In 2020 I moved from the US to Canada to become the Founding Executive Director of the Toronto Workforce Funder Collaborative. I knew coming into the job that in spite of all the content knowledge I had, I would be facing a steep learning curve. 

But somewhere, I was also confident that I would succeed in this role. This sense of confidence started wavering within two to three months on the job. I soon started regretting my decision to move across the border for this role. 

This regret was mostly driven by the feedback I received on the job. I was often told that I did not demonstrate leadership skills. I was repeatedly asked to prove my decisions. Imposter syndrome, lack of confidence, nervousness, and second-guessing myself became my new reality.

Surabhi's Story

It was recommended to me that I get a Coach who could help me navigate the situation at work. As I started my Coach hunt, I was clear that I wanted to work with a racialized woman who could possibly relate to the experiences I was having at work. I didn't think a White woman would be able to understand my realities and experiences. I spoke with seven Coaches and was disappointed in the majority of them. Racialized women coaches were especially discouraging. One of them said I spoke too much, the other kept looking at her watch, and one decided I needed nutrition coaching instead of Executive coaching! I narrowed down my Coach selection to two White women coaches and kept wondering if I was making the right decision.

I ended up choosing Saralyn Hodgkin because she acted as an ally and a Coach right from our fit call. She acknowledged that we had different life experiences - some she could relate to and others she could not - and offered to meet me where I was in my journey. She didn't pass judgment.

Fast-forward almost 10 months and Saralyn recommended I apply for a Fellowship focused on systems change in the social impact sector. In October 2021, during the first in-person session of the Fellowship, I was surprised to hear how many White women wanted to be an ally to Racialized women but didn't know how. They wanted to support without offending. At the same time, I heard from Racialized women how they felt White women were gatekeepers to their upward mobility in the workplace.

The solution finder in me decided to do some desk research to find resources I could share with these women on how to be an ally. I could not find anything. None of the programs that offered women's leadership programs focused on allyship and understanding the value of our different lived experiences.

Intrigued, disappointed, angry, and with a plethora of other emotions, I asked Saralyn to partner with me so we could create an allyship-focused program that would bring White and Racialized women together. Saralyn agreed immediately and then very quickly said no. She wasn't sure this was her place and did not want to step on my toes. She did not want to take credit for something I wanted to create and lead. But, I knew I could not do this without her. I needed her to demonstrate allyship. She had been my constant support for over a year and pushed me to work on my inner strengths and bring them forth. I needed others to see how allyship could be transformative. We decided we could both give this a thought over the Holidays in 2021 and reconvene in 2022.

In February 2022, after a lot of conversation, brainstorming, and yes/no sessions, we decided to give this allyship program a chance. We called it Women In Power and wrote up a brief description of the program. We then shared it with a bunch of women to gather their feedback and initial reactions, and essentially test if a program like this would be of interest. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from everyone. A few funders approached us with an interest in funding our project. What seemed like a pipe dream was suddenly a reality.

I am so excited to be able to launch a women's leadership allyship practice that will use story-telling as a medium to bring lived experiences of White and Racialized women to address issues of patriarchy, race, and gender in the workplace.