The conservative politicians and pundits who say that unemployed people are lazy and don’t really want to work haven’t met the ladies from Grace Institute. Grace “empowers unemployed and underemployed women in the New York area to achieve economic self-sufficiency” by providing “job-skills training, counseling, placement services, and continuous learning opportunities that lead to upwardly mobile employment.” There are approximately 1,000 inquiries for each 130 places in each class; 75% of the participants graduate; and 80% of the graduates are placed in full-time jobs within one year.
I had the pleasure of volunteering at one of these learning opportunities called a Brag Party. Executive Coach Peggy Klaus led a three-hour workshop on the art of bragging. “Bragging,” she said, “is just being proud of yourself.”
Bragging is something that does not come naturally to many women who’ve been trained by our culture to put the needs of others (kids, spouses, parents, team members) above ourselves and to be modest about our accomplishments. It’s particularly difficult for the women at Grace, many of whom are living on government assistance, are victims of domestic violence, or are recent immigrants.
Grace Institute was founded in 1897 as a free training program for women by W. R. Grace, an immigrant who made his fortune in shipping and was twice elected Mayor of New York City. Sounds a bit like an early Mike Bloomberg. The course offerings have evolved over the years from millinery and stenography to MS Office and interview skills, but the mission remains the same: to help women find work and support themselves financially.
I was at the workshop as a representative of the Women in Cable Telecommunications New York Chapter. In addition to supporting women within our industry, WICT NY is dedicated to helping underprivileged women and students reach their leadership potential. WICT NY sponsored the event and provided a number of volunteers. Many of the other volunteers were from financial services companies which also employ Grace graduates.
My partner for the day, Jessica, arrived in New York from Puerto Rico at age 19 speaking no English. She worked as a line cook and started to move up the ranks in the restaurant business but a back injury made it difficult to be on her feet all day. With a high school-age daughter to support, she turned to Grace for the training she needs to segue into a new career. She is bright, enthusiastic and presents herself very professionally; I have no doubt that she will graduate from the 6-month program and quickly land a job.
We participated in a series of exercises designed to make us more comfortable tooting our own horns and touting our successes. We had to learn that “Brag” isn’t a four-letter word. (Well, it really is a four-letter word, but not THAT kind of four-letter word.) One barrier to bragging is the fear of being a bad bragger: the kind of blowhard who talks incessantly only about herself, exaggerating her achievements and stealing credit from others. Good bragging was defined as talking about your accomplishments and value in a conversational way, weaving a few key points into a story delivered with a sense of urgency, excitement, and delight.
It was a thoroughly fun and fulfilling experience, and I’d venture to guess that I learned as much as Jessica did. Peggy is an amazing presenter and infused the room with the power of positive thinking and expression. Grace Institute gives these women the opportunity to succeed and I was thrilled to play a small role helping them achieve their dreams.