Social Change Story: New Directions

05.24.2017

Grant Partners move needle for positive social change & gender equality.

To illuminate the grantmaking in action and the work our Grant Partners are doing for women and girls, we are bringing their stories to you.

New Directions Career Center’s Career SOS Program for Women provides holistic career counseling and career development services helping women address barriers to their employment goals. Clients will obtain the skills, information and resources needed to confidently live their own personal definitions of success through meaningful employment.

Caroline Woliver, Director of Outreach & Program Management at New Directions, shares the impact of their Career SOS Program with us below:

Why The Women’s Fund?

It is the mission of New Directions Career Center (NDCC) to empower women in transition to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency.  The Center achieves its mission by providing holistic career counseling and career development services that help women obtain the skills, information and resources needed to confidently live their own personal definitions of success through meaningful employment. 

In early 2016, I participated on the Advisory Board of The Women’s Fund’s research project with The Kirwan Institute of Race and Ethnicity on The Pervasive Power of Gender Norms in Central Ohio- research that led to the development of the Gender By Us™ toolkit for hosting conversations about implicit bias, especially regarding gender.  It was through this project that we identified The Women’s Fund as a key driver of encouraging our community to have meaningful conversations about challenging rigid gender norms that influence everyday life, conversations that regularly take place at New Directions and have been proven to have a positive impact towards achieving gender equality.

It is important to NDCC that our funders share our vision of empowering women and we were so excited to discover The Women’s Fund’s plan to formalize these important conversations.  We decided to apply for a grant with The Women’s Fund because our core programming and methodology directly aligns with The Women’s Fund’s initiative to empower women and girls and provide individuals an opportunity to question cultural expectations often placed on women.

Share one specific story about a shift in behavior?

A woman recently went through our 16-day signature program for women.  When she began the program, she was struggling with low self-esteem and being overly self-critical.  Her life felt like a constant cycle of trauma and setbacks, despite her efforts to provide a good life for herself and her children.  She was determined to find a career field that would be fulfilling and provide her family with the economic stability that seemed so far out of reach.

During the program, we discussed reputable resources to investigate workforce trends, occupational profiles, and earning potential in a variety of career fields, encouraging participants to explore work that would both meet their needs and be personally fulfilling regardless of whether it is considered traditional work for women. We discussed how gender norms and beliefs shape which activities individuals choose to pursue, and how these norms may act as barriers to women in a variety of career fields that could advance their economic security.  For example, while STEM careers often offer higher earnings and better job prospects in today’s workforce, women are underrepresented in these professions. When highlighting the growing sector of STEM careers, we discussed the gender norms that may have influenced their decisions as young girls: “Was I pressured to choose between being “popular” or “nerdy”?  For many women, evaluating and challenging their understanding of their previous interests through a gender lens opens up new possibilities for their occupational future.

Throughout the program, this woman challenged her perception of self- that she was “too old to learn computers” and that she “shouldn’t be going into IT because she’s a woman.”  She explored her interests independent of social pressures and messages about who she “should” be and found that she actually really liked the idea of becoming an IT professional.  We helped connect her to a highly competitive and intensive IT training program, worked with her throughout the application process, and challenged her to practice self-compassion when doubt occasionally crept back up.

She ended up being accepted into the IT internship program and our staff jumped for joy with her when she informed us of her acceptance.  She stated it was one of the happiest days of her life because she not only challenged herself to step out of her comfort zone, but she took the first steps towards sustainable employment and financial security through a path traditionally dominated by men.

What does this look like with your program?

NDCC’s programming leads women through the crucial conversations and critical thinking exercises that challenge gender norms and broaden work options. We are an empowerment program that helps women see and demonstrate their intrinsic value, particularly in the workforce. In this program, we facilitate conversations around the cultural, familial, and societal expectations placed on women in relation to the multiple identities individuals experience, particularly their gender. We present research and discuss how early influences can influence a person’s decision-making and pursuit of interests from a young age, effecting that individual’s educational and occupational choices. We uncover the overt and unspoken norms and expectations in the workplace and help women to develop the critical thinking skills needed to evaluate these norms and challenge them when deemed inappropriate or limiting to their potential for growth.

In-depth instruction and opportunities to practice strategies that improve confidence, stress management, self-care, problem solving, self-promotion, networking, and negotiation incorporate information about how gender norms and other assumptions affect our feelings and practical applications of these concepts. For example, when discussing self-promotion strategies with women, we also discuss the messages women receive about being passive and modest. This gender expectation directly contradicts the basic skills of self-marketing and often leave women uncomfortable speaking about their personal achievements. Women get a chance to question their discomfort: “Is it really that I don’t like to talk about myself, or is it just that I’ve always been discouraged from being boastful?” The program’s Networking Reception then encourages women to practice their newly acquired self-marketing skills with increased confidence in their abilities.

For many clients, NDCC’s programming offers the first opportunity to hear that women do not have to fit into a box, nor do their daughters. Graduates leave our programs with a new way of thinking, behaving, and speaking; assertive, affirming, compassionate language that celebrates differences, emphasizes strengths, and promotes goal achievement. The program replaces stagnation and hopelessness with creative energy and new possibilities for a brighter future. In this way, our program does not focus on raising the employment rate, but instead on the personal empowerment and employment preparations that lead to positive, sustainable change.

Why does it matter?

These internal changes lead to women securing meaningful employment with a greater ability to identify and pursue opportunities for career advancement and higher wages.  As women feel more confident and successfully pursue new career opportunities, many will find themselves in positions of power and influence, such as working in management and leadership roles, volunteering on boards and committees, and providing mentorship and training to others. These opportunities expand their influence to better impact policies and practices in the workplace and beyond while continuing to inspire others with their ideas and behaviors.

As women grow their network of relationships and social capital, they continue to model their shifts in behavior and thinking to those around them. Perhaps greater than any employment opportunity or policy change created, the voices of these evolving women will initiate conversations that influence ideas around gender equality, personal empowerment, and the distribution of wealth, work, and care-giving responsibilities to others in their social circles. By fostering open dialogue, these individual agents of change enhance and support more macro-level changes of the community.

The New Directions program launches a shift in the behavior of our female graduates that magnifies the impact of the program. The graduates who choose to question discrimination and systemic obstacles born out of inaccurate assumptions and restrictive norms serve to educate their children and families, neighbors, employers and colleagues. Through their behavior, these women will actively challenge rigid gender norms and influence changes to policy and behavior in their families, workplaces and communities, leading to more equitable opportunities for all.

Share one outcome that highlights the shift you are working to create.

Graduates develop a deeper and more authentic understanding of themselves and their strengths, which will result in career decisions that align with their families’ needs as well as their own personal values, interests and talents.

We see graduates applying critical thinking and problem solving skills when assessing career options or professional guidance, and when addressing obstacles to gainful employment.

Women more confidently and consistently use effective self-promotion and communication strategies to better demonstrate their value to employers.

Any relevant statistics you can share?

Below are just a few of the improvements reported by graduates of our New Directions program as a result of their participation:

  • 98% improved self-care or self-compassion
  • 95% increased self-esteem and confidence
  • 96% improved self-promotion and assertive communication skills
  • 99% improved ability to address barriers

How has incorporating gender norms into your program and organization changed the way you think about the work you do?

Incorporating gender norms more frequently and overtly in our programming has been a huge excitement for me personally!  I come from an educational background that focused on sociology and women, gender and sexuality studies and fully believe discussions about gender norms have a positive impact on individuals and the community at large. 

Our clients represent a wide spectrum of demographic diversity and require Instructors to take an intersectional approach to our programming with the understanding that women’s lived realities are shaped by intersecting oppressions and social dynamics.  By taking an intersectional approach and applying a gender lens to our programming, we ensure that the experiences of each individual are addressed and affirmed within our group instruction.  Ultimately, incorporating conversations about challenging gender norms and being proactive about inclusivity has made our programming even better!

What more can bringing gender norms into the work do for the community?

Gender norms and implicit bias continue to be driving factors in sustaining gender inequality.  Policies/initiatives focusing solely on gender equity do not address the internal belief systems that impact day-to-day human interaction and behavior.  By having conversations about implicit bias and challenging gender norms, we provide a space for all individuals to question and critically think about themselves and those around them.  Providing people the freedom to explore who they really are instead of who everyone else thinks they should be.

Demonstrate impact now vs. 3 to 5 years from now- where do you see this program going?

We are excited to announce NDCC held our first ever off-site program at a satellite location.  We recognize many women living outside the heart of the city have a difficult time traveling Downtown for programming and hope to grow our off-site program offerings to better reach women in various locations.   

What more would you want from the community?

Spread the word!  New Directions has been around since 1980 yet we are consistently told we are “the best kept secret in town.”  Not to sound ungrateful for the compliment, but we don’t want to be a secret! J  Although we receive referrals from various agencies, word of mouth continues to be the main way women hear about our services.  If you know a woman who is feeling stuck, unfulfilled with work and overwhelmed with obstacles, please share information about our services.  We truly are a Center for all women who need the support and guidance to live the life they want and be the women they want to be.  YOU can help spark someone’s momentum by simply sharing that help at NDCC is available!

Another way to support New Directions is by attending events (like our annual fundraiser, Women of Promise) and making donations.  Your donation can provide transportation and childcare assistance, fee waivers, counseling appointments, etc. to women enrolled in programming at the Center.

If you want to get more formally involved, NDCC offers a variety of volunteer opportunities and would love to discuss them with you further.  All you need to do is contact ndcc@newdirectionscc.org and request more information about volunteering.

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