The Century of the African Woman – Women Werk

As a former and longtime educator with the New York City Public Schools, I observed many fallacies with the educational programs for students in the upper high school grades. Now as a journalist and photographer, I do not feel encumbered any longer by work rules to criticize not only my employer, but the entire system of educational preparation for young people in this country.

With this attitude as well as my anger over the battle regarding the charter schools in this city still on my mind, I traveled to the base of Manhattan, home to the “Titans of Wall Street,” to cover an event celebrating International Women’s Day. The organization “Women Werk” held an all-day event entitled “Women Work Forum – The Century of the African Woman”. A gala and an after party were scheduled for the evening.

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Demi Ajayi and Nekpen Osuan founded this group to provide a forum for women to celebrate their successes and to strategize on moving forward and continuing their work in positive ways. They believe that although the world can present major and profound challenges to women, the achievements women have made in this climate must be recognized and celebrated. They also strongly advocate for the next generation of women, thereby making sure that progress is made and that future endeavors are given good chance to succeed.

After a short breakfast to start the networking rolling, participants were directed to one of two sessions: Young Professionals I, designed for women starting their careers and the Youth Forum for women still in high school or university. 

I went into the Youth Forum for a few photos and I ended up remaining for the entire program. This effort was a breath of fresh air to someone as cynical and critical of the way we prepare our young people to take on the world after their completion of high school and university. The women on this panel were all extremely well educated and successful in their respective fields. What made me remain in that room was my observation of the patience and thorough manner in which they offered guidance to these younger students. 

These students sat in respectful attention to these women and were given excellent advice on getting ready to begin a long term career. All of the panelists advised the younger people that having a mentor before leaving high school was imperative and a woman mentor is likely to be more supportive than a male mentor. Multiple mentors for various aspects of a career and professional life were likewise introduced.

Nkechi Obgodo also reminded the audience that it is the role of the professional/employer to provide on-site mentoring so that the culture and style of the organization can be learned. In that manner, barriers and obstacles to success can be overcome by the new employee. She also advised people that having confidence and being talented can cause others to become unsettled and that one should therefore always be mindful of one's peers.

Development of a five year plan was espoused by panelist Lillian Ajayi. Ms. Ajayi strongly believes in a philosophy of constant motivation, staying focused and being committed to one's work in order achieve desired goals. It is through the five year plan that individuals can see exactly where they are on the road to success as well as measure what needs to be completed.

Journalist Arao Ameny advised participants that in a new job, one should seek out the more experienced individuals who understand the organization’s philosophy and culture. These folks can be your advocates as well as mentors. 

She also stated that when completing a task or project, one should share credit with colleagues in the office or in the team as a way to foster goodwill.

As a group the panel was unanimous in advising their young audience to always work hard and position themselves for future opportunities. They also said when these opportunities arrive people should be ready to take them as no one knows how an opportunity can open up a new world for someone.

As the session ended I observed an audience filled with motivated young women talking, networking, exchanging information and business cards while seeking out the panelists for more advice and guidance. 

I left the session energized and I was thinking that with such a forward thinking organization and its directors and the panelists, these young people might just have the tools they need to become successful.

by Robert Bernstein, Events Editor.