Mel: UX Designer, Social Entrepreneur and Top 100 Women of Influence in 2019

Introducing the incredible Mel Tran, a biography I could keep reading on and on. She's a User Experience (UX) Designer, Public Speaker, holds a seat on the Board of Directors for Children and Young People with Disability Australia, a social entrepreneur AND she was named as one of Australis Top 100 Women of Influence in 2019. You can also watch her TED Talk here.

Tell me a bit about you, your career & what gets you up in the morning to go to work.

I wear multiple hats! I’m a User Experience (UX) Designer, specialising in product development at Hireup. I’m a Board of Director at Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA). I’m a student at Torrens University Australia, studying Master of Philosophy. I’m a social entrepreneur. I’m a public speaker. And I had the privilege of being named one of the Top 100 Women of Influence 2019 by the Australian Financial Review. Amongst everything I do, there is one common denominator - I get to leverage the power of technology to problem solve through the creative lens, and turn the challenges life throws at us into a driving force for innovation. And that is precisely what helps me get up in the morning to go to work.

Life is busy. How do you manage it?

That’s a great question, because I’m constantly learning how to do this. Striking a balance between work, study and life is difficult and it’s an ongoing journey that I personally would like to get better at. As much as I love my work, I absolutely would not change a thing for it, but it also isn’t always rainbows and unicorns. I go through periods where I struggle to maintain that balance, and also periods where I feel like I finally manage to somewhat find a balance. Perhaps the biggest element to balance is personal and professional life. It’s rather difficult to chase after an ambitious career, whilst balancing this with my personal life - and this is once again, an ongoing journey and learning experience that I’d love to get better at.

Life is also full of setbacks. Can you talk to any setbacks you’ve had, any challenges, that you’ve had to work through in your career? How did you work through them?

Perhaps one of the challenges that is both fascinating and unsettling is understanding my own identity - as a woman, and as a person with a disability. I remember the very first time I was asked whether I have ever been discriminated against as a woman working in the technology sector, a male dominated field, and my immediate response was no. But it was also one of those questions that stuck with me for a while, and as I reflected on this, I started to wonder whether I have really never been discriminated against as a woman, or is it because my disability overpowers my identity as a woman?

The battles of women’s rights and disability rights have been ongoing, and it’s fascinating to see what it looks like when both these elements are added to the same equation.

One of the things I’m grateful for is that this particular challenge taught me an important lesson. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m a woman living with a disability, and it’s a unique perspective that I can embrace. Each and every one of us have unique perspectives and it comes down to how we as individuals, and as society, choose to harness these unique perspectives to create better products and services.

What is important to you when it comes to workplace culture and being satisfied with the job you do?

Building on what I mentioned earlier about embracing unique perspectives, I think my top three most important qualities of a good workplace culture are kindness, collaboration and helping each other grow. An overarching principle that encompasses all three of these elements is diversity. To me, a good workplace culture is when it practices the principle of diversity and harnesses the unique perspectives to create better products and services. A good workplace culture is when we learn from each other and create opportunities, not only for ourselves, but also for the others around us. Simply because together we are stronger and can do so much more.

Who were your mentors, support networks, and what learning and development opportunities have you spent time doing?

I’ll always be grateful for being supported by a network of incredible people, whether that be my family, friends and mentors. As one of the recipients of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award (Bronze, Silver and Gold), I’ve had the privilege of being connected to a global network of mentors and young leaders from around the world. As a student at Torrens University Australia, I’ve learnt to leverage education as a platform to help drive social change, and through that I’ve been connected with mentors who have guided me through the journey. As a fellow from the Laureate Global Fellowship 2017 class, I’ve learnt to strengthen these global ties through the network with Laureate International Universities and the International Youth Foundation and connect with social entrepreneurs who are leading change and innovation. One of the most important lessons I have learnt throughout my journey and involvement in the various networks is witnessing the power of storytelling, sharing experiences and building on the foundation of each other’s work, both here in Australia, and across the globe.

Any tips for women wanting to get involved in STEM?

Be brave. Be bold. Be innovative. Be curious. And last but not least, start building a network of like-minded individuals in this field. You’ll be amazed by just how powerful it is to connect with others who understand your vision and values, and have the ability to share your experience and build on each other’s knowledge!

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