Migrant Women’s Empowerment in the Workplace: Q&A with Arielle Kandel
New Women New Yorkers is a Visit.org nonprofit partner that provides professional development and education programs to empower immigrant women in NYC. We recently interviewed NWNY’s founder and CEO, Arielle Kandel, to discuss what drove her to impact women’s lives, and why offering corporate experiences on Visit.org has been an important step for the organization.
Arielle’s educational background is law, specializing in international law and migration. She used her knowledge to kick-start a career supporting refugees, while she also volunteered to provide computer skills training in India. After working for several nonprofits and a think tank, she decided to work in direct service, engaging one-on-one with community members. Experiencing difficulty embarking on a new career herself, she realized there was a need for an organization that serves women in similar positions. And that’s when she started working on New Women New Yorkers full time.
Q: Can you share a little bit about your story and how you came to be involved in this work?
I am originally from France and I am myself twice an immigrant. I was an immigrant in Israel and now in the US. I also come from a family of immigrants and refugees, where I grew up with migration stories.
As I grew up, I began to understand the hard parts of coming to a new country without the language, without the support system, without clarity of how things work, and without the resources to advance.
For a long time, I had wanted to be involved in helping migrants, especially having observed my family story. How women migrants are oftentimes left to take care of children, relatives, and bear a lot of other responsibility, has stayed with me.
Q: What is it about working with women that makes your mission particularly impactful?
Whether we talk about professional career development or other facets of life, inequalities between men and women remain. And this is why I feel strongly about advancing women.
Men migrants do have their set of challenges. However, in some ways, women are “double burdened.” In New York City in particular, the fact that childcare is so expensive is so difficult to secure makes it more challenging for mothers to choose a profession they really want.
Additionally, there is a lot of research showing women sometimes lack the confidence to speak up in male-dominated environments. So what New Women New Yorkers does in our workshops, is to create an environment comfortable enough for them to talk about the issues they care about, share their knowledge and experiences with others, and at the same time gain confidence and skills that will help them be successful as they look for a job.
From the very first workshop, we give women a space where they can think about what they want to do professionally. As women coming from a variety of cultures, there are a number of pressures imposed on us (by family, by society, etc.) regarding what we should do, and what we can do. But NWNY wants to ensure women have the space for introspection, as well as to think about themselves as professionals with valid professional desires.
Q: In what ways have you seen impact in the women you have been working with?
Looking at our Spring 2018 graduates, 6 months after graduation we see that two-thirds of our graduates had secured an internship or a job in their field of interest. Some were interested in pursuing further education, and have been admitted to a school or vocational program in their field of interest. Other women are working on growing their professional network. We see different kinds of goals.
Q: Why did you decide to start working with corporations?
One of the main challenges that the women of NWNY face is that they have no personal or professional network — which is almost essential in order to find a job. So, it was very clear from the start that we needed to create spaces where these women could build a professional network.
Moreover, many of our participants have limited English proficiency and confidence — and networking is a completely alien concept. Because it is very intimidating, we wanted to create a safe space for them start networking with professionals in their field, while having the opportune to get feedback on how they did — which helps them improve.
Ultimately, it made sense for us to offer volunteer experiences to companies with a US workforce. It’s a win-win: NWNY women are able to network, practice interviews, and get feedback. Meanwhile, corporate teams are able to give back to their community while building leadership skills as they facilitate interviews, provide feedback, and review resumes for the women.
When we do these interactive volunteer sessions with employees, we sometimes hear employees remark how our participants are really talented. While they don’t have US education or work experience, these corporate volunteers can see the value they could bring to their company.
As a result of building these corporate relationships, we have been able to start referring women to our partner companies.
Q: What do you want corporate volunteers to take away from their experience with NWNY?
That whether or not they have an immigrant background, corporate volunteers can really make a difference for one person who is facing a number of challenges — especially as they come to a new country and build a new life. That community is at the core of what we do.
This program is not only about job readiness training. It is about building spaces for people to create meaningful connections with others that will help them in their professional path. And because a lot of these women feel isolated in New York City, having a group of women who are going through the same thing, or who want to help and be supportive, is very important.
Q: Is there anything else you want to make sure people know about what is coming up at NWNY?
We have an event coming up called Stories that Move Us. This is the third year that we’ve held this event, which is in partnership with the Moth Community program.
Community is very important to us, which is why we want to encourage NWNY women to share their stories for themselves. Not only is this an empowering experience for them, but it also helps them empower others. As there is a very hostile rhetoric against immigrants, this event helps to counterbalance it through real stories and real people.
This event features women who are sharing stories sometimes about their immigration experience and sometimes about other aspects of their lives that is significant. They are women are immigrants, but they are also just human beings who, like everyone else, are going through joys and pains. And that is what Stories that Move Us is about. It can be funny, it can be sad. Either way, it’s about sharing unique and true stories that make us connect as human beings.
RSVP for the Stories that Move Us storytelling showcase being held on June 12th in Brooklyn, here.
This interview has been edited for clarity.