Walking The Walk: Black Women Volunteer to Build Opportunity, Equity for STEAM Students
For the past six months, an extraordinary team of women from UKG have given their time to provide virtual mentoring to a small cohort of girls — STEAM Sistahs, as they’re known—in coordination with Sister to Sister International, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of Black women and girls. The students — mostly high schoolers preparing for college — were invited to join the monthly “Mentoring Circles with UKG” and learn from an impressive roster of successful Black U Krewers.
Organizers from BUILD, one of UKG’s largest and most active employee resource groups (ERG), and volunteers from across UKG committed to making these monthly sessions engaging and impactful for the young ladies. Many of the volunteers had their own stories of growing up or rising through their careers with a mentor to lean on and were excited for the opportunity to give back. Others who had grown up without someone to help them navigate the professional world wished they had access to a program like this and were eager to extend this opportunity to the next generation.
“As a young woman of color in certain environments — the tech industry being one of them — you’re going to find yourself sometimes being "the only one." It can be discouraging not to see others who look like you. But that’s why representation in mentorship matters. We’re showing these girls that they belong and that they can advance in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) or any industry they want,” said Neicey Johnson, who is co-chair of BUILD and a leader in the ERG’s learning and development workstream, and who played a foundational role in organizing the Mentoring Circles in connection with Sister to Sister International’s STEAM Program.
The partnership with Sister to Sister International provides a platform to reach young ladies and help them build confidence and the skills that they will need in their future careers — things like resume building, business etiquette, negotiating, navigating social media, and more.
“Through this program we’re making sure these young ladies have an easier journey getting their careers started and finding a job that they love,” said Lauren Rhodes, community impact lead for BUILD and co-organizer of the program. “One day we’ll turn around and see them leading the way, too. That’s the beauty of mentorship.”
One day we’ll turn around and see them [the students] leading the way, too. That’s the beauty of mentorship.
BUILD Community Impact Lead
Making progress and finding the right rhythm
Reflecting on some of the most impactful moments from the past six months working with the student cohort, Lauren was quick to say the breakout circles are where the magic happens. These small-group interactions allow for more candid conversation, and the girls’ questions guide the discussion.
“Every time one of the young ladies comes up with a new question, we see a spark! We see that they’re engaged, and they want to learn more,” said Lauren. These sparks started flying early and often. Soon, the girls were requesting additional one-on-one mentorship with the UKG volunteers.
“It’s all about finding the right rhythm,” said Neicey. “We go with the flow and lean into topics that are important to the students — like how they present themselves on social media — and that empowers them to speak their minds during our time together and to be themselves.”
Taking this approach early on resulted in more requests from the young ladies to be paired up with a mentor one-on-one outside the group — something U Krewers were more than willing to accommodate.
“The commitment from our volunteers is a testament to the character of UKG employees,” said Lauren. “Being a mentor is a way that all of us can make a difference in our communities and this program is a perfect example of U Krewers walking the walk and putting our values into practice.”
It’s all about finding the right rhythm. We go with the flow and lean into topics that are important to the students ... and that empowers them to speak their minds during our time together and be themselves.
Mentorship is for everyone
Mentorship at any age and in any industry is all about exploring possibilities and opening doors. Whether you engage in a formal mentor-mentee relationship or something much more casual, having these kinds of exchanges where you are learning or lifting someone up are invaluable.
“Mentorship isn’t just for young ladies — it’s for all women!” said Neicey, who references the power of knowing what you bring to the table and having confidence to walk into any room and communicate your worth. Mentorship helps build that confidence. It can also support larger efforts to secure pay equity.
Women can support other women in closing the gender pay gap just by coming together, networking, and leaning on each other for empowerment. Who you surround yourself with professionally can really make an impact on your career.
Mentorship programs, employee resource groups, networking events, and other opportunities to build community are critical to helping employees form essential connections in the workplace. For the UKG volunteers that was another benefit of getting involved in the Mentoring Circles with Sister to Sister International.
“Even though we organized the program to support the young ladies, it brought people with different backgrounds from across UKG together to connect as well. As a group, these women have grown to value one another and I can tell we’re going to stay in touch and keep learning from each other,” said Neicey.
Learn more about the partnership between UKG and Sister to Sister International, Inc., which is rooted in our shared commitment to advancing pay equity. Funding for the Mentor Circle program is part of the UKG Close the Gap Initiative in collaboration with Grantmakers for Girls of Color.