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Iranian American women find success, celebrate heritage

Conference in Costa Mesa attracts 680 attendees and speakers, including a CNN senior vice president and Academy Award-nominated actress.

By Mona Shadia

4:57 PM EDT, October 26, 2011

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COSTA MESA — Soheila Karimi Motamed, an engineer, survived an accident that left a bullet lodged in her brain.

Parisa Khosravi is the senior vice president of international news gathering for CNN Worldwide.

Nadereh Chamlou is the Wold Bank senior advisor to the chief economist for the Middle East and North Africa region.

Shohreh Aghdashloo, an Academy Award nominee and Emmy-winning actress, through her films tries to empower the women of the country that exiled her.

On Sunday, about 40 of these successful Iranian American women — all leaders in their fields from every corner of the globe — came together at the second Iranian American Women's Leadership Conference: Pathways to Success at the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa hotel to inspire young women to make a difference.

The conference, presented by the Coastline Community College, showcased the successes, strengths and bravery of Iranian American women who overcame obstacles and stereotypes, and inspired many in their communities shortly after moving to the United States.

Behind the conference that brought together more than 12,000 hours of combined experience and attracted 680 guests was an Iranian American woman who for years dreamed of bringing women from her country under one roof.

Mariam Khosravani realized that dream in January with the first Iranian American women's conference.

"This room is filled with so many strong, educated, motivated and amazingly accomplished Iranian American women who work hard every day and give back to their community that has given them so much," said an emotional Khosravani.

Tears of joy and pride joined laughs and a standing ovation as the women shared their stories.

The conference offered sessions on leadership, career options and on how to lead like a woman. Attendees also learned about women and philanthropy, the different life paths the women took and the common trait behind them all: overcoming obstacles.

While busy with their careers and lives, there's one thing they haven't forgotten: the women in their country, Aghdashloo said in an interview.

"It's an honor and a pleasure to be under the same roof of dedicated and strong women who are dedicated to this cause," she said.

Aghdashloo starred in "The Stoning of Soraya M." and other films that highlight women's struggles in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries.

Women in Iran are also brave and inspiring, but they have to pay for it with prison sentences, humiliation and sometimes their life, Aghdashloo said.

She said conferences like Sunday's are important because they will help make small steps toward Iranian women gaining more freedom.

Community colleges are in the business of educating people, Khosravani said, and the conference, like others held to showcase other groups' successes, is another way of educating and inspiring the community.

For Jasmin Hashemian, 24, of Irvine, it was her first visit to the conference. She said seeing all those successful women inspired her.

Shahla Sarokhani, 67, was bursting with pride to see accomplished women from her country.

"I'm very proud," she said. "And it's not just about my people. When I see someone achieve that success with all those difficulties around the world, it really inspires me and it gives me hope that the world is changing in a better way."

mona.shadia@latimes.com

Twitter: @MonaShadia