PRESIDENT AND CEO | DSA Signage (Carson, CA)
SHOKOUH SHAFIEI KNOWS different viewpoints make for better business. “The reality of the matter is, our clients are not all the same, so how could a group of people with very similar backgrounds, ideologies and expertise fully understand their unique needs?” she says.
Brought in by DSA’s Board of Directors in 2019 to position the company for growth while reinforcing its manufacturing capabilities and expanding its customer segments, Shafiei now serves as CEO, employing a majority of her staff from surrounding Los Angeles neighborhoods like Carson, Gardena and Compton — some of the most economically disadvantaged areas in the region.
In less than three years, her vision to have a positive impact on the community and make the company a more diverse operation has paid off, with 82% of all employees and 62% of managers being racial or ethnic minorities and 34% of employees being women. “The decision to run an inclusive company is very intentional. It has to be a priority or it will not happen,” says Shafiei, who holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering and an MBA from Harvard Business School. “This is very personal for me as I belong to a couple of marginalized demographics and know firsthand how motivating it is to work at a company that values you as you are … Just like any other KPI, I gave equal importance to improving diversity at DSA and not only at the hourly level, but also in management. It is incredibly powerful when employees see someone who looks like them or comes from a similar background in management roles. Employees who feel valued tend to stay with a company longer.”
At the age of 18, Shafiei traveled from Iran to the US on her own. She spent 17 years working in leadership roles within the heavy industrial manufacturing industry — including the male-dominated automotive segment — prior to joining DSA. “From the time I was a graduate student developing autonomous vehicles, to a plant manager running a $120M power generation business to being the CEO of DSA, I have often been the only woman at the table,” she says. “I had to try twice as hard just to prove I’m qualified for the job … Fortunately, for every one person who discriminated against me or doubted my abilities to do the job, I can name 20 people who had full confidence in me and gave me the opportunity to perform.”
While Shafiei acknowledges that some may still doubt the competence of women when it comes to jobs stereotyped as roles for men (such as metal manufacturing and lighting), she does notice a change in mindset overall. “I truly believe this trend is shifting for the better as most companies are recognizing the bias and making a conscious decision to improve,” she says. “For those of us in the B2B world, the change can be both internal and external …”
An improved industry culture isn’t the only shift Shafiei is noticing on the job. When it comes to signs, she cites “digitalization” and “artificial intelligence” (AI) as two of the leading trends. “Advances in technology have changed the way our clients use signage; it is no longer a simple advertising tool,” she says. “For restaurant owners for example, signage is now a critical part of their operations and revenue. The sign industry is becoming increasingly high-tech, and we see more and more sign companies merging with SaaS [software as a service] organizations to provide turnkey solutions that include both the hardware and the software.”
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