[Photo Source: Facebook/SPEAK Mentorship]
Nowadays, building a career is not necessarily a linear process. Gone are the days when you graduated college, worked at a job or two and then stayed with the same company or organization for decades. These days, it’s hard to gauge what the right opportunities are in any line of work—and that is where a good mentor comes in handy.
South Asian Americans are the fastest growing immigrant community in America and also among the most successful—which can be attributed, in part, to the emphasis parents put on education and career success. But there’s one area that young South Asian women are lacking: mentorship. Young Desi women do not always have the right opportunities to connect with mentors. But SPEAK Mentorship, an organization that provides a network of professional women to connect with younger females in high school and college for a more direct high school to career pathway, is trying to change that.
“We know that empowering young women to lead in their fields and pursue meaningful careers can have profound positive social effects on future generations,” Executive Director Hetal Jani said. She added that research has shown that a fulfilled workforce translates to increases in productivity and performance measures for companies.
Jani came up with the idea of the SPEAK Mentorship program in 2013 when she noticed a lack of passion that many South Asian high schoolers have—and the resulting academic failure.
“I knew there was an epidemic of young talent going untapped when many bright young girls struggled in subject areas they didn’t feel passionate about or weren’t confident in just to adhere to cultural stereotypes of respectable careers,” Jani shared. In addition, she understood that it can be challenging to find opportunities available to Desi girls while navigating the cultural limitations imposed upon them by their immigrant parents.
The mission of SPEAK is to Support, Prepare, and Empower Aspiring Kids. SPEAK is working on developing programs that provide support and skills to girls who are immigrants and first-generation daughters of immigrants, as they transition to high school from college. SPEAK’s long term vision is to provide a network of professional women to connect with younger females in high school and college for a more direct career pathway to success and fulfillment.
“Being a first-generation South Asian female, I realized culture hugely limits many immigrant families’ understanding of available and appropriate career options for women. Women still face many struggles in the professional world, and navigating two different cultures with potentially polar definitions of success can be stressful and inhibiting,” Jani said.
SPEAK’s initial pilot program aims to have high school girls participate in four separate mentoring sessions with four different female professionals of similar cultural backgrounds. The year-long program, running from September to August of their junior year of high school, will provide girls with one on one weekly mentoring meetings, with the mentor providing on-site experiential learning and possible volunteering and internship opportunities to help the girls advance their exposure to the mentor’s field.
“In their senior year of high school, these girls would be enrolled into our follow-up program providing seminars and workshops covering topics such as college applications, interviewing, what to expect at college, sexual health education, campus living and safe habits, and more,” Jani explained.
SPEAK also wants to collect stories of our mentors and mentees to build a platform where these stories will help other girls.
“South Asian American females need role models to show them the opportunities available to them in this country, many of which were not available to their mothers, and which they may not otherwise learn about. “
Jani further explained that a mentor can help young women understand their strengths, weaknesses, and passion. On the flip side, becoming a mentor also has tremendous benefits.
“You develop a sense of understanding of yourself and develop a greater level of patience when guiding another person. Mentorship is a symbiotic relationship, where both individuals learn from each other and make each other potentially better persons. Through SPEAK Mentorship, you have the opportunity to alter a young girl’s life, helping her to make appropriate, directed decisions and inspire her, which can have profound effects on hers, yours, and the lives of many others,” Jani expressed.
Jani and the SPEAK team are working hard to launch their flagship mentorship program by this September.
“We aim to have mentees from three different schools in the New York City and Long Island area, and a network of mentors participating in the program,” Jani said. She is also planning to launch the Speaker Series program—a series of webinars hosted by successful women doing great things in their respective fields.
SPEAK Mentorship is seeking volunteer staff, mentors, speakers, and interns. Visit the website to find out how you can contribute.