Attorney Hanishi Ali is giving South Asian women hoping to climb the ladder of professional success a way to get past the first few rungs with her recently launched Network for South Asian American Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals.
The group’s mission is to share knowledge, personal and professional development opportunities, and to empower women executives, professionals and business owners by helping them build connections and grow their businesses and careers. Launched in December, the group holds monthly meetings in Shrewsbury during which a group of about 20 gather to gain insights about topics such as “Women, Wealth and Wisdom: Must Know Basics,” “Self Empowerment and Positive Thinking” and “Planting the Seeds of Your Network.” About 200 members in the New England area are currently registered, Ali said. Membership and meetings are free. A regular online “Member Spotlight” feature on the group’s Web site relies on member’s professional strengths in order to offer advice on matters such as balancing family, career responsibilities and health advice.
Members represent a cross-section of demographics, according to Ali from entry-level professionals to mid-level managers and senior executives in fields such as accounting, information technology, academia, health care and engineering mingle with mid-level managers and beyond.
Ali saw the need to start the group due to a “lack of a group that had dedicated programming for professional women that would provide connections and resources … and critical skills, socially,” she said. “I felt there was a need to provide resources to South Asian women to provide leadership skills ... and to give back to the younger generations of South Asian women.”
Though there are other South Asian professional organizations in the region such as The Indus Entrepreneurs and the Network for South Asian Professionals, Ali’s aim is to have a group with the sole focus of combating the unique challenges facing women in business, a way for them to navigate the “unwritten rules” of getting ahead, she said.
“I think it’s hard for women, period,” said Ali.
For instance, many women pay what Ali calls the “mommy penalty,” which is the tendency for managers to pass women over for career advancement because of the view that women who take time off to raise their young children, are ambivalent about their careers, said Ali. Management also has the tendency of seeing a poor return on its investment in training businesswomen if the women are long absent from work while raising a family, she added.
Women face another challenge in Ali’s estimation: Women, especially South Asian women, tend to call attention to their achievements at work less often than their male counterparts do. “You may be very good at what you do and hope you get noticed,” said Ali.
Identifying mentors and fostering relationship building are key considerations in building a community around an increasing South Asian population in New England, which will only serve to help the demographic pick up steam professionally, according to Ali.
“As the workforce of South Asian women in the New England area grows it is critical to build a community and a collective,” she said, noting that women’s ability to form strong bonds among themselves often is the precursor for building similarly strong professional associations.
Ali credits her career success to being “used to standing out” as the only South Asian woman getting a law degree from the University of Edinburgh.
Hopkinton resident and Mumbai native Ali, came to the United States in the 1980s. She earned dual bachelor’s degrees in journalism and economics management from Ohio Wesleyan University, before earning a bachelor’s degree and post-graduate law degree from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Ali has 14 years of law experience, starting with her first jobs, working at United Kingdom law firms Steedman Ramage WS and Brodies LLP. She also worked in house at Lexis-Nexis in Boston and taught taxation and social security law to students at the University of Edinburgh. Ali represented the International Commission of Jurists at the United Nations in Geneva. Ali founded and is managing partner of Westborough-based Mithras Law Group — which focuses on personal, family and corporate immigration — in 2007. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Law Society of Scotland, the Law Society of England and Wales, and the International Bar Association.
For more information about the Network for South Asian Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals, including event updates, visit www.netsaw.com.