How a Former Skadden Lawyer Founded a Mentorship Program for Girls
If you were to ask Illana Raia what she did for a living back in 1995, she would have proudly told you she was a lawyer at Skadden Arps, a mergers and acquisitions associate to be exact.
And if you were to ask her what she does now, she would just as proudly tell you about Être, a website with a forthcoming book and site expansion that offers mentorship and aims to inspire young girls “to stay true to what they really love right now,” she says, which is to say to keep them interested in STEM, sports and other areas they might easily fall out of because it’s not what their family supports or their friends deem cool.
Raia launched the site in 2016, just two years after she retired from Skadden. But it was at Skadden that she learned how to build a successful website.
In 1998, she took a six-year hiatus from Skadden to be with her son and daughter while they were little. She went back to the firm in 2004 and was commissioned to build a website to track the company’s M&A practice data. “They said, ‘Build what you would have wanted as a young lawyer,’” she says. “What started as a small assignment in 2004 wound up being a 10-year stretch of forming this department called knowledge strategy.”
I think of Être as knowledge strategy for girls.
Raia says knowledge strategy “refers to the collection and leveraging of a law firm’s experience,” which helps to save both time and money. “We wanted internal websites that were rich in resources yet quick and intuitive to use so that lawyers had real-time access to the best research and expertise—think an intellectual nerve center for each practice,” Raia wrote in an email.
Her one website built for mergers and acquisitions ended up spawning over 30 internally used websites across different practice areas throughout 23 global offices. This, she says, gave her the know-how to build Être’s site.
“I think of Être as knowledge strategy for girls,” she says.
Skadden undoubtedly played a part in her current career as founder and CEO of Être, but it was also Raia’s now 21-year-old daughter, Sophia, that inspired its creation.
When Raia realized her then-middle school-aged daughter didn’t really know what she, or many of her friends in successful careers, did for a living, Raia emailed her friends and asked if they’d be interested in participating in a summit at her house for their daughters. Despite the fact that everyone agreed to do it, coordinating their schedules proved too challenging.
Instead, Raia began holding short luncheons with these friends so her daughter could learn what they do and ask questions about how they do it. Now, Raia takes 10 girls at a time to meet female executives working in companies like Spotify, Goldman Sachs and the New York Stock Exchange through Être’s Lunch & Learn program, the next of which will be hosted by Billboard in November.
Through Être, Raia gives girls the confidence to imagine their professional futures from a young age, giving them a space to meet women in power and empowering them to ask questions. She wants young girls to feel confident enough to raise their hand and ask questions. She also stresses the importance of girls becoming financially confident as well as philanthropic from a young age.
Raising awareness at a young age is really important.
“I think people sometimes think that middle school is too young to be impactful when it comes to philanthropy, and I just don’t think it’s true,” she says. “They don’t have to raise all the money for something, but I think raising awareness at a young age is really important.”
Être: Girls, Who Do You Want to Be? Wise Words for World-Changing Girls will be available for purchase on Oct. 11. See etregirls.com to learn more.