Nasim Mullen is many things, and first and foremost, she is powerful. She is a wife and mother of three young girls, ages 5, 3, and 1. She has her PhD, a robust career in building sustainability and environmental accountability within corporate America and a rich internal and external spiritual life through the Baha’i Faith. Nasim has harnessed all of these components that make her who she is, to set a dynamic, multi-faceted, and all the while ever-so-humble example, for her three little girls who will one day become women themselves.
When asked what advice she would give her younger self regarding her career, Nasim responded with, “I don’t know if I would want to tell myself anything. It kind of worked out differently than I thought, but it worked out the way it needed to.” Embedded in this statement is the hint that sometimes ambiguity is the path itself and the seemingly unexpected is absolutely essential. She is happy with where she is now, with aspirations to strive for excellence, be better and build bigger, and has a sense of peace with all of the decisions that she made along the way, which ultimately guided her to the here and now.
Nasim was born in New Mexico, and later moved with her mother, father and younger sister to Austin, Texas where she attended high school. The importance of education has always been a central theme in her life. Her mother came to the US as an immigrant from Iran to attend university. And her father attended college while she was a young child. Early on, Nasim herself cultivated a deep interest in architecture and engineering, and upon applying to several universities, opted to attend University of Texas at Austin which has a specialized degree in Architectural Engineering. Once she completed her BA, she was the recipient of a National Science Foundation Fellowship and continued on to obtain her PhD in Environmental Engineering at the University of California Berkeley.
Being the daughter of an Iranian Baha’i refugee imparted upon Nasim from an early age to not take privilege for granted, and that struggle is an integral part of one’s life experience from which invaluable lessons can be gleaned. Her mother originally came to the US to attend college through a scholarship awarded to her by the Shah (the Iranian ruler), but when the Iranian revolution occurred in 1979 and the Shah was overthrown, the severity of persecution experienced by Baha’is in Iran intensified and she was given refugee status. She completed her BA in engineering and experienced further persecution in the form of racism while looking for work here in the states due to political tensions between the US and Iran at the time. At one point Nasim’s mother worked three minimum wage jobs to make ends meet, even though she had an engineering degree. After meeting Nasim’s father, an American, and working in her field of engineering for a brief time, she decided to settle down and focus on being a mother full-time. Grit is something Nasim inherited.
Her mother had high hopes of Nasim becoming a medical professional, and this was something Nasim had to push back on. Nasim’s interests in the field of engineering ebbed and flowed throughout her academic experience and she bravely went where the current urged her. This meant transitioning from structural engineering in college, with a focus on concrete, to air quality control which she felt a special passion for because of the human health component. Her interests have continued to change and redirect them throughout her professional journey.
There was a time when a PhD meant securing a future in academia for Nasim. While attending UC Berkeley, she aspired to go to China and secure work as a professor there. She completed an assistantship during which she taught classes to undergrads at Berkeley, and attended academic conferences in China with the purpose of making useful connections for the near future. Ironically, it was while teaching that she realized the profession was perhaps not best suited to her, and when the time came to begin looking for college-level teaching positions, she found herself disinterested in moving wherever the wind of academia blew her as the profession demands. She found herself wanting to stay in the Bay Area, California.
Fresh out of her PhD program, Nasim began working at a corporate office for a major US Apparel company, Gap, based in San Francisco, CA. Her role was focused on analyzing and monitoring the chemicals used in the production of the brand’s clothing and ensuring the standards set by governing agencies were met. It was at this same time that several major apparel companies became targets of Greenpeace who launched a powerful campaign designed to put pressure on companies like the Gap to push them to be accountable for the pollutants being released into the environment by the factories producing their goods. The campaign worked and these companies, Gap included, adopted more environmentally conscious production practices and created full-fledged sustainability programs.
After four years working with Gap, and learning how to navigate the corporate world, Nasim formed close-knit connections with people in similar roles working for other brands, and this opened an unexpected door for her.. A recruiter reached out to see if she would be interested and open to working with Victoria’s Secret as Technical Program Manager of Supply Chain Sustainability and relocating to Columbus, Ohio. Surprisingly to both herself and family and friends, she and her family said “yes”. Life circumstances had brought them to a place where factors such as cost-of-living and quality of life catalyzed Nasim and her husband to make different decisions for the well-being of their family than they could have possibly foreseen several years prior. Eighteen-year-old Nasim would never have imagined making the decision to leave family, friends, and a vibrant religious community, and post-doc Nasim would have difficulty seeing herself living in Columbus, Ohio, working for Victoria’s Secret. And yet, this is ultimately where she has actively chosen to be.
The lesson one can learn from the example Nasim so beautifully and honestly sets is that choices will be made, mistakes and error are inevitable, but it is all done along the path of learning and if we are open to it, our lives will be that much richer and more fulfilling from being open to the possibility of things working out quite differently than how we originally planned.
Something very evident is the importance the Baha’i Faith has always played in Nasim’s life. As an adolescent, young adult, and now in the present, being of service within the context of her faith has been a top priority. One of the pillars of the Faith is the unity of humanity, and Baha’is are called to live lives that promote this. This is also a principle of the Faith which extends beyond sole humankind and includes being good stewards of the earth itself. It is here that the intersection of Nasim’s spiritual life and professional life is so evident.
Upon her family’s relocation to Ohio, Nasim’s role with Victoria’s Secret was focused on making sure their factories were not polluting the environment through their wastewater discharge and looking specifically at the environmental aspects of manufacturing when it came to chemicals. Victoria’s Secret did not have a sustainability program when she began with the company five years ago, but as time passed, leaders began to realize the importance of sustainability to the future of the corporation.
Five years in, Nasim is now focused on supply chain sustainability and looking at how much energy and water are being consumed through production in the hopes of setting a climate target.
When asked what she wants to achieve next in her career, Nasim said, “In corporate America, success means working your way up.” Her approach to achieving her goal is to continue steadily, methodically, and constantly striving for excellence. She looks forward to growing with the company and truly appreciates how her career has transitioned into environmental sustainability, now the focus.
This powerhouse is not afraid of hard work, a challenge, or flexing a little bit of her brilliance. As she puts it, “Sometimes you have to stress to strive for excellence.” We look forward to seeing where your tenacity, devotion, and sense of service take you next, Nasim.