A Dream in Action
“I came only with one suitcase, my son and my dream…[of] building a new family.”
Like so many immigrant women, Yadira came to the United States chasing a dream. She left behind her friends and family in Mexico, moving with her son to a city where she knew no one, to start a family with her new husband. “I bet on a new life.”
That dream changed when her marriage turned abusive. “Things were not what I expected,” Yadira says. “It was a hard time, when you are here, dealing with not having anybody from your family.”
“The hardest part for me was to know that I wasn’t independent,” Yadira says. “I realized that part was very important. Not [being] financially independent hurts women the most.”
Her immigration status limited Yadira’s ability to work. Financial dependence can make it especially hard for immigrant women to leave abusive partners they depend on for financial support and a visa.
Reporting the abuse was Yadira’s first step. As a survivor of domestic violence, Yadira applied and was approved for a visa under the Violence Against Women Act.
Ending her marriage meant regaining her financial independence. But it also meant entering the workforce in a new country.
“Even though you know you are in the US, the land of opportunities… it’s not that easy,” she says. “You don’t open your door and the opportunities are there.”
After time out of the workforce, Yadira struggled to build a career comparable to the one she had left in Mexico. Despite a college degree and years of experience as a sales consultant and business development manager for major cosmetics companies, Yadira found herself stuck in a cycle of temporary and freelance work, with no insurance, no retirement savings and little opportunity for advancement.
“Living with no benefits, [you are] always scared of losing everything,” says Yadira. “It’s something that is in the back of your mind constantly. It drains you.” Tired of the instability, Yadira jumped at the opportunity when a friend from Colombia referred her to Chicago Foundation for Women grantee Upwardly Global.The Eleanor Network has helped women increase their pay an average of $20k. #TakeActionwithCFW Click To Tweet
Upwardly Global eliminates employment barriers for skilled immigrants and refugees, helping highly-educated and skilled, but under- or unemployed immigrants and refugees achieve employment opportunities and financial security. Through its Job Seekers Program, Upwardly Global offers career preparedness and acculturating training, which includes creating a resume and practice interviewing.
“The resume, it’s a very different thing,” in the United States, says Yadira. “In Mexico, you put your picture –here, you don’t put your picture on your resume. When you are making your resume [differently than] the American way, you won’t get any interviews.”
Upwardly Global’s Women’s Program, funded by Chicago Foundation for Women, addresses the specific challenges immigrant and refugee women may face in the workforce, ensuring women receive information about sexual harassment and their rights as employees, domestic violence, and have access to low-cost childcare.
Upwardly Global is a member of The Eleanor Network at CFW, an alliance of agencies working to address the economic security of women and girls in the Chicago region. Over the past year, Eleanor Network members have worked with 422 women, many of them single mothers, to increase their average salary from $12,000 to $32,000 per year.
Through its partnerships with companies that include Wells Fargo, BMO Harris, United, LinkedIn, Accenture, and Career Builder, last year Upwardly Global assisted 38 women in securing jobs with an average full-time salary of $36K. Combined, these women earned nearly one million dollars in just their first year on the job.
“Upwardly Global helped me to go through all of these processes and not only to give me tools [and] the knowledge, but also with emotional support,” says Yadira. With Upwardly Global, you “know that you’re not alone…you see other immigrants like yourself.”
“After taking my training and all of the support from Upwardly Global, I felt more confident to apply for professional jobs according to my skills. I had a different world of opportunities.”
A fellow Upwardly Global alumnae referred Yadira to Nielsen, the television rating company, and she was immediately impressed. “Nielsen knows that when they hire people from different parts of the world, they will have better results.”
Yadira is now a membership representative with Nielsen, recruiting Hispanic and Latino families to participate in the Nielsen TV ratings. “I have such a cool job. I get to talk daily with different people, different backgrounds, [and] different stories.”
The job has had an immediate impact on her sense of economic security. “I feel better; I feel secure. And I feel that I can make plans,” she says. “I feel that I can provide for me and for my son. This is real life. This is a real professional life.”