Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Q&A with Illana Raia




Illana Raia is the author of the new young adult book The Epic Mentor Guide: Insider Advice for Girls Eyeing the Workforce from 180 Boss Women Who Know. She also has written Être: Girls, Who Do You Want to Be?. She is the founder and CEO of the mentorship platform Être.


Q: What inspired you to create The Epic Mentor Guide?


A: From the time I launched Être in 2016, I have been fascinated by the questions girls ask female role models. My constant refrain has been raise your hand instead of lowering your standards, and what I mean by that is ask every question you have.


Être, as our French name suggests, helps girls figure out who they want to be by bringing them into companies they choose to meet female leaders face to face.


When we could no longer pile into boardrooms due to COVID, we pivoted quickly to virtual mentor pop-ups. This allowed us not only to invite girls from across the globe, but to see that no matter where they were located the questions being asked struck startlingly similar chords:


How did you get your very first job?

Were you nervous in the interview?

What skills do you need to be good at your job? Like, really good?

Is this your dream job? No? What would be?


It dawned on me that if girls everywhere are asking the same questions about the work world, why not start collecting their queries and matching them with answers from epic women already there? And that is exactly how The Epic Mentor Guide was born.

Q: How did you choose the women to include in the book?


A: I knew I did not want any repeat quotes from women featured in my first book Être: Girls, Who Do You Want To Be? (2019), so I started with a blank slate.


I made a list of executives we met through our visits, women I interviewed for HuffPost, Thrive, and Ms. magazine, and the women I wish I had interviewed. That was the starting point.

As girls’ questions started to come in – a mix of those asked in corporate visits, virtual mentor pop-ups, and through an online form – I reached out to more women via email, LinkedIn and Insta DMs.


Four weeks into the project I was sending out five messages a day and the response was overwhelming. You cannot believe the chart.


Most of the women said yes immediately. A few who thought a friend might have a better answer graciously introduced me to a new participant. All of them said, Oh my God, I wish I had this when I was starting out. And the questions and answers just kept coming.


Q: Can you say more about how the questions were chosen?


A: What I loved about the questions was how specific they were, and I tried to take every question that touched on a particular company of industry:


How can I get my art seen at PIXAR?

Can you really use TikTok to network?

What’s it like to interview with the International Space Station?


Many, though, had their fingers on the pulse of today’s workforce issues, and I tried to take all of those too:


How can you tell if a company truly values diversity?

When did you know it was time to leave your dream job?

Am I allowed to ask about inclusion in an interview?


Where we received multiple questions about a particular industry (space science, film direction, engineering, professional sports), I collapsed them into a single question and tried to find the right woman to answer.


All in all, I tried hard to incorporate every question submitted in one form or another, and am still bowled over by answers each of the 180 women gave.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I hope readers of all ages take away two main points from this book.


One, every question is valid, and it’s likely someone else is wondering the same thing. So ask. Raise your hand. Never be intimidated by someone’s fame or award-winning status – they have reached that level because they have hard-won wisdom to share.


Who better to ask about first salary negotiations than Lilly Ledbetter? Why not ask Haben Girma about how she graduated Harvard Law School deaf and blind? Embrace your curiosity and ask all the questions.


And two, mentors matter – at any age. Whether you are in high school eyeing internships, a college grad considering first jobs, or an experienced employee casting a wary glance at a post-pandemic pivot, mentors matter.


Every woman in this book gave her favorite social media handle so you can follow her example. I hope readers know that the Table of Mentors at the front of this book might be exactly what they need for their next important steps.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: We have an exciting spring coming up and I cannot wait! Between book events (which I love), a new class of ÊTRE TED-Ed talks (we were licensed last year as a TED-Ed Club) and a potential podcast in the works, Être is keeping me happily busy with projects.


But my favorite part of all of it is connecting girls with a pipeline of mentors, and seeing new girls get involved! Want to film your own TED-Ed talk, meet a mentor or be in our next book (yep, I’m already thinking about that too)? DM me!

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Our community is everything and I love to see it grow! Follow what we’re up to and where we’ll be this spring @etregirls everywhere on social, and feel free to connect with me directly @illanaraia or on LinkedIn. I’d love to hear from you.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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