important tasks in one, easily accessible notebook. It's easy to slip up, but it's also simple to get back on track. Also, professors at GW are open to talking with you. They understand better than anyone what it's like having to balance life, school, and a career in a demanding field. The flexibility of the professors, the school, and having a flexible work schedule helps tremendously.

What do you want to do after graduation?

My studies are focused on international development, but recently I've been interested in security. I took my job as an incident analyst because I wanted to look at how interconnected development and security are.

My focus right now is South Asia, and I've also studied the Middle East. Development projects in both regions are hindered by security-related incidents, so it's key for development professionals to understand what's happening when they're dealing with a security issue.

Having some experience in security and an academic background in development will help me bring those two together. I want to figure out a way that development professionals don't have to sit back with their hands tied as a beneficial project is stopped or dismantled when there is a security issue. They could even help out in the security issue.

You're quite young but you've already done amazing things. For instance, you spent the summer in Little Rock interning with the Mayor’s office. How have you been selecting those opportunities?

I am taking opportunities as they present themselves, but they're all driven by my deep interested in international affairs. I went to the Mayor’s office because, although it wasn’t an international affairs position, I wanted to understand how local government works in a place like Little Rock, Arkansas, where I grew up.

Compared to D.C. it's not diverse but it does have small populations from all around the world. As the Mayor’s intern, I saw how the local government engages with these international communities. It was great to see the city’s interest and involvement with the South Asian communities specifically.

Little Rock is a Clinton stronghold. How was it being there in the summer, during the campaign?

I had a good experience during the election season, because most of the people around me were Democrats and Hillary supporters, like myself. My county, Pulaski County, was completely blue, but the rest of Arkansas was almost all red, so I was in a bubble at the time. Although I expected Arkansas to be a red state in this election anyway, being in that bubble skewed my perception of Donald Trump’s popularity and of the possible outcome of the election.

How do you feel now that he's been elected?

At first, I felt defeated. As a woman, as a feminist, as a Muslim, and as a human. I felt like hate had won. However, I, and other people like me started to accept the outcome of the election, until he started appointing his Cabinet. Before, it was just Donald Trump and what he was saying that he was going to do to our country, but now you have white nationalists being appointed to the presidential Cabinet.

As a Muslim woman and an immigrant, it's scary. Hate crimes have gone up in America since this election began. It is hard to believe something like that could happen to you when you see it on the news, but as the incidents grow in number and intensity, I can’t help but worry about my family and friends who may “look or sound more Muslim” in terms of dressing, speaking, or behavior. I can't think of what exactly will happen policy-wise, but the fact that our future president and the Cabinet members say the things that they do, and use the words that they use, shows that the culture of America is shifting. Unfortunately, it is changing for the worst.

Have you experienced in your career and in your studies, discrimination, either as a woman of color or as a Muslim? What would you advise to our readers in terms of dealing with it?

Fortunately, I haven't experienced any blatant hate directed towards me because of who I am. That said, people have made assumptions about me on numerous occasions based those things, and I would be lying if I said they didn’t hurt. I never mind it if someone is curious about my background or wants to know a bit about my culture. In fact, I encourage those conversations because it helps spread awareness and mutual understanding! However, and I’m not making this up, I have been asked “why don’t you wear the carpet” on your head?”, “would you be honor killed by your father if you don’t marry who he says to marry?”, and “ is bin Laden your uncle?”, all in either school or professional settings. All of these happened at different times as I was growing up, from elementary school to today.

I am definitely in a white and male dominated field. It feels like I have to work harder to prove myself and be more outspoken than I normally would be to be taken as seriously as the men around me. However, I learned from the women around me that I can use my differences to my advantage. It can be a form of empowerment because being different means you bring new ideas to the table. The best way to deal with it is to speak up and to speak your mind. International affairs is not like mathematics. Personal opinions matter a lot in this field, and yours could bring change. Don't worry if you're standing out, because that's a good thing.

Do you feel you’re held to different standards?

I am a young woman working to go into a field where the majority is male, and the more successful people are older white males. Sometimes, even subconsciously, people will take young women less seriously.

If I go to a meeting mostly peopled by men, I feel that I can't contribute to the conversation as much, or that my opinion isn't taken that seriously because I'm younger than everyone, and I'm a woman. I've felt that I have to come off as more serious than I am, that I have to prove myself to be smarter and more assertive than someone might look at me and assume. Also, there it feels like there is no escaping the fact that people will label me as “aggressive,” “feisty,” or “bitchy” if I choose to assert myself.

What is the most useful thing you've learned so far?

Connections go a long way. I'm part of the WISE-List, a network of women in security. I'm also part of WIN, the Women's Information Network in D.C. It's a network similar to WISE but it's not for a specific field. The goal is for women to help other women climb the ladder of success. In fact, both of the jobs I’ve had in D.C. were through these networks. I have met so many driven and successful women through WIN and WISE. They have given me career advice, helped me meet others in my field, and I made a few friends along the way as well.

I also use these networks to help women like me who come to this city to study or to get a job in politics or international affairs. Giving back is the best way to keep these networks going and growing!

How do you find living in DC?

I love being in what feels like the centre of all things politics. Although the election night turned out to be very sad for me personally, it was exciting to walk to the White House and cheer with the other supporters until the very last minute of the results. Also, many of the foreign embassies hold events and workshops that are open to the public. Not only are these networking opportunities, but they are opportunities to open your mind and have different experiences in the field that you're interested in. Where else can you have lunch in front of the White House, attend an event at the Embassy of Indonesia, and interview for that career-launching job on Capitol Hill, all in one day?

What would your advice be to a young woman who wants to come to D.C. to work in foreign policy?

This is the city to come to if you want to do anything in International Affairs. Although D.C. is not lacking in job opportunities in the field, the job hunt is tough as you are competing with some of the most qualified and driven people in the country. But don’t worry, you are here because you have what it takes! I can’t stress this more: Do not give up and use your networks because they go a long way.

Not giving up is the most important thing in this field because there isn't a test that you can take to get a certain job, or a certain score to have for a company to hire you. It's about proving yourself and working your way up. I think you have to give yourself chances over and over until you're able to accomplish that, and you will.