TorchTalks: Women in the Workplace

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Amanda B. Rosenblum serves as the Girls’ Education Senior Manager, Programs and Partnerships, for Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN), where she has worked for the last four years. YWLN, a network of all-girls public 6th-12th grade schools, is going into its twentieth year.

My Work at YWLN
Last summer, I found myself getting paid to watch middle school girls do incredible things they’d never tried before. In my role as the Director of Explorers, an experiential learning summer program, I made it possible for students to learn how to do improv comedy sketches, code animation and video, wade in the water in Hallet’s Cove to research aquatic ecosystems, and perform poetry at the Gramercy Theatre… all while I waited on the sidelines and supervised. Our girls were doing what we teach them to do at Young Women’s Leadership Network: try new things and get outside their comfort zones. (And they were totally kicking butt and taking names!) But for me, I was just relieved to not be participating, staying dry on the beach and safe in mezzanine seats. I realized that many of our best practices in girls’ education would actually benefit me and many women I know in our personal and professional lives. I should practice what I preach! If I want to grow, I too should get outside my comfort zone and learn from new experiences.

At the end of the summer, I strapped on ice skates to hit the rink with those girls, encouraging them to let go of the plexiglass walls they were clinging to and hold my hand as we sped up towards the center. I remember looking back into the stands, legs shaking but heart steady. This was where I belonged; I just didn’t know it until I took the leap.

What else can we adults learn from girls’ education?

1. Creating an Environment of Supported Risk Taking
At YWLN, we teach our girls the meaning of safe and positive risks, as well as how to find support to take those risks. Support can come from an internal resource or an external person. They’re encouraged to explore and take on challenges in order to build their resiliency. As a professional woman, I currently have a very supportive supervisor who recognizes that if I’m not learning, I’m stagnating. If I do hurdle jumping for the first time and don’t knock down any hurdles, she will give me higher hurdles the next time. I’m now looking for those higher hurdles for myself. In my current role, I’ve done many projects for the first time, including evaluating programs and budgeting. I’m still waiting for those budgeting skills to start paying off in my personal life.

2. Expressing your Own Personal Leadership Style
As leadership is in the title of our schools, we’ve really tried to model for students the many different ways there are to be a leader. In my humble opinion, introverts are what makes the world go ’round. We should be amplifying our individual strengths rather than trying to fit into boxes. We teach students to raise their voices, but this isn’t literal. Many students use video, code, poetry, art, and science to share their opinions. It’s not always about finding what you want to say but the vessel in which you’ll say it and who that vessel will be sent to.

3. Leaving an Imprint
In a student’s career at one of our schools, we encourage them to find ways to leave a mark on the culture and ecosystem of the school. I find many students saying, “this change won’t benefit me, as I’ll be in college, but I’m doing it for those who come after.” This tip is particularly important in the hiring process. I’ve always allowed my volunteer work to take up a large part of my resume, as my most important work has been unpaid. Many of my most exciting leadership positions have been ones I’ve found or created for myself, rather than been handed. When I see resumes with leadership in volunteer and activist work, I learn so much about who that woman is. She takes initiative and follows through. She is a problem solver. She cares about the world. She gives herself responsibilities, rather than just taking them from a manager, and she is hugely accountable to herself. I know she will carry those traits into her place of work. She will use the job description as a jumping off point, but will likely use her experience and skills to better the organization in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

If you want to have a greater impact on your organization, consider these questions as a starting point: Who can you take out to lunch at your organization to discuss future collaboration opportunities? How can you use your free time to write a proposal for an interesting project? What work can you take off your supervisor’s plate?

To learn more about my trajectory as a professional in the education and non-profit field, come join my TorchTalk on Women in the Workplace on March 23rd! Through personal anecdotes, successful female professionals will impart their knowledge with NYU students during this dynamic series of short talks. Learn about a variety of different approaches to salary negotiation, navigating male-dominated work cultures, finding mentors, and other relevant topics. Refreshments will be provided! To RSVP, click here. #womensherstorymonth