How can young girls get a sense of self and confidence in tackling the larger world? On the recent Take Our Daughters to Work Day, two South Asian organizations came together to make this a reality. South Asian Women’s Leadership Forum (SAWLF) partnered with South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!). Over 45 high school students got a chance to visit corporate offices such as JP Morgan Private Bank, Harper Collins, MTV, Infosys and Colgate, thanks to SAWL women who are already working in these companies.
As Simi Ahuja, founder and director of SAWLF, points out, this collaboration allows its members to share their experiences and match mentors and young people for the most impact: “After recently visiting SAYA!, I was impressed by the internal resources that the organization has honed and provides to its youth membership,” she says.
“At the same time, it was clear that the youth who participate in SAYA! have limited exposure to communities outside their own and far less exposure to professional environments and resources. SAWLF, through its extensive network, can offer SAYA! girls access to professional female role models that they cannot access on their own.”
As she adds, “Many of our youth participants have limited access to women outside their own family’s and school. We also recognize the value in introducing Muslim girls to Muslim women in positions of leadership, as an example of our program’s design. Our membership reflects the vitality of our community yet, at the same time, mirrors its challenges.”
Ahuja is the managing partner of SA & Associates, a marketing and communications firm that connects Asian corporations with the US business community. She started SAWLF in 2003 in New York to fill the need for advancing South Asian women and girls. This networking organization is a useful resource for women breaking into the professional world, be it non-traditional careers or the very elusive ones from publishing to law to finance. Ahuja feels it’s essential to get them young and has various mentorship programs for girls.
Many of the youths in SAYA! include the children of immigrant parents from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The young students were introduced by Arshbir Ghuman of SAYA! to the big, bustling metropolis of big business, and got a taste of the real world. They interacted with women in fields ranging from psychiatry to social justice, finance to technology production. Aliya Amershi is a senior software developer at Nick Digital for the popular Nick.com websites, with 20 million visitors monthly. For the girls invited into this inner sanctum of MTV, it was a memorable day as they attended workshops on developing video games. Says Amershi, “I told them what made my job cool and how they can do it too in order to become a Digital Diva!”
Asked about the best options for women entering the workforce, she says, “There are no restrictions, women can get into anything, even male-dominated fields of technology, which is what I am in.” As she points out, women don’t always have to get into advanced programming or engineering – even some knowledge of technology can be combined with any discipline to get an edge over the competition, or even initiate their own internet/technology start up. As she says, “Whether in fashion, medicine, finance, art – you name it – technology is everywhere and the more women know and can combine this skill with any other skill they have, it will make them that much more successful in any career they pursue.”
“For many it was an eye opening experience to see potential career paths to pursue,” says Udai Tambar, Executive Director of SAYA! “They also gained insight by meeting South Asian women who are leaders in those fields.” For instance, the young girls who visited Harper Collins came back clamoring to take the next steps, the right classes, college and internships for a career in publishing. Says Tambar: “It empowers them not only to dream big, but also shows them how to go about beginning to achieve those dreams.”