Bringing More Women of Color to the Front

The IWMF’s Chanda Daniels (left) and Juanita Islas (right), sat down to discuss how mentors have helped guide their careers.

It’s Black History Month, and all month long the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) is working to #ShareHerNews and promote the incredible relationships growing in the organization’s Gwen Ifill Mentorship Program.

We take this work seriously, and there is no one better to explicate the benefits of being, and having, a mentor than our own staff. Juanita Islas, a programs manager for the IWMF, and Chanda Daniels, the organization’s senior communications coordinator, sat down to reflect and share advice on the pivotal roles mentors played in their lives, and how these relationships evolve to bring success.

On transformative and helpful beginnings

Juanita Islas: “For me, when I first set foot on the UC Berkeley campus as an undergraduate student where the student body was only 12 percent Latinx, it was transformative to become involved with the Raza Recruitment and Retention Center and TRENZA, a Chicana Latina organization — it helped me to understand my identity and where I stood as a first generation student. I learned about the importance of community and being in spaces where I can serve as a resource for other underrepresented students. “

Juanita with fellow members of TRENZA.

Chanda Daniels: “Agreed. I’m a first-generation college student. Navigating college was a new experience for me — for women of color, the onus is on you to navigate that for yourself and seek out resources. Being in a like-minded community, and an unbiased environment, helped me to thrive.”

JI: “That’s a crucial point. From the beginning it was essential that I join student led organizations. Latinos occupy such a small space: only four percent of Latinas reach the masters level of academia, like me. That cuts across all business, and it starts early on.”

Why seeking a mentor is beneficial to early success

CD: “Without a doubt, having a mentor is what helped me progress: it is imperative for women of color in the working world. I’ve learned that it would have been difficult not to have someone to turn to in a murky or challenging situation.”

JI: “What can be tricky is that mentorship takes shape in different ways. If you are seeking a mentor, I recommend someone who may be in your industry but has experience that you don’t. Be active in your community and ask questions. Reach out to organizations.”

CD: “It was a bit different for me. My mentor identified me, and she chose me because she wanted another black woman to succeed. She taught me professionalism and gave nuance to me as a black woman communicating in business, helping me to internalize what I might not know initially. For me, it was helpful to find someone who understood my industry and understood my intersections.”

Chanda with her mentor, Nacllies (center).

How to grow a successful relationship with your mentor

JI: “Listening is one of the most important parts of the relationship between a mentor and a mentee. Sometimes, as a mentee, you don’t know exactly what to ask. Be honest with the person on the other side. The mentor can take that in, and through a process, advise you.”

CD: “Yes, that is definitely a priority. If you want to take it step further, I recommend that mentees craft an agenda in advance of conversations with their mentor. Going into a conversation and knowing that you have a clear agenda of what you want to touch on brings success a lot more quickly.”

CD: “Having a mentor helps you establish your worth early on, and that’s important, too. Learning more about career profession, your value and not settling for something less worthy of your skill is a critical lesson for women of color in particular.”

JI: “Great mentors really give mentees — when they ask — tools that are critical for success: a connection, a resource, a manual of sorts; the list goes on. That person provides goal posts for success while also offering helpful, contextual feedback.”

Mentoring and the road ahead

JI: “Sometimes your career path can feel like an uphill battle, and tiring, when you face additional challenges as a first-generation woman of color. It’s important to have your team and be part of a larger community; it’s OK to take a step back when you need to, it’s just important that you have a supportive and safe space.”

CD: “Over the long-term, the relationship between the mentee and the mentor becomes a two-way street. My mentor and I teach each other important skills.”

JI: “What my mentors have helped me realize is that yes, there are typical boxes you have to check, but there are also others that are imposed upon you because you’re a woman and because you’re a person of color, that can all of a sudden take up a lot of energy and space.”

CD: “Completely! You already have to do double to be seen — you can feel like you are representing more people than just yourself, which can bring-on burnout.”

Advice for the future

CD: “If you want to be a mentee, go for it — but you need to make the ask and hold your mentor accountable for what you need. It’s also helpful for organizations to recognize and establish time in the professional space for mentoring: it’s a really healthy, safe, “off-the-clock” way for organizations to establish a strong baseline for inclusion.”

JI: “Organizational or individual buy-in is critical. For mentorship relationships to succeed, there has to be co-creation. Incorporating the ideas of mentees is extremely important!”

Juanita and her IWMF team — Maria Alejandra (left) and Claudia (right).

CD: “The bottom line is that representation can be daunting. Having mentors show you that women of color in the C-suite, on a board or in executive leadership roles goes a long way and helps on its own.”

JI: “Just know that mentors can also change, and they might not have all of the answers all of the time. Seek out advice from different folks and make sure you share what you learn with those who are following in your footsteps.”

Learn more about the IWMF’s team and our work here.



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The International Women's Media Foundation is a DC-based organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of women worldwide.