In honor of International Women’s Day, we spoke with Niketa Sheth, Executive Director of Womankind.
Etienne Aigner is donating 10% of all proceeds during the month of March 2019 to Womankind. You can get involved, too. If you’re inspired to volunteer yourself, visit iamwomankind.org to learn more.
What brought you to Womankind and how does your past experience help support your current leadership position?
This position is a dream opportunity. It allows me to blend my professional expertise with my personal passion. My commitment to ending violence began through a personal experience in high school. Sadly, my first involvement in a serious relationship led to physical violence and even after a restraining order, I was faced with stalking and harassment. Soon after, I was challenged with the hard work required of me to overcome the fear, shame, and trauma. It was in these moments that I knew that my work must continue in order to support others in need.
I started to immerse myself in various efforts to end teen dating violence, which eventually expanded into all aspects of gender equality. I also spent many years in the nonprofit management field, working on common challenges and gaining experience on mission-driven management.
What is a goal you would like to accomplish as the leader of Womankind?
Womankind has deep expertise in helping survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual violence. Our work in the field has allowed us to fully understand the issues from a survivor’s perspective.
Womankind’s 37 years of experience positions us best to serve as agents of social change in achieving gender equality. I would like our footprint in advocacy to match the experience we bring to the table. With this goal in mind, we seek more opportunities and platforms to allow our survivors’ voices and needs to be truly heard.
Mr. Aigner was a very resilient man, having survived two World Wars, immigrated from Hungary to France and then France to America. We chose Womankind because you support resiliency for so many immigrant survivors from various countries around the world. Can you share more about what resiliency looks like for the survivors you serve?
As an organization, we are very proud that our approach is based on supporting ‘self-empowerment’ rather than the notion of ‘rescuing’ survivors. Empowering survivors to find their own path at their own pace is a key component to healing and resiliency. Our work begins with building trusting relationships. Trust is often broken for survivors, and the opposite of trust is fear. Survivors come to the organization harboring doubt, yet they take a leap of faith and establish trust with Womankind. It’s truly inspiring to witness this – each year, our team of multi-lingual advocates establish trusting relationships with survivors from all different cultural backgrounds. Our work allows survivors to restore trust not only with us, but also to receive support from their own community. This cycle leads to self-empowerment and resiliency.
As a mother of two, how do you find work and life balance and do you have any advice for other mothers?
I recently returned from maternity leave so I have a lot to learn about the art of juggling a career and motherhood. In my experience, each mother finds their own way. By asking the right questions, you realize what is best for you and that’s all that really matters. It helps to set boundaries and check in with yourself regularly. I try to replace feelings of ‘mom guilt’ with ‘self- compassion’. I recognize that planning helps with the caveat that nothing will go as planned-- and when those unexpected moments pop up, I challenge myself to find lightness with a sense of humor.
As the Executive Director, you are often at the office during the day and attending events at night. What is your style preference at work?
For work, I tend to gravitate towards dresses and accessories. I find it helpful to add bold accessories to a simple dress. I usually layer on a blazer from my day to evening events. Versatile heels and wedges are great when you have a day of meetings across different locations.