A key part of TalentNomics India’s CruciBOLD program is giving forward, what we call CruciBOLD Ripple. The program is conducted in partnership with the Professional Language School run by VFF-RDT in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh. In this module, high potential women leaders get to mentor a young professional from the RDT school.
We spoke to Ripple participant Nikita Singla, the first volunteer of TalentNomics India since its inception and now Associate Director at BRIEF (Bureau of Research on Industry and Economic Fundamentals), about her experiences of mentoring as part of the program.
How was your experience of visiting the RDT Professional Language School and meeting the girls there?
It was February 2018 when I first visited the RDT campus in Anantapur and was completely blown away!
I saw young girls with massive energy and passion – some narrating their day in German, some telling me about themselves in Spanish, some expressing their dreams and desires in French, and others dedicatedly working on their English and Microsoft Word. These were girls from underprivileged backgrounds, who had completed their graduation, most of them engineers, in Telugu or Kannada mediums.
“Je voudrais travailler à Paris” (I would like to work in Paris) – is the one thing that the sixteen girls in the French class said one after the other. French is the only foreign language I speak, so I got into a conversation with them. I was amazed to see how fluent all these girls were.
Knowing that the whole program at RDT was designed in a way to impart soft skills and make the students more employable, I had gone to Anantapur on behalf of TalentNomics India to launch our ’12 for Life’ mentorship program’ – where we believed that while VFF Global Programs have empowered 3.6 million people in 3,589 villages in India, it was our chance next. With women professionals already in our network as part of TalentNomics’ flagship program CruciBOLD, we thought we could also get them on board as mentors to help us expand the pipeline of women talent in the corporate sector, while enhancing their own potential to be leaders of tomorrow.
I was amazed to meet all the young, bright girls with so much energy and passion. All of them had big dreams of living and working in Paris and Berlin and Barcelona! It was such a moving experience to see how passionate these girls were to make something out of their lives, that too without having any role models to follow.
It was clear that these girls definitely had potential and all they needed was a helping hand towards further honing their soft skills, learning the means of accessing opportunities, networking and acquiring job search skills.
I was about to leave the school that a bright girl from Spanish language class came running, asking if she could get a picture together and for my Whatsapp number. She spoke with such confidence and passion; I knew I had found my mentee. And the journey began!
Tell us a little about your mentee
My mentee Kavitha Chakali, a native Telugu speaker is now a smart young woman certified in Spanish. She did her MBA from Gates Institute of Technology Gooty and B.Com from Little Flower Degree College Anantapur.
Kavitha comes from a family struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. Her father irons clothes to keep the family intact.
First time I met her, not only did she come running behind me to get my contact details, but something about her already told me that she had it in her.
Later, once we started discussing opportunities, and I asked her where she would like to work after completing her course, she told me “I want to get into Accenture!”
I was taken by surprise! I was expecting that she would first discuss with me what kind of opportunities she could find, whether as a translator or in a BPO or a call centre.
Confidence is what defines her, I would say.
What did your mentoring process involve and how did you build up the relationship?
The professional mentoring program between TalentNomics India and RDT was commitment of one hour of the mentor’s time every month over the course of 1 year, to help a young, educated, under-privileged girl enter the corporate world – still a dream for so many under-privileged children across India.
We started with that, and later our calls were much more frequent and at odd hours (I was based in the US that entire year but our commitment to each other beat the time difference). It was about identifying the next right opportunity, writing a successful CV, preparing for interviews, honing oral communication skills, managing gendered expectations, bridging the confidence gap and dealing with setbacks and failures, easing the transition from rural to urban India, etc. etc.
Very often, I gave her HR topics that we would discuss over a call, e.g. Tell me something about yourself, or Why do you want to get into our company, or What made you go to RDT? etc. I also made her record her answers in the form of short videos and send me those recordings. The video topics ranged from interview specific questions, to broader topics like the role of education for girls in India or gender issues in India or the role of public infrastructure in India. I would then give comments on her expression, body language, hand movement etc – on how to make changes to show more confidence when talking to people or giving interviews.
I also told her about my mantra in life, which is that “you don’t have to be a perfectionist- it’s about giving your best”. Even though she wasn’t fluent in English, she could just acknowledge that it is a new skillset that will take time to master, and what is important is to keep going and stay at it and keep giving your best.
In what ways did your mentee benefit from her relationship with you?
Firstly, she made it to Accenture 😊
But I give all the credit to her hard work and dedication.
When she applied for a position at Accenture, she didn’t hear back from them in the initial round. So, I decided to write a cold-call email to the HR myself, telling them that I had mentored her for last 6-months and could vouch for her potential – making a convincing case that she be given an interview chance at the least. After a few hours, Kavitha got an interview call from the HR, she went for the interview and nailed it. She has been at Accenture for more than a year now.
In our feedback conversations, she did mention how recording videos helped her get over her own resistance and hesitation. It helped her open up to the point where she felt it didn’t matter anymore whether it’s the camera or people in front of her – she could just say what she wanted!
Also, we had met in person before we launched an official mentoring relationship. So we had a very strong emotional connect and that helped keep the relationship and commitment intact.
Did you benefit in any way from being a mentor?
I am, in fact, very grateful for the 6-months of formal relationship I got to have with my mentee! And we still keep in touch.
I realised that mentoring is a two-way relationship. Though the traditional wisdom went from me to her in terms of CV writing or interview preparation, there were so many lessons I learnt from her – how to not give up, to see failures in the face and say I will give it another try, not be too realistic in your dreams in terms of where you are in your life’s journey – if you have the will and the grit, you can make it happen!
The other fact I understood is that one is never too young to be a mentor. I have a few mentors who have been an incredible support system for me, but I never thought I was ready to take a mentee myself. However, when TalentNomics encouraged me and gave me an opportunity, it became clear to me that one is never too young to mentor and give forward what one knows. Sometimes we women hesitate to mentor even if we have 30 years of experience thinking we may not ready. It is just about starting up and deciding to contribute to help others grow.
As we say at TalentNomics – Building a leader also helps in becoming a leader!
Shravani is the Founder of elleNomics, a digital platform aggregating resources for enabling women to advance and thrive. She is an Economist with more than 12 years’ experience in policy research with organisations like ICRIER and World Bank.