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Want to Bridge the Gender Gap? Mentorship & Strong Role Models Work, A 1st Person Success Story

The first crack that widens to a gender gap begins long before women enter the workplace. Mine began opening when I was 11, a girl from Tehran, enjoying a two-week visit to see my older brothers in Los Angeles.

Seemingly overnight, I went from delighted tourist to startled refugee. On television, we watched the footage of familiar buildings of my home city being set ablaze. It was December 1978, and the Iranian Revolution was gathering momentum. With the worsening political situation, my parents decided my siblings and I should remain in the U.S. and study.

Initially I was entranced, taking in the sheer plentitude of California. Six months passed, and the shock of adjustment set in. It would take five and half years until my parents escaped Iran to join us. I began navigating this new culture, one that seemed in constant collision with the one I had left.

I admired the women in my family for their resilient spirit and their orientation toward keeping a strong, tight-knit family, but it was always at the cost of not having a viable outlet for their own personal ambitions. Around me, few women in good financial standing worked outside of the house.

I had always assumed that I shouldn’t entertain too lofty goals for myself, fearing that I was veering out of my restrictive cultural mandate; however, I was shocked and strangely fascinated by how the American girls who had become my friends were mapping out their target universities and career plans. These girls were direct. They articulated their goals with confidence and enthusiasm.

I grappled with a feeling of “doubleness”–not fully belonging to any culture. Could I build a life in America while retaining my Iranian values? Would I be deemed too self-centered by my family if I chose to work?

Looking back, I see that I longed for a mentor to help me navigate this rocky terrain. I remember casting about for role models, but none were readily available. So, I found my mentors by reading biographies of bold people who challenged the status quo. Their journeys, their stories, opened a larger framework of purposeful and meaningful possibilities for me.

Today, young women in every country are in need of mentors to spark their first visions of wider options. They need help creating personal connections with inspiring women, for support, motivation and encouragement. We need to build access to achievement.

The World Bank Group’s report “Women, Business and the Law 2016,” released in early September, studied 173 world economies and found that 90% of them had at least one law that discriminated against women, limiting their individual—and by extrapolation—their countries’ economic prospects. This is sobering news, especially coming 20 years after countries pledged to work toward gender equality at a United Nations conference in China.

Although a growing number of organizations such as Best Buddies International, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and MENTOR have formal mentoring programs and networks, the playing field remains far from level.

According to National Mentoring Partnership, 17.6 million young Americans today are in special need of mentors. Of that number, only 2.5 million are in mentoring relationships, while the remaining 15.1 million are left in a mentoring “gap.” Surveys of upper-level American managers find that almost half of women of color and close to a third of white women cite a lack of influential mentors as a major barrier to advancement.

Emerging research shows that girls’ social and emotional learning is most impacted through group mentorship. Developing more formalized links with girls’ associations and girls’ groups and enrolling young women in an afterschool peer and mentorship groups is one way of making quality mentorship scalable and available to a larger population. Those enrolled can then participate in skill-building programs, corporate visits, be introduced to women leaders in various industries and take part in internships and conferences, to pass the invisible boundaries set by narrowly conceived possibilities.

At most conferences that I attend, women leaders are usually addressing other well-established women. When do we ask young women, or disadvantaged youth to join the conversation?

Given my personal story, when I organize a salon, I provide a bus for inner city high-potential girls, who might feel like “outsiders” themselves, to attend. My colleagues and I have found that some of the most interesting questions and memorable interactions have come from this group. Many of our panelists and speakers make themselves available to offer guidance to these girls through email, a phone conversation, or one-on-one chats.

We might close the country’s mentorship gap effectively and avoid duplication of systems by bringing together public and private sector organizations and leaders across each state. Such collaborations can facilitate statewide, centralized mentoring services.

In Canada, for example, the Alberta Mentoring Partnership launched the #8000Mentors recruitment campaign in 2014. The Partnership is a coalition of government, business and community groups whose mission is to provide a mentor for every youth in care in Alberta. Certainly this campaign has brought mentorship to the forefront of priorities.

Women “lean in” in different ways, one of which is becoming a champion for other women and girls. Anyone who has had a success has had people, programs and personal experiences that bridged the gap between their present and future selves. Our young girls and women, especially those of minority and lower-income backgrounds, deserve the opportunities that mentorship can provide.

Visionary Women Book Launch: Celebrating Sisterhood

October 6th will go down as one of the most memorable days of my life.  My dearest friend, Lili Bosse had warned me ahead of time, “You better be prepared.  It will be a big celebration. Mark my words.”   She was obviously imaging the day in her mind’s eye as she was the one who was hosting the book launch.

I am no newcomer to book launches, after all “Visionary Women” was my third book, and I have gone to support numerous other book parties.  But somehow, when Lili and I were planning this event, we wanted it not only to be a book launch but a celebration of sisterhood, of women coming to support other women, and most importantly, a celebration of women’s voices.

It seemed as if all who joined us that day had instinctively understood the purpose of the event and the reasoning behind writing the book. I was quite taken when guests started arriving half an hour earlier than expected and shortly thereafter a long line of cars started forming.   Lili and I had invited our friends from our elementary school years, and high school years. We had friends from work and the nonprofits that we are involved in.  We also had invited some new friends and family members.  An hour into the event, close to 500 enthusiastic friends were mingling in the garden, listening to an all-women band, and taking up the festive atmosphere.

But it wasn’t the sheer number of people that made an impression on me. Quite frankly I was so moved by the show of love and support by all those who were there. Friends and family gave me warm embraces and congratulated me and so many people bought multiple copies of the book to gift to their nieces, friends, and sister. I was truly touched.

When the two years that I was engrossed in learning, researching, and writing about the lives of 20 trailblazing women in the world, I felt as if I had formed my own interior world of fearless tribe of women.  That day at the book launch, I looked around myself and saw that so many of them were in reality gathered there in the garden.

I hope we always find ourselves in tribes of women who are generous in spirit and encourage others to greater heights.

Visionary Women’s “Women at the Forefront of Technology” Salon

Victor Hugo once said, “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” I wholeheartedly agree.

An idea, a focus, and an energy to build a community of visionary and empowered women is something that has been stirring in me for many years now.  I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of women who have broken ground in their fields – and shared a passion to know and educate others on what is it exactly that gives some that spark to create change.

For me, February 26, 2015, marks a special moment in my life. Together with the help of my talented co-founders and executive board members: Mayor Lili Bosse, Veronica Smiley, and Ambassador Nicole Avant, and committee, we launched Visionary Women into the stratosphere with the “Women at the Forefront of Technology” Salon.

Three hundred and twenty inspired women leaders and fifteen girls from Communities in Schools Los Angeles’ Ladies First program joined us for a panel discussion at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills to hear some of the top women leading technology today. Our panel lineup featured Dawn Ostroff, President of Condé Nast Entertainment (CNÉ), Pauline Fischer, Vice President, Original Content at Netflix, Julie Uhrman, Founder and CEO of OUYA and Doris Kim Sung, Founder of do| SU Studio Architecture.  Five-time Emmy Award winning journalist, Giselle Fernandez moderated the discussion and the attention from the audience was palpable.

Here are two of my favorite quotes from the day – although there were many:

“Listen to your inner voice. Trust your intuition. It’s important to have the courage to trust yourself.” - Dawn Ostroff

“Understand yourself enough to know what you are most passionate about. Don’t compromise on that because you are going to have to work hard no matter what.” – Julie Uhrman

I know that Visionary Women is an idea whose time has come, and I’m so grateful to have the support of so many friends, family and community members.

It’s an incredible feeling to be doing the work that you love with others whose heartbeat echoes your own.

I’m also grateful to our event sponsor NET-A-PORTER.COM, whose passion for empowering women mirrors our own.

Thank you to those of you who have supported me on all the twists and turns of this exciting journey.

~Angella

A Wonderful Time with the Women of YPO Quebec

It must have been a few month back when I was in the midst of writing one of my chapters for my upcoming book that I answered the phone. A woman by the name of Marie-Christine had contacted me from Quebec, inviting me to their YPO Chapter there for a talk. We finally decided that I would coordinate my trip around my upcoming visit to New York so my travel time won’t be as long.

Well, I never thought about weather conditions or storms when I booked the speaking engagement, but the week before my scheduled arrival, Quebec had a big storm. Just days before leaving I had checked the weather there and I surprised to see that it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit!

The last time I was in that kind of weather was when I was stuck on a ski lift at age 21!

I will have to say that my flight to Montreal was easy and uneventful. From up above the snow covered landscape was so beautiful that it reminded me of an abstract painting. Marie-Christine was awaiting my arrival at the airport and on our way to the airport we got a chance to talk. I say this with great sincerity, but one of the nicest experiences on all my work travels has been meeting interesting people and learning about their lives and what they do. Quebec did not disappoint. Marie-Christine, Nathalie, Ruby, along with the 60 other YPO spouses who had come for my talk were warm and welcoming. My talk about leadership took an hour but we spent the next three hours chatting, laughing and sharing our experiences. I learned about the great work of so many of these women and how each was striving to do something that was reflective of their character, talents, and interests.

You know you love what you do when you can’t keep track of time. What was supposed to be a two hour event became four hours— the evening ended with laughter and many hugs and embraces. Somehow I hope to revisit Quebec. Who knows maybe for launch of my third book!

Powerhouse Women Connect at the WITW Conference

Every year I look forward to going to NY to attend the Women in the World Conference. Tina Brown packs the two and a half days at the Lincoln Center with the most compelling stories and women change makers. For someone like me, who writes, lives, and breathes these topics, it is one of the most interesting venues to attend.

I want to share with you some of the highlights from the conference:

I had a chance to meet two Syrian women (Hiba Sawan and Rania Kisar) who are activists in their war torn country. Their story of saving victims of bombing and war was incredibly touching and I had a chance to sit next to them at lunch.

Who can forget the in-depth conversation between two of the most powerful women—Hillary Rodham Clinton and Christine Lagarde. The moment where they high-fived one another was caught on camera and was in the news the very next morning. Funny enough, I ran into Christine Lagarde at the Carlyle hotel and enthusiastically went over to congratulate her on her inspiring talk. She is not only brilliant and fearless, but chic and approachable.

The list of impressive presenters continued: Lorene Powell Jobs moderated a panel on education; Jimmy Carter made a passionate case on behalf of women and girls in his new book, “A Call to Action”; the comedian, Sara Silverman and her sister, Susan, who happens to be a rabbi talked about their shared spirit of activism (by the way, Susan is as funny as Sara); the list went on.

Of course, one of the highlights was listening to the experiences of Masha Alekhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot. To think that for months we were following their trial and tribulations in Russia and they were onstage talking about their new NGO, Zona Pravda.

I came back to LA brimming with ideas and thinking about the women who I would like to write about in my next book. Stay tuned: I will have a surprise story of a brave-hearted “untouchable” woman that I want to showcase in the near future.

 

Jacqueline Novogratz: “I Want to Be Used up by Life”

Ever since I did my research on Jacqueline Novogratz four years ago for my book, Pioneers of the Possible, I knew I had come across a brilliant, world-changing woman.

Jacqueline Novogratz is the Founder and CEO of Acumen, a non-profit global venture capital fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to fight global poverty.

In 2011, Jacqueline and Acumen graced the cover of Forbes Magazine for her work in venture capitalism and social enterprise.

In her book, The Blue Sweater, Jacqueline shares her personal life story and how she found her life to be intertwined with the life of a child wearing her old blue sweater far away in the wilderness of Africa, and what this connection means for all of us. Her life story is so compelling that when she wrote her book it quickly became a bestseller.

Without exaggeration, it took me 2 years to have Jacqueline to come and speak to a group of women here in Los Angeles.  But, this comes to show that persistence pays off!  Last year, my partner, Beth and I, asked her to come and speak at the WOMEN A.R.E.  Summit. However, that first week of November she had to be Africa and India!

Oftentimes I have thought about how many times she criss-crosses the globe in a given year.  Luckily, her travels this year brought her to Los Angeles on March 13th, where she addressed 170 WOMEN A.R.E. guests.

She shared with us her personal journey and amazing life’s work—from training future leaders in developing countries, to funding start-ups that serve the needs of the most marginalized people in the world. It is with a great deal of pride that I say that her vision has touched and affected over 40 million lives to date.

One of my favorite quotes that Jacqueline often shares is from none other than Martin Luther King: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its bests love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

She also made another powerful statement that had a deep impact on many of the women, “I want to be used up by life.” Her message highlighted humanity’s interconnectedness – that we are all intertwined not only socially, but economically and in many other ways. She talked about the importance of human dignity, and how much more important it is that wealth. Her core message was focused on how we can unleash the potential of the most marginalized people in the world and lead a life that is full of dignity.

May each one of us glean from the wealth of wisdom Jacqueline shared and make the world a better place because of it.

REACHING THE SUMMIT – ONE STEP AT A TIME

When I was writing and researching for my books, it would be as if I was retreating somewhere quiet and still inside myself.  Sometimes it would take me an hour or two to get out of my shell and take part in the daily hustle -bustle of Los Angeles life.

Now that we are 6 weeks away from the WOMEN A.R.E. Summit, I see that my days are diametrically different than what I was accustomed to while writing. To get over 25 leading women to come and speak at the conference was no easy feat. I can’t tell you how many letters I drafted, how many calls I made, and how much time was spent in meetings with others.  But the flip side is that I feel ever more connected to my community and the one day summit itself.

One summer afternoon two years ago, I was lounging in the garden and watching the sun fade away. Suddenly in the quietness of the afternoon, an idea occurred to me—what if I can bring the very women I research on to a forum where they can themselves share their story.  The seeds of organizing a summit were planted that afternoon.

In hindsight, the one day Summit, showcasing such trailblazers as Marianne Williamson, Dr. Andrea Ghez, Alison Pincus, Cathie Opie, and Ann Philbin to name a few, feels like a natural extension to the books I have been writing.

We are six weeks away, and I am filled with excitement and anticipation for the big day. My partner, Beth, and I are keeping a tight schedule these days and are planning all the details of the day but at the same time, we know that organizing a summit is like organizing a dance—you create the space and structure, the people show up, and the rest is about the energy in the room and the spontaneous exchanges between people!

I will update you all with photos and breaking news!

Lorena Garcia: Cooking Up A Storm

 

You may have seen her in the Taco Bell commercials, or perhaps Bravo TV’s “Top Chef Masters, ” but one thing’s for certain: Chef Lorena Garcia has now made it to the center stage of the American spotlight. No stranger to the media, Lorena and her cuisine, cookbook New Latin Classics and restaurants Lorena Garcia Cocina,and LorenaGARCIA Tapas have been featured in major magazines and TV networks including CNN, NBC, Bravo, and Telemundo, just to name a few.

Adding to her list of impressive achievements, Lorena launched “Big Chef Little Chef” – a program dedicated to help children and families take control of their health and combat obesity through workshops and hands on cooking classes.

Can you imagine this charismatic and creative force once had a completely different career trajectory? It was fascinating to learn that she earned her law degree and was continuing in her education when she had a personal epiphany that caused her to completely switch gears and explore a new future in the culinary arts. She enrolled at Johnson & Whales University and never looked back.

Recently I had the pleasure of having dinner with Lorena, Randy Jackson, Harriet Sternberg (who incidentally is on the Women A.R.E. advisory committee), and Lara Shriftman. As I had suspected, Lorena has an effervescent personality and was brimming with excitement about the new venture on her horizon. Lorena is so comfortable with herself that one can easily fall into friendship with her. She talks about the experience and ritual of food, as if she were giving a impromptu workshop on personal growth and relationships. No wonder she has a strong following worldwide!

Women A.R.E. is pleased to have chef extraordinaire and culinary artist, Lorena Garcia, as a participant on the “Women in the Arts” panel at the November 7th Summit.

The Power of One Person

It is one thing to research and study the life of a person you admire and quite another when you get to see them face-to face and collaborate.  I had first met Somaly Mam, CNN Hero—and one of Timemagazine’s ‘Top 100 of the Most Influential Women in the World’, six years ago. She took the stage at the Governor’s Conference and had her speech had all 9,0000 women in the convention center simply rapped.

Today, Somaly Mam is a shining example of love, resilience and courage. She has transformed her painful history as a child who was sold into sexual slavery and who eventually broke herself free to rescue others. She and others fromThe Somaly Mam Foundation risk their lives continually to go into the dark hidden places where young girls are locked up, help them escape and provide a safe haven for them to rehabilitate. For me, these are true heroes.

One of my favorite speaking topics is about the power of one person. One person, or small group of likeminded individuals, can accomplish anything. Likely, they have more power than mega-organizations. And Somaly Mam is one of those people who, single-handedly, has brought sex trafficking to a global platform.

When she came to Los Angeles for work in early November, I invited her to a small afternoon tea with a few of my close friends. What touched me the most from our time together was the deep level of joy and love she radiated. All the guests that afternoon walked away feeling uplifted and utterly moved by the gracious presence of this woman.

I tend to believe that one of the most powerful ways to unleash the potential a group of people is to hold salons and conferences, where ideas, issues, and experiences can be discussed in a meaningful way.

A quote by Margaret Mead comes to mind:

“Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world.”

Invigorated by this simple truth, I along with my partner Beth Friedman, decided to organize a formal salon as a platform for Somaly Mam to share her story with a broader audience. The response was overwhelming. Press came, donations were given, and even one woman I heard contacted Somaly’s organization to replicate their operations in another country. Truly the power of one life, of one story, Somaly’s, yours and mine, has the ability to impact the world!

Continuing on this theme, Beth Friedman and I have co-founded Women Aspire. Respond. Engage. (Women A.R.E.) and we will be hosting our inaugural day-long conference on November 7th at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles.

Below is a sample of the discussion at our first Women A.R.E. Salon.

Angella Nazarian & CNN Hero Somaly Mam

Women’s Legacy as Leaders

I hate to be late at events—and I become mortified to think I might be even 5 minutes late to an event where I am one of the keynote speakers. While I was braving the 10 East traffic this Thursday at 7:30 in the morning, I kept worrying if I would make it to the Pasadena Convention Center on time. Never mind that my navigation system was malfunctioning and I was trying to figure out where I need to go on my iPhone while listening to Oprah’s satellite radio program of “who is an energy sucker in your life.” Quite honestly, the question is not “who” but “what”. Traffic nowadays is the biggest drain of my energy.

But, once I parked my car and ran into the ballroom of the convention center and checked in for “Women’s Legacy Leadership Conference,” I felt a rush of positive energy go through me.

Once guided though the large doors of the banquet hall, it was clear that this was going to be a wonderful event. The room was full of beautiful round tables laid with promotional materials including, a packet and little pink rubber hard-hats symbolizing hardworking women. Before the event I was told there would be about 600 women at the event, and once I walked, it was clear that they had all arrived. There was a large stage at the front flanked by two digital movie screens with the event branding perfectly in place.

Phyllis Currie and Gail Farber are two super star women serving the county of Los Angeles in high leadership roles. They started off the day sharing their impressions on their personal journeys. Shortly after I arrived, it was my turn to present – and I focused on some of the key leadership lessons learned from the women featured in Pioneers of the Possible. It is an uncanny feeling when you feel so connected to hundreds of women in the room. Under the dimmed lights, the atmosphere felt intimate and I felt my message about the book resonated with them.

Usually when I make my way back to my seat, I check in with my assistant, who joins me at these events, to see if I did all right.  You see, I don’t think this question comes from a place of insecurity. Truthfully, it comes from a place of utter curiosity, because when I am at the podium, I feel like I am in a cocoon with the audience. I have no sense of time or much else. All I try to do is speak with passion about the subjects that I am passionate about.

Well, nothing could have prepared me for the wonderful and heartfelt response I got at the intermission. Once I got to the book-signing table, I noticed a line forming that went down the hall. If I may say so, I was so pleased that my books sold out in a matter of 20 minutes! But, the highlight was chatting with these amazing women who shared their experiences with me. One told me about her upcoming promotion, another about her 3 beautiful daughters that she has raised on her own, and yet another one told me about how arranged a stand-in to save her friend’s home during foreclosure. Now how could I have met any of these women if I hadn’t participated in this conference?

Of course, I got a chance to meet up with an old friend, best-selling author Hope Adelman, and had the opportunity to hear Christine Schwab speak for the first time.

Both are remarkable women who are passionate about seeing women succeed.

The message for the whole day for me was that our journey has much meaning. I always tell the audience that we all have a story. We define our story as much our story defines us. In order to reach higher and assume a leadership position in our own lives, we need to be committed to a path of growth. I felt privileged to have heard the many touching stories of resilience, success, hope, and courage at this conference.  If these are traits that we as women can harness, then we too can be pioneers in our own lives!