A third of immigrant women are out of the workforce. This organization plans to change that.
Growing up, Arielle Kandel was surrounded by immigration stories.
She heard about her grandparents' harrowing journey from Germany, Poland, France, to finally the United States—the only country to grant them a visa right before WWII.
Her grandmother was seven months pregnant when they arrived in New York, where she later gave birth to Arielle’s father. After growing up in the Bronx, her father immigrated to France in search of his roots, where he ultimately met Arielle’s mother.
Arielle brought her family’s history full circle when she moved from France to Israel and then finally to New York.
“When I was a little kid, I found this idea of traveling to new places and building a new life really fascinating,” said Arielle, founder and CEO of New Women New Yorkers. “As I grew up, I started understanding the harder parts of the whole process and the reasons why many people in my family had immigrated.”
Undoubtedly qualified, Arielle pursued work with immigrant communities in New York. She holds a master’s degree in Law with a specialization in Humanitarian Action and International Law from the French University, Aix-Marseille III. After completing her education, she worked in the non-profit sector providing legal assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.
Despite her remarkable background, finding work wasn’t easy.
“I thought that with a higher education and a lot of experience, I'd find a job quickly. And that didn't happen," said Arielle.
Building a safe, inclusive community
To learn how to find work and build a professional network in America, she started engaging with people working in immigrant communities. This is where the idea of New Women New Yorkers (NWNY) was born.
NWNY provides professional development and other programs to empower immigrant women to get paying, fulfilling jobs or pursue higher education in NYC.
NWNY serves a diverse community of immigrant women, who can come from all over the world and have a range of educational experiences and English-speaking abilities.
A 10-person workshop can include women from 10 different countries that speak 10 different languages. Rather than limiting education, this diversity helps the women better understand cultural differences and how those differences can impact their professional life in the varied New York City workforce.
“It's really amazing to bring very different people together and have them become so close and supportive of each other during and beyond the program,” said Arielle.
However, they often face other challenges.
According to Arielle, women are often the main caregivers in their family. As immigrants, they usually have a limited family support system. Child care is very expensive in NYC where two children in a daycare can cost more than $30,000 per year.
“Women often can't attend classes because they are taking care of their children. We offer childcare during workshops for some groups that we serve,” Arielle said.
Sharing their unique stories
Another challenge that women face while searching for work is telling their story. NWNY looks for opportunities for women to practice their English and public speaking skills.
“It was really important for us to have a space for real stories of real people that go beyond just basic facts and statistics about women immigrants,” said Arielle. “Each person has her own unique story and voice.”
This is how the idea of their storytelling program was born. It took flight when they connected with The Moth Community Program1, which provides the space, tools, and expertise for people to practice storytelling. The Moth strives to “deepen connections within and between communities.”
Finding strength by making themselves vulnerable
Leaving their home country is not an easy decision to make, whether by choice or forced by circumstances. Arielle believes this adversity helps the women develop resilience and an entrepreneurial spirit that is incredibly valuable for the U.S. economy and society.
“These women come to America for different reasons, but they are united by the desire to build a new life and contribute to society,” said Arielle.
Although NWNY benefits the men and families in the larger immigrant community, Arielle feels empowering women with a safe and inclusive space is essential to their growth.
“In a lot of cultures, it's not really appropriate for women to speak up. It's more about listening rather than contributing actively and speaking,” said Arielle. “In our programs, we create a very safe space where women feel that they can openly share their stories with each other—and support each other—as they go through this process of making themselves vulnerable.”
Partnership with Guardian
NWNY began working with Guardian last year. Guardian helps provide financial, programmatic, and volunteering support for workforce development. The partnership already has had a big impact, according to Arielle.
“It's been super meaningful to work with Guardian, because I do feel that from the start, they have had a genuine desire to support us and a complete understanding of where we're at, what we need, and our capacity,” said Arielle. “It’s enabled us to impact many lives and help immigrant women successfully enter the workforce.”
NWNY has brought their participants to see workplaces, connect, get feedback from professionals and practice their job readiness skills in their field of interest. This has opened doors to internships and to job opportunities.
Through Guardian’s financial support and mentorship, NWNY has been able to expand their workforce development programs and hire more full-time staff, which has helped the small non-profit build out capacity. As a result, NWNY has started on-boarding Guardian employees as volunteers more frequently.
“The work that we're doing in New York is definitely replicable in other cities—whether it's in the U.S. or in other countries,” she said. “Our focus is definitely New York City and I want to expand our programming here. When we have more resources, we can start thinking about bringing our model to other places.”