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Hetal Jani

WOMEN INSPIRING WOMEN

EPIC Awards 2022 Finalist

"Developing Tomorrow's Leaders"

Founder and Executive Director of SPEAKHIRE. GMBA 2014

As a first-generation Indian American and New York City native, I’ve grown up in diverse, multi-cultural environments, and this set the foundation for my interest in how culture, society, and inter-personal relationships affect an individual’s development. I attended Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Behavioral Neuroscience. This was also when I realized that there is still a lot of work we need to do to make sure people of all backgrounds, especially women from marginalized communities, feel accepted wherever they are. I pursued a career in education to make sure all young people have the confidence and tools to navigate this world, making space for themselves and others behind them, so that we’re truly developing tomorrow’s leaders. To better inform my mission, I completed 3 Masters degrees in a span of 4 years, which include a Master in Applied Behavior Analysis from Queens College of New York, a Master in Education from Harvard University, where I was awarded the distinguished Intellectual Contribution Award, given to the top graduating students in recognition of their accomplishments and role they played in leadership, and an MBA from IE Business School. I worked abroad for 2 years in leadership positions in various academic environments of China, which has given me the insight and passion for developing culturally aware, empathetic, and capable global citizens who can succeed in life. Through my more than 20 years in education, which includes starting two organizations, Studor and Speakhire, both focused on mitigating educational and workforce access gaps, I’ve been lucky to have had a hand in helping so many reach their full potential. Through this work, I’ve been realizing my own full potential, and am honored to have been recognized as a 2019 L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth, a 2020 Points of Light, the 2021 Lehigh University Distinguished Alumni for Public Service, and, now, as a 2022 EPIC finalist for Women Inspiring Women. My life’s work involves developing a person’s unique voice and empowering marginalized communities, and I’ll continue to do my part to inspire more women to take on the future workforce as leaders.

How did IE help you get to where you are today?

Realizing how most spaces, including educational institutions, outside of the spaces I grew up in around NYC do not include diverse perspectives changed the trajectory of my life. So, when I had the opportunity to pursue my MBA at IE, where the members of my cohort would represent so many different countries, where I knew the professors represented different backgrounds and identities, and that our conversations and the blended approach integrating technology would be representative and inclusive of a global perspective, I knew that I would get the experience and education I needed to propel me forward towards doing the work in developing tomorrow’s leaders because I would be learning with today’s global leaders.

How did IE helped you to get where you are today?

Realizing how most spaces, including educational institutions, outside of the spaces I grew up in around NYC do not include diverse perspectives changed the trajectory of my life. So, when I had the opportunity to pursue my MBA at IE, where the members of my cohort would represent so many different countries, where I knew the professors represented different backgrounds and identities, and that our conversations and the blended approach integrating technology would be representative and inclusive of a global perspective, I knew that I would get the experience and education I needed to propel me forward towards doing the work in developing tomorrow’s leaders because I would be learning with today’s global leaders.

How are you impacting the lives of women?

SPEAKHIRE was formed after realizing the additional challenges young women have in staying persistent on the path from school to career. Because societies are still set up to serve the careers of men, I saw many of the young women I was working with struggling to pursue interests that would lead them to future career and life success. I found that many of them were always balancing the interests of a man in their lives, be it as a daughter, a sister, a wife, or a mother — and I was noticing this traumatic balancing act in those as young as 12 years old. Knowing that women could do more if they had the support from others who could understand their experiences and the preparation to pursue and get opportunities that would lead them towards success, then they would feel empowered to make decisions about their own lives. So, I created SPEAKHIRE, where we are ensuring the future workforce includes more women in leadership positions across industries by providing young women of today with critical social capital, the visible representation and connections to people who can be the support for young women, prepare them with the knowledge and skills they’ll need, and empower them to become tomorrow’s leaders.

In you opinion, what institutional or societal changes need to be made to keep women at the frofront of business and society?

Currently, society and the institutions within it are not built for women to be at the forefront of society, and it isn’t surprising if society was purposely created this way. Women at the helm not only lead themselves but also get others to lead, and all of society progresses at a quicker pace. When women lead, more succeed. So, we need to allow more women to step into their leadership. For that, we need to think of the current roles women have, such as caregivers, and how such a great responsibility of caring for those members of our society who cannot care for themselves can be shared by partners, by companies, and by society as a whole. Work-life balance needs to be at the forefront, and understanding that women are often left to choose rather than balance work with their lives. Companies need to integrate caregiving into their spaces, remote work to be a consistent option, and policies to include leave for caregiving. This would benefit all members of society, since we need to rethink who can give care, and stop putting people into traditional gender roles — something that is a learned behavior from a very young age as a result of what we see in terms of representation across different spaces. People in power today must take the lead in changing the narrative of what is possible so that, for today’s young people, women are just leaders, and not female leaders. Know that every decision you make either truly moves the needle forward towards a society that is equitable for all or continues to place an unfair burden on those who, when asked to choose, choose to take care of others. But, when they balance, they take care of everyone.

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