Leading Voices: A Conversation with Illana Raia on Mentorship
On this month’s episode of Worth’s Leading Voices series, Laura Gerson, the director of Women and Worth, interviewed Illana Raia, the founder of Être—a fast growing mentorship program for girls. Previously, Raia worked as a corporate attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, served on the National Girls Collaborative Champions Board, and is a member of the International Space Station National Lab’s Education Subcommittee. With this impressive resume behind her, Raia now devotes herself to the Être girls full-time (when she isn’t writing books). But, in order to understand what Être is all about, it’s necessary to learn how it came to be.
When her daughter was in middle school, Raia realized something. Her own daughter didn’t even know what she did. She soon noticed that her daughter’s friends also didn’t know what their own highly accomplished mothers did. This struck Raia as a missed opportunity. Why shouldn’t her daughter, and her friends, be exposed to the careers they might one day occupy? This led to the start of Être. Raia began calling in favors and asking friends if she could bring her daughter to see what they did for 15 minutes, just so she could be exposed to that profession. Soon, Raia wanted to open up these opportunities to other girls as well. She noted that she wanted to expose young girls to all kinds of professions, and not have them limited to just one.
Today, Être makes it their priority to learn which companies their girls are most interested in, and brings them to those companies to talk to women executives about their experience.
Getting an inside look at companies like Google, TikTok, NASDAQ, and so many others, and seeing women in high-level roles, demonstrates that they could one day fill those roles themselves.
When Gerson asked, “how do girls find out about Être and get involved?” The answer was unsurprising given the demographic. It’s primarily social media. Raia noted that they get a lot of DMs from girls asking for help forming connections or getting an inside look at a certain company they find interesting, but you can also sign up via their website. Raia finds that social media is an incredibly powerful tool. In a national survey she conducted, she found that 78 percent of girls would follow people they thought could be potential mentors. Raia believes that this could be because on “social media…you don’t have to be face to face if you’re not ready for that. You can DM a question and see what comes back.” She went on to encourage the attendees to “DM an organization and ask ‘how can I get involved?’ ‘Could I volunteer?’ It’s a baby step towards actually planting yourself in someone’s office and saying, ‘I have a question.’”
However, none of this would’ve been possible without the plethora of high-level women taking the time out of their day to talk to these young girls.
“Women are unfailingly generous with their time and their connections. They may say I’m not the right person for this, but I know exactly who is, hang on, let me connect you. We’ve yet to have a company say no. I have yet to have a school say we won’t excuse a girl for the day to go do this” Raia said.
While these meetings open young girls to new experiences and potential interests, it also gives them comfort to hear that the powerful and successful woman standing in front of them was also afraid to raise her hand in math and to just hear her say “I felt exactly the same way.”
Along with starting Être, Raia has also published two books, Girls, Who Do You Want To Be? and more recently, The Epic Mentor Guide. Both of these books focus on the importance of girls finding and connecting with mentors. For Raia, mentors are “people who refuse to limit you or put you in a box.” The people, who, in essence, don’t care about your age, or where you’re from, only about what you can do. Mentors are people who dedicate their time to challenging you.
While these two books were written for an audience of young girls, Gerson feels that “so many of us even further in our career can benefit from the words of wisdom that are collected here and from the work that you’re doing.”
Through Être, Raia has already done so much for young girls and they continue to expand and globalize to other countries like India, South Korea, Turkey, and Canada, helping more and more girls find mentors. Still, this is just the beginning of the wonderful things Etre will do for girls worldwide.