by Alexandra Feldhausen
Believe in the myth of America’s melting pot or not, New York is undeniably an international city, but that does not always mean it is the most welcoming place. This is especially true for young women immigrants who encounter challenges finding a job alongside the added difficulties of discrimination, sexism, and juggling a family and career.
For the past two years, I have volunteered with New Women New Yorkers (NWNY), a non-profit which seeks to address many of the challenges young women moving to New York City encounter. I spoke with Arielle Kandel, the director of NWNY, in order to understand how she is trying to change the professional landscape for women, mothers, and immigrants to New York City.
What made you decide to start NWNY?
It was not something that was really planned. It sort of just happened. I am originally from France which does not really have an entrepreneurial culture.
The idea of this organization really began six or seven years ago when I was working in Israel, where I started my professional career. I worked in a number of policy planning and research think tanks there, and afterwards, I spent time in South Asia and India volunteering with nonprofits that provided resettlement training to Tibetan refugees.
Even with all this experience, when I first moved to New York five years ago, it was very difficult to find a job. It was clear I wanted to work with immigrants and refugees. NWNY began from these discussions when I started seeing other women with lots of similar challenges. There was no space in New York to start to talk about and solve these problems faced by immigrants to the city, so I decided to create one.
Initially, NWNY was just a project. Soon though, I started getting volunteers on board, and from the start, the organization’s work was really driven by people who donated their time to make things happen. Once other organizations became interested in our work, I started realizing that this could really be important.
I remember growing up with the stories from my Eastern European Jewish grandparents, who took refuge in the United States just before World War II, and then, ironically, about my father who was an American immigrant to France where my parents met and married. Between being an immigrant myself and coming from a family of immigrants it felt like the creation of NWNY really brought me full circle.
You said that one of your motivations was trying to find a job in New York and your desire to work with migrating populations. What were some of the other unique challenges women immigrants experience when coming to New York?
First and foremost finding a job is really difficult. People will always find work that pays the bills, but it is very difficult to find a position that aligns with your interests. It’s really hard and for women especially.
First, there are not many resources to support women who want to start a family. Not only that, women coming to this city don’t have a network or connections. They do not know how to access crucial information like how to look for a job, what resources are available, job interview skills (which are very different from country to country), and resume writing experience.
A lot of women don’t feel they have many places to express themselves and practice their English without judgment. Many women come from countries where their voices are not particularly valued, so it’s important for them to practice in a safe space.
NWNY's provides workshops as a means for overcoming some challenges. What are some of the other ways NWNY helps support women coming to New York?
Starting with workshops, we help young women learn about the job search process and culture. We work with them to create their professional action plans.
Over the past year, we have also been creating more spaces to connect with professionals from different industries and provide opportunities to see actual workplaces including field visits to Google, Linkedin, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). We also do mock interviews and career counseling sessions where we work with professionals from many different organizations like the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Rockefeller Foundation.
At this point, we are really try to go beyond just networks, and we hope to create meaningful spaces and partnerships with companies and organizations in order to offer job opportunities.
Between the Travel Ban and DACA, this is not the most welcoming climate for immigrants in the United States. Has this changed the kind of work you do or how you understand that work?
It has changed a lot, but also confirmed the importance of what we do. The first time I voted in the United States was in this past US election. I went with my daughter and explained everything. I was very excited, and I had a lot of hopes. She is going to be a woman, and she was born here. Her father is Israeli, and I am French-American. Growing up in America, she will have her own unique identity, and I am not sure what. I want to see her grow up in a place where women are valued and her different immigrant identities are appreciated.
For NWNY, the day after the election, I went to facilitate a workshop for a group of women in the Chinatown Library. Everyone was worried. Since then, this worry is something that has been omnipresent. There is always this fear behind the idea of starting in this country and what that means.
To create a space to talk about this, NWNY has really started to provide more spaces for story-telling. This past year was the first time we worked with the Moth, a storytelling non-profit. We want to be creating a space for women to talk about who they are, why they came here, and how they see what’s happening. For many women who grew up in another country, they came to the US precisely because it was seen as a space that was more welcoming of their differences.
Your daughter sounds like one of the inspirations for your work. How has it been juggling childcare with starting and growing NWNY? How has that influenced the way you think about your programs?
Our new professional development training LEAD for New Moms really grew out of my experience of being a mom. This is a six-week long workshop that teach women professional development skills as well as provide free childcare, so they don’t have to worry about their children while they are in workshops.
We just started this program last December and January in Staten Island. I had just had my daughter the July before, so it was a time where the personal and professional really coincided. Childcare is very expensive, and as an immigrant to this city I don’t have family here to help. It’s very isolating in New York in general, but as a mother, it is especially so. Plus, your hours are very different as a mom since evenings are when you can typically network, but they are also the main time you spend with your kid.
One of the things, I really want to do with NWNY is create more spaces where women can bring their children since there are really not enough them. I understand what that’s like since I also really value the time I spend with my daughter.
At the same time, NWNY is really my first baby, and I love what I do. It’s also very important to keep space for yourself while also developing new areas where we can include our children.
You have done so much in such a short amount of time. Do you have any advice for SIPA students as they embark on their careers?
I would suggest, as I am sure you have heard before, to network, but in a meaningful way: Build genuine relationships with people in your field of interest.
Keep your mind open: You learn from every experience, and sometimes an opportunity that doesn’t seem that attractive initially can actually become an important step or milestone in your professional path.
Ask yourself the why question continuously: Why are you interested in this field? Why is this your dream job?
Any last things?
Come to our exhibit. It will be open from February 17th until March 18th in the Queens Museum. We also will be hosting pop ups for Women’s History Month, and please, men should also come! I know it’s far from where you are at SIPA but very worth it.