From education to employment

Women Empowering Women to be #Incharge and How We Can Take an Active Role in Providing Opportunities

Diane von Furstenberg, the inventor of the iconic 1970s wrap dress, has said when describing her early twenties, “I never knew what I wanted to do, but I always knew the kind of woman I wanted to be – a woman in charge.” Recently the icon’s brand — DVF — launched the #InCharge movement, which focuses on women having “a commitment to ourselves.” More specifically, the movement is focused on women “owning who we are” and “respecting and trusting our character, knowing that it is forever the home and the core of our strength.”

Organised by DVF in collaboration with Anthology, I recently had the opportunity to interview a panel of women leaders from across the tech world, for a conversation titled ‘Learner Today, Leader Tomorrow’, where we shared our stories to a group of female students of the barriers we’d faced as women in our career journeys, our highs and lows, and how we’d got to where we are today. Of critical importance to us, was our need to convey our humble beginnings and backgrounds – none of us had been gifted our career trajectories, far from it. Also, how not only had we worked hard to be heard but how we’d often stepped out of our comfort zones to get to where we were today, and our united view on how education plays a critical role in empowering women and girls in their career progression.

Ingrid Gonzalez, a panellist and Sales Director at Google Cloud, discussed how non-traditional students, such as first-generation learners or international students, are forging their path without the built-in network, and how, without those advantages, they must be bold, ask questions and navigate the initiative to surround themselves with the people who will help them achieve their goals. She stressed, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help because that’s when the doors and windows to opportunity will open.” She also went on to advise students on thinking about their careers, “to have the confidence to be your authentic self by taking purposeful risks and not letting anyone break your confidence or fit into someone else’s box.”

As a first-generation student myself, the term “first-gen” did not exist when I was a student, so the fact that we have that language today and the ability to understand what those pathways are is really important. Likewise, Jaclyn Smith, who recently launched her own private equity firm, talked of her experience as a first-generation student and how her parents supported her as she pursued her college degree, eventually helping her to open her own business.

Results of a recent survey by Anthology titled ‘Opportunities to Grow Student Success & Career Preparation’ showed 58% of students said they want more career services to help them get a job after graduation, but only 15% of leaders from institutions are planning to invest in career services. The survey also urged college leaders to “…ensure that students are learning about potential careers for their major throughout their student experiences, as this [practice] increases the likelihood of [students] remaining enrolled.” Having access to career services and after graduation is especially important to women as they are less likely to discuss their career plans with a career advisor than men, hindering their success. Additional career planning resources on campus are an opportunity for university leadership to strengthen the bridge from the classroom into a career for learners, especially women.

During the discussion, Gabby Hirata, President of Diane von Furstenberg (DVF), explained the challenges she faced in the U.S. as an international student, including how arriving in a new country with a cultural barrier caused her to fall into moments of isolation and depression. But after listening to her inner voice, she worked hard and got to a better place. Hirata shared, “I no longer feel lonely. I feel motivated to make it here.” According to research, social isolation is prominent among international students and can hinder academic performance in college.

Jaclyn Smith went on to share the biases she encountered whilst in the male-dominated industries she’d previously worked offering, “If at some point it doesn’t work, then having that bravery to say this isn’t for me and I can’t be myself, I’ve tried to be myself in this environment, and it’s not working, let me find something else.” That mindset led her to where she was today.

Education may well be the foundation of career empowerment, but all of us shared the same view, women need to support women in order to succeed, and the need to have role models for success as a professional, especially role models who are women. It’s equally important to mentor and empower female students from the classroom to the boardroom.

Often, the beginning of a new year is an opportunity to look inward and set goals. As women leaders, we can take the initiative and look for opportunities to provide those ladders up for women beginning their career.

Richa Batra is Vice President and General Manager of Student Success at AnthologyRicha has over 20 years of experience in workplace development and Education Technology and is passionate about the intersection of higher education, workforce development and employability. Richa is a first-generation college student and is focused on her work to drive increased access and student retention to students from underserved populations.

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