It’s Wednesday morning in Midtown Manhattan. More than a dozen women are gathered in a room on the third floor of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library. They take turns in responding to a prompt from two facilitators: say your name, where you’re from, your profession, who you think is a good public speaker, and what you like about them.
One of the participants leaves her seat and walks to the center of the room. Speaking to everyone in the room, she says she’s from a country with the tallest waterfall in the world and Celine Dion is her favorite speaker; she proceeds to sing. Other women proceed to present their speeches too.
The women give each other feedback in succession.
“She needs to improve not reading her notes but telling,” one participant tells her peer.
“You need to make sure your story not only connects with the audience, but you are connecting with them too,” the facilitator adds to the feedback.
“She said she was nervous while speaking. But seemed very calm,” another participant says.
The facilitator turns to the projector and tells the women they could be called to give a speech at work one day, and this session on public speaking is to help them hone their communication skills.
Despite the differences in their stories, the women sitting in the library have one thing in common: they are all immigrants. They have arrived from Venezuela, France, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic, India, Bangladesh, and Taiwan. Today they have convened in this room thanks to New Women New Yorkers — an organization whose mission is to provide workforce development to empower immigrant women to obtain employment or further their education in the City. The organization also offers a safe, inclusive space where the women can find a community in one another and share their stories.
Arielle Kandel founded New Women New Yorkers after relocating to New York in 2013. Although she had visited New York frequently before then, she was born and raised in France. She tells me the immigrant women go through so much rejection in their job search process that they really get discouraged and start to undervalue themselves as professionals. “Obviously, that plays into the mix,” she says. The workshop boosts the immigrant women’s confidence, and they get to see the progress other participants make when they finally secure a job, for instance.
“They see this happening to someone else, so they start believing in themselves,” says Kandel. “Sometimes, that’s the thing that is missing.”
Supporting career pathways
At Wednesday’s workshop, some of the immigrant women share stories of coming to the U.S. to either seek opportunities or flee hardship or war back home. Now they are trying to boost their skills to start life afresh in the U.S. labor market. One of the women said she left Venezuela because she’s a human rights lawyer and the government was after her.
The two women leading the day’s workshop are Kibel Manzano — who is Venezuelan — and Alma Leya — from Bangladesh. They once were graduates of the New Women New Yorker 10-week workshop, and now are facilitators.
Like Manzano and Leya, today over 900 immigrant women have gone through the job readiness workshop series, Kandel says. The organization has received funding from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the Rockefeller Foundation, NYU Community Fund, amongst others.
NWNY’s partnership with the public library grants them access to outreach power and a workshop space for free. The library’s staff tells people who drop by about the workshops through information fliers or word of mouth. Likewise, Kandel says the library benefits from the program’s participants and draws “people who don’t know about the libraries to come, and to access their resources as well.”
When NWNY began, Kandel was the only full-time staff member with a couple volunteers. Later she was able to hire part-time staff. Now the organization has grown to six full-time staff members. “I think for now, we’re in a good financial position,” she says. NWNY received multi-year funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for a clean energy project to support equitable access to clean energy and a diverse workforce. In particular, the goal at New Women New Yorkers is to support career pathways and develop employer partnerships within the clean energy sector, for the benefit of immigrant women job seekers, Kandel says.
Establishing the company
Kandel, 40, was born to a French mother, Danielle Kandel, and a Jewish father, Robert Kandel. Her father was born in New York after his parents, both from Germany and Poland, left Europe for New York as Nazi Germany’s World War II was approaching in the 1930s. Her father later moved to France, where he met her mother.
She studied law in France, and gathered experience as a legal assistant helping victims of crime. She worked as a volunteer teaching English and basic computer skills to young Tibetan refugees in northern India and as a legal assistant at the African Refugee Development Center in Israel, among other jobs.
She met her partner, who is Israeli, in India and they both moved to the U.S. in 2013 after he was accepted into Columbia Business School for an MBA.
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“I was really, like, I’m in a country, you work hard, you can make it,” she said. “I have all this experience, people are going to see this and hire me.” She knew she wanted to get a job. She also knew she wanted to keep working with immigrants. But she didn’t know exactly how.
“I think I was very naive,” she said. “I had very high naive expectations for myself.” Her partner would provide as much support as he could but when he was in school all day, Kandel would be alone at home. After months of a challenging and isolating job hunting process, the idea behind New Women New Yorkers started to form in the spring of 2014. By September of 2014, she incorporated the organization.
In the library during the workshop, one participant, who is from Colombia, shared the news that she had been offered a job and would be moving to Florida the following week.
“It works,” Binny Rosario, a participant of the workshop, who is from the Dominican Republic, and migrated to the U.S. 15 years ago, blurted out as she congratulated her. She was happy to see the NWNY sessions they attended hadn’t been in vain.
Kandel says it does take longer for a lot of the workshop’s participants to get to that point of securing a good job in their field of interest. Some participants secure a job within three months, others, within six months or a year depending on the progress they’re making, Kandel explains.
If they get a job in New York, they are able to continue taking part in New Women New Yorkers’ events and even support their peers in getting jobs, too. NWNY also offers job openings in the organization to immigrant women in its network. “Certain opportunities we open them only for our communities, for people who want to get their first experience, more like entry level positions that can also let them grow into something more,” Kandel says.
Rosario has a law degree from her native country where she worked as a lawyer and later worked with a French company in a free zone in the Dominican Republic. She had moved to the U.S. with her son who was barely one-year old at the time. So, she took time off work to take care of him. During the pandemic however, she decided to take a masters program in International Business online after getting a scholarship from EUDE Business School in Madrid. “I was a stay at home mum, I did work as a volunteer and after I decided I wanna do something with my brain. I wanna do something with my profession.”
Rosario bumped into a flier at the New York public library when she went to drop off some books in January. She looked up the organization online and felt they looked serious. She decided to give it a try. Others found out about the program via Facebook, Instagram, or by word of mouth. The previous week NWNY took them to another company to participate in elevator speeches and a career fair. They had mock interviews for 45 minutes with professionals in their fields of interest.
“They are doing more than we expected,” she says of NWNY. “I’m really happy about this program. We all are, it’s just that I’m more outspoken you know.” The organization has also connected Rosario with a professional who will give her feedback on her resumé during a one-on-one Zoom session the next day.
Learning with the women they serve
As a kid, Kandel would say she wanted to travel the world when she grew up.
She has spent almost 10 years in New York since 2013 and still feels this isn’t her final destination. “I’m an immigrant at heart,” she says. But she believes she is still achieving her globetrotting dreams even now — through the eyes and stories of the immigrant women that participate in New Women New Yorkers’ workshops. “I’m in New York, right. But I’m traveling every day with the women.”
Correction: This story was amended to clarify in which country Kandel met her partner.