Born in Algeria and raised in the U.S., Sarah Hassaine, WG’21, embraced diversity and inclusion early on. “I always looked different and celebrated different holidays from my friends. My parents spoke French and Arabic, and my hair is really curly. Those qualities became part of my beautiful narrative,” she said.
In college, Sarah tapped into activism. “After Sept. 11 occurred, I joined organizations like Students for Justice and the Student Affirmative Action Council as well as her respective community groups, the Arab Student Union and Muslim Student Association. I started to think more about what inclusion looks like for different people, and the value of a shared space of understanding,” she said.
Graduating with a degree in international relations, Sarah moved to Lebanon to focus on refugee work and access to education. “I saw the different ways people live and the disparity around the globe. Yet people always smile and find ways to live and love life. I realized that if I wanted to make an impact and move the needle, I needed to go into policy work and help change laws.”
Sarah came back to the U.S. to Washington, D.C., to earn her Master’s degree in public policy and launched her career in diplomacy. Moving into government consulting for the US Navy and then pivoting back to her passion of international development, focusing on democracy-building initiatives in the Middle East during the Arab Spring. Outside of work, she became president of the Washington, DC Chapter of the Network of Arab-American Professionals and organized events to build bridges of understanding between communities and faiths.
Relocating to Saudi Arabia for her then-husband’s job, she became the director of the Women’s Skills Bureau, where she designed and led trainings for ex-pat women on professional skills. She built an international team to help her fundraise and re-brand the organization.
After a divorce brought her back to the U.S., she became a program specialist in applied research at Amazon in Seattle, WA. In that position, she became more involved with recruiting efforts focused on women. She also started the Arabs at Amazon affinity group and launched a local chapter for the Network of Arab-American Professionals and volunteered in refugee camps in Greece.
“Diversity and inclusion (D&I) was starting to pick up for more companies and the job descriptions I was seeing resonated strongly. For me, it is so important that my job has purpose and impact. When I saw the opportunity to become a senior inclusion and diversity specialist at Qualcomm, I was so excited. It molded my passion for bridging people, advocacy and social impact. I knew this role would give me the chance to focus on improving peoples’ lives and address economic inclusion.”
Deciding to get an MBA
At Qualcomm, Sarah decided it was time to go back to school to continue her professional development.
She spent six months researching different types of degrees and talking to people in her network. Through that process, she identified her knowledge gaps related to business, especially the quantitative aspects of business, and decided to get an MBA.
“I took the GMATs three time before I could get a submittable score. I hired tutors. My MBA journey started about a year before I hit send on the application,” she said.
Sarah recalled that the application process to Wharton’s EMBA program gave her a renewed sense of purpose. “I thrive off challenges and I was hungry to learn and to be pushed out of my comfort zone. I had tears when they called with their acceptance, I was so excited to come to this program.”
Making an Impact on Her Career
After starting the Wharton EMBA program, she talked to her leadership about a promotion to Manager. “I wrote a six-page paper making the business case, tying my competencies directly to the level. I was able to share what I had already learned in my four months at Wharton and articulate how my investment in continued learning and the Wharton network would benefit the company,” she said. She received the promotion and attributed her growth to the value placed on her Wharton education by Qualcomm’s leadership.
Her experience at Qualcomm gave her extensive experience in partnership building, global strategy, and designing and delivering programs and trainings and associated toolkits enterprise worldwide.
Most recently, Sarah has accepted a director of diversity and inclusion role at ResMed in San Diego, where she will be leading the entire global initiative. She also will be responsible for strategically consulting on training, branding, professional development, and sourcing and recruiting efforts.
Bringing More Voices to the Table
Investing in D&I is critical, noted Sarah, because it promotes a culture with positive morale, higher engagement, and a higher ROI. “Inclusion also translates to retention because it facilitates a sense of belonging. We need to see more women, veterans, people with disabilities, and under-represented minorities at the top of businesses because that is the diversity of talent that represents the workforce. We need their voices at the table to ensure we are thinking through all parts of a product, a program or a customer experience. That is the only way to build a robust business.”
“I constantly think about how I can better enhance an employee experience, to make all communities feel seen, and that this is the right place for them to work. There is always an element of problem solving and advocacy that pops up daily and that challenge is what drives me. You can’t be complacent in this area,” explained Sarah, who is a sought-after speaker on diversity and inclusion issues.
She added, “I also love that the people I work with in this space have a lot of empathy and are open to growth. We roll up our sleeves and ask, ‘How can we make this work?’ We bring a lot of passion and intention to the work. Today, more than ever, we really need people in companies and institutions who care about others and focus on building cultures of inclusivity.”
Finding an Inclusive Environment at Wharton
When Sarah came to Wharton, she saw how the EMBA program appreciates the importance of inclusion and has a culture of learning. “I brought a unique personal and professional background to the program, but everyone respects each other’s differences and wants to learn from their classmates. There was an immediate sense of friendship and respect.”
Sarah advises new students to take the time to get to know classmates. “Allow yourself to be curious and learn from them. This has been one of my best growth experiences. It pushes me every day and is the best gift I could have given myself.”
— By Meghan Laska
Posted: November 16, 2020