President of Issaquah engineering firm encourages females to seek out STEM fields

Female CEO recalls growing up in Iran, working with transit.

Girls can do anything they want to do — that’s exactly how Mahvash Armand felt growing up in Iran.

“You could be anything you wanted, you could do anything you wanted, go wherever you want to go, study whatever you want to study,” Armand recalled on a recent afternoon in a conference room at the headquarters of her engineering business, Armand Consulting Inc. in Issaquah, where she is an award-winning president. She noted that she grew up in a family of four brothers and two sisters, and there was no difference between genders. “So I never felt like women were pushed back.”

Armand would watch her father build bridges as part of his construction company, which inspired her to study civil engineering at the University of Southern California as a visa student, and then electrical communications at Shiraz University in Iran, where she studied toward her masters degree.

But following the Iranian revolution in 1979, Armand saw a different side to her country — and her freedoms. As part of the new Islamic Republic of Iran, new rules were imposed, including that women must wear the hijab, and the population was segregated by gender.

“They started talking about women wearing a scarf over their head,” Armand recalled. “They showed me the other side. They even started saying, ‘We don’t need women going into engineering,’ and I’m an engineer. I was studying for my masters there.”

Iranian leaders disallowed women to go to school.

“But that’s what opened my eyes and I actually started seeing the difference that, oh, I’m a woman, I can’t go here, or I can’t do that, or I have to put a scarf over my head.”

As thousands of women protested the mandatory headwear in the street during the country’s new patriarchal climate, Armand took a stand too and left the country with her husband and their 1-year-old daughter to start life anew in the U.S.

And now as CEO of her own small business, Armand wants women to know that they can do whatever they want to do — including engineering and other STEM-related fields.

“We have come a long way since the ‘80s when I started getting into business,” Armand said of women in STEM. “Engineering, for example, there was like two women in our class when I went to USC. But now the numbers are above 20, 25 percent of women are [enrolled] in engineering schools, which is good.”

But there is still more work to do.

That is why it is not only Armand’s passion but mission to spread this message and help minorities gain confidence in STEM and perhaps discover their own desire for engineering. She regularly mentors interns, students and her own 13 employees, the majority of whom are women.

Civil engineer Aggie Alams, who is a quality assurance manager at Armand Consulting’s branch in Irving, Texas, said she got to know Armand before Alams became her employee. They were both working on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s South Oak Cliff Project in 2013.

“She literally walked up to me welcoming me to the team and told me that if there was anything that she could help me with, that I should not hesitate to ask,” Alams recalled of Armand. “She added some words of wisdom about working with others on the DART team.”

Since Alams began working at Armand Consulting in 2016, she said Armand has been her direct mentor.

“Mahvash has a kind but firm way of pushing you,” added Alams, a Nigerian native. “She will not give you the answer but she will activate your mind to invigorate deep thought. She looks for opportunities for you to grow and helps you explore them.”

She said Armand has helped her to build her professional roadmap and they are continually working on it together to help Alams achieve all of her goals.

Armand said her work mentoring others and bringing minorities on board “happens without trying.”

Such was the case with Viola Ramphaul, owner of Zilpa Spa in downtown Issaquah. Ramphaul first met Armand when she came into her spa with her husband and daughter, who needed an eyebrow service.

“She came in with mom and dad and I thought it was so cute,” said Ramphaul. “I come from South Africa and families go everywhere together, so that’s very common there but not here.”

Armand started going to Zilpa Spa as a regular customer. When Armand found out she had cancer, Ramphaul called her and said, “I’ll get you ready — just like she’s treating her mom,” Armand recalled, crying. “Then she gave me this little necklace. She said it has these beads that will help you with pain. I wore them to my treatment.”

The two eventually met for a drink and discussed Ramphaul’s life goals, and that led to an opportunity for the spa owner. Now, in addition to running her small business, Ramphaul also works as a business development coordinator for Armand Consulting, where Armand continues to mentor her.

“Just being here and getting the mentorship and just watching everybody and learning from everyone, they are such strong women on our team. It’s unbelievable,” Ramphaul said, noting the skills she is gaining at Armand Consulting are also helping with her own business. “I love it, I’m just learning tons.”

Throughout her career as an engineer, Armand said one of most fascinating aspects about engineering is working with the transit industry. She enjoys transit’s complex systems.

“There is so much you can do and be innovative,” she said. “Especially with central control and fiber optics, it was just new to transit.”

She also sees how transit gives people opportunities.

“The part I really, really loved the best was I saw how transit agencies have given people opportunities to start right out of high school,” she said. “So transit … it doesn’t just move us back and forth — it also gives a career to these people that they can use and move forward.”

And transit advances entire neighborhoods, she added.

She described how she watched mass transit transform a blighted neighborhood in Dallas, to an iconic place with high rise buildings and restaurants.

“So that’s why I love, love transit. When I see it’s planned right, and it goes to the right area … It just changes the neighborhood and brings jobs to the area, brings businesses to the area.”

After working for Fortune 500 companies, including Stantec, Armand decided to start her own business in 2009 so she could implement her own vision.

Her consulting firm, which has offices in Issaquah, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and Dallas, provides engineering/design, systems safety and security certification, quality assurance and other services to such industries as rail and transit, water and utilities and education.

One of Armand Consulting’s major clients is Sound Transit. The transit authority selected Armand’s company as its consultant to conduct safety assessments and reports as part of the safety support team. Armand said her firm conducted these assessments for Sound Transit’s various link projects, including the University Link that runs from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to the University of Washington that opened last year.

“We were the one who certified it. We worked on it for a while just to make sure everything is safe, the tunnels are safe,” said Armand, who was recently honored with the Luna Outstanding Executive of the Year Award that recognizes a woman senior executive in construction, architecture or engineering working in the North Texas area.

She said it’s important that large transit authorities such as Sound Transit select small engineering businesses for these billion-dollar projects. Federal government regulations also require transit companies to spend a certain percentage of government-funded projects on small businesses — a measure that has helped her firm a lot, she said.

“It puts [small businesses] up front, makes us relevant,” she noted.

She recently brought this concern to Issaquah Mayor Fred Butler’s attention when he visited her firm in person.

“Mahvash asked me about Sound Transit’s goals for inclusion of small businesses on transportation projects,” said Butler, who serves on the Sound Transit Board, in an email. “I followed up with Sound Transit staff and was assured that we are fully compliant with all federal rules on small business participation.”

Butler added that Armand is “an outstanding example of what can be accomplished with a solid background in STEM, hard work and a strong desire to succeed … Issaquah is fortunate to have her as part of our community.”

Armand said her next goal to advance small women-owned businesses is to organize an event where business owners can convene to discuss important issues.

“Let’s talk about health care. Health care, as a small business, it’s an issue for us,” Armand said as an example, adding, “We need to have a voice as women.”

More information

For more information about Armand Consulting Inc., including internship opportunties, visit

Mahvash Armand works with another engineer on Sound Transit’s University Link project that opened last year. Courtesy photo

Mahvash Armand works with another engineer on Sound Transit’s University Link project that opened last year. Courtesy photo