By: Dr. Golnaz Golnaraghi

The third cohort of Accelerate Her Future’sTM (AHF) Fellowship Circle launched this January. We’re excited to welcome Fellows and Mentors from across the country, with representation from six provinces. By expanding our reach, we are able to welcome more incredible women into our community, be inspired by them, and learn about their unique experiences.

AHF’s Fellowship Circle is a robust 10-week program that includes Group Mentorship Circles that apply our Reciprocal Mentorship model, Career Learning Labs, opportunities for networking, and a mini-Summit style wrap-up celebration event. 

Excited. Empathy. Included. Compassion. Curious. These were just a few of many sentiments shared by Fellows and Mentors as they reflected on their feelings about starting the program.

With a year of this program under our belt and much learning from our past cohorts and their experiences, we’re pleased to share more about us and the Fellowship Circle for those who are new to our community.

“The opportunity to connect with a community of ambitious BlPOC women from across Canada was something that I had never experienced until the AHF Fellowship. Every week was a new chance to self-reflect and ask tough questions, grow into our personal power and celebrate our success and accomplishments. The mentality of allyship that grew in the Fellowship Circle is something that I will carry with me everywhere I go.” Sami Sekhon, Fellow 2021

 

A Bit About AHF

What accelerated us into action to launch this program last year? There aren’t enough Black, Indigenous, and racialized women entering into and advancing their careers in the business and STEM industries. Why? Because we often face a double-bind at the intersection of gender and race, or even a triple bind at the intersections of gender, race, and religion in the different spheres we navigate. 

In addition, studies show that women (especially Black, Indigenous and racialized women) across the country continue to face risks of disruption given that more than half of the 35% of jobs in the country could be automated. COVID has magnified the inequities even more. Women’s employment has been far more significantly impacted than men during the pandemic, with higher burnout rates, and the gender pay gap widening at an alarming rate. According to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, we are now at a point where it will take an estimated 135 years to close the gender pay gap. 

At AHF, we are doing our part to change the statistics and dismantle systemic barriers with, by, and for Black, Indigenous and racialized women. We know the value and passion we bring as Black, Indigenous and racialized women to our schools, workplaces, and communities. But how do we harness our value, passions and power? What we want are spaces that see us, listen to us, and value us and our perspectives while creating accessible environments and opportunities for us to flourish and thrive. 

 

A Preview of Our Impact

As we reflect on the impact of the Fellowship Circle, we celebrate our small, but mighty team and our growing community. 

Since January 2021:

  • 156 Fellows, from 7 provinces have been invited to participate
  • 76% of our Fellows are undergraduate and graduate students, while 24% graduated or in the workforce
  • In 2021, 95% of Fellows successfully met the program completion requirements
  • 88 Mentors from 7 provinces have been invited to participate with 5-16+ years of experience in business and STEM
  • Fellows have been hired by companies including IBM, Scotiabank, Shopify, and Unbounce
  • 58 speakers, 24 learning labs, fireside chats, panels, and talks, and 26 women-identifying entrepreneurs with whom we collaborated

AHF taught me how to be unapologetically ambitious. Connecting with Black, Indigenous and women of colour Mentors and Fellows allowed me to understand that our cultural experiences shape the way we are and how we approach our own “transition of life.” The Fellowship Circle was a fulfilling and emotional journey with lots of support, laughs & learning. – Disha Patel, Mentor 2021

As a team, we are working on our 2021 Impact Report while reflecting on our learnings so that we continue to create transformative programs and experiences that have deeper influence and impact.

 

A Preview of What Informs Our Program Design

Since our inception, we have spoken with more than 200 Black, Indigenous and racialized women about their postsecondary, career development and workplace experiences. Thanks to the Riipen Level Up program, we hired three research analysts summer of 2021 – Aisha Shafaqat, Deborah Eliezer, and Simran Bakshi who conducted research and literature reviews to help us better understand the experiences of Black, Indigenous and racialized women in postsecondary environments and workplaces.

Four themes came forward from these conversations (also validated by the literature reviews) that we seek to address in our programs:

  • Network Gap: access to mentors, allies & networks
  • Knowledge Gap: career development strategies and tools
  • Bias Gap: Disrupting internalized bias & fostering a network of solidarity and action
  • Opportunity Gap: Providing connections and access to opportunities

 

Drawing on the Principles of Counterspace 

In 2020, AHF’s Fellowship Circle was created drawing on the principles of counterspaces outlined by Ong et al. Counterspaces are critical for Black, Indigenous and racialized women particularly in STEM (and we also believe this applies to business disciplines) where there is a lack of meaningful representation. 

A counterspace is a psychologically safe community embedded within or on the edge of dominant culture, designed with and for us – Black, Indigenous and racialized women – and fosters an environment of allyship via intentional community building.

Stay tuned for a blog on counterspaces later this month by Simran Bakshi who in her research for AHF delved deeper into what they are, why they matter, and what they entail.

“I’m honoured and grateful to have been a part of AHF’s inaugural Fellowship Circle cohort and to have gained this supportive, genuine community. It’s rare to find a professional development program that authentically prioritizes BIWOC representation and voices, providing opportunities to engage with leaders, change-makers, speakers, and mentors, who understand our unique experiences first-hand. AHF did just that and more!” – Lama Al-Awawdeh, Fellow 2021

AHF’s Fellowship Circle is a space where we strive to: 

  • facilitate opportunities for peer-to-peer and mentorship connections, 
  • engage in authentic discussions about real issues and lived experiences, 
  • embed AHF’s reciprocal mentorship model where Fellows and Mentors learn with and from one another, disrupting power imbalances, 
  • foster an environment where multiple lived experiences are honoured and viewed as important knowledge, 
  • challenge deficit notions and stereotypes,
  • promote counter-narratives and counterstories that reflect the truth of who we are, and
  • foster a positive and supportive community

“AHF is a much needed program for BIWOC. From the reciprocal mentoring to the learning circles, both mentors and fellows are encouraged to learn, share and create a safe environment for workplace systemic changes in the financial industry. I look forward to being a mentor again!” Fatoumata Camara, Mentor, 2021 & 2022

All of this would not be possible without our community and those who support our work – Fellows, Mentors, corporate sponsors, educational partners, and community partners. We also want to offer a special acknowledgement to Elder Alice Kaquitts, a proud member of the Stoney Nakoda Wesley First Nation, and respected Elder and community leader, for supporting AHF and the Fellowship Circle through her wisdom and messages from the heart. Elder Alice’s powerful presence and words of wisdom continue to stay with us as we move forward. 

With that we leave you with Eekwol & T-Rhyme’s “For Women By Women,” award-winning hip hop artists in Saskatoon, Treaty Six Territory, who performed this piece at AHF’s 2021 Summit: Leading with Audacity. For Women By Women perfectly encapsulates the essence of our community and programs: to create the dialogue and our counterstories and to recognize our power.

We are intentional in our approach and committed to lifelong learning and continuing to enhance our influence and  impact. There’s more to come from our small and mighty team in 2022! Stay tuned for more.