The program that gave South-Asian women in media a place to connect
Twelve years ago, co-founders of Didihood, Arti Patel and Nikki Gill met at a Ryerson frosh event. Being they were two young South Asian women who were about to start their first year at the Ryerson School of Journalism (RSJ), it wasn’t long until they began Journalism School (J-School) where they realized how important the “Didihood” was when it came to women of colour working in media.
Didihood is a play on words of the word “Sisterhood” with “Didi” meaning sister or elder sister mostly used in Hindi and Punjabi.
“They told us in first-year journalism at Ryerson that “these people may be your friends now but you’re going to be competing against each other for the same jobs,” said Gill.
Gill explained that as jarring as that was to hear in her first year, she had actually experienced the complete opposite while studying journalism and then later working in the industry. Amongst her group of friends including Patel and co-founder, Roohi Sahajpal, they never felt like they had to compete against each other. Gill mentioned how her and Patel work in the same space within journalism and never once felt competitive towards each other.
After a couple years of attending Ryerson, Patel met Sahajpal, an RSJ student from Vancouver, who was just a year below her and Gill. Patel and Sahajpal had bonded over a Joe Budden concert they both attended and continued to keep in touch over social media. Nikki and Roohi had been introduced by Arti after graduating, once the three of them got together, Patel said “it was just the perfect mix,”.
According to the co-founders, the three of them all had the same goal in mind; bringing South Asian women in media together. When they decided to start Didihood, it was a matter of understanding what was needed in their community. Patel spoke about the kind of challenge it was to figure out what they wanted Didihood to be, considering the type of media that was available to them at the time, was very limited.
“We always talked about creating something, like some type of content. I don’t know if it was our young drive or it was just that we were fresh grads and we had big ideas, but we really wanted to create some sort of content for South-Asian Women,” said Patel
“A lot of us were the first people in our families who were pursuing creative endeavours or pursuing a career in journalism and we didn’t really have anybody we could ask questions to, or know how to get support,” said Sahajpal.
Two years ago, Patel had attended a workshop about women entrepreneurs and learned about being passionate about your career and starting a side hustle.
“I just found it super insightful and inspiring and I literally went home that day and messaged these guys [Gill and Sahajpal] saying, “We’re going to do something now!”,” said Patel.
When the three of them were trying to figure out where to start, they reached out to Talya Macedo, a creative strategist and public relations practitioner who was also Patel’s mentor. She suggested to meet with their demographic beforehand, listen to what their needs were and find an end goal.
Patel said they [Patel and Gill] had sent out a tweet saying they were planning a meet-up for any brown women in media, received a great response from many South Asian women and from there it began.
According to Gill and Patel, the turnout was very successful. Patel said it was two hours of women sharing their thoughts, experiences in working in the industry as South Asian women.
“We realized that not only did people want mentorship and networking, but they wanted to build a community,” said Patel.
“It was the first time I had ever seen this many South Asian women in a room together like this.”
Sahajpal, who runs Didihood Vancouver added, “We had realized that if we had something like this while we were in journalism school, maybe our experiences would have been different.
According to Arti, the mentors had a lot of wisdom to offer but they were also not being sought out to be mentors. She explained how mentorship programs are often very structured and aren’t always accessible to all women. Having a program that was specific to South Asian women opened that door for them to voice their thoughts and concerns that non-minority groups may have never experienced.
“When you are South Asian, there’s a lot of layers and additional factors around your career,” said Patel. According to the co-founders, Didihood is that place to connect with people alike because One of those layers included how often women expressed pressure and difficulty in explaining their career to their parents.
A lot of times you’re just pressured to do the top three: Engineer, Lawyer, Doctor. So to see so many South Asian women doing these careers in the arts, that’s just awesome!,” Said Didihood mentee, Dhriti Gupta.
Didihood made its official launch in Toronto back in April of 2018 and later, the Vancouver Launch in August of 2018.
“We had about 200 people in that room who had showed up and it was either through invite or free tickets for people who wanted to come,” said Gill.
She also mentioned how different the response was at the Vancouver launch compared to Toronto and how it was a much more emotional experience in Vancouver because this was the first time these young women had ever had an opportunity to connect like this.
Sahajpal also mentioned a time where a woman had come up to her and thanked her for creating an atmosphere such as Didihood, due to her previous experience with meet-ups with other South Asian women, where it felt very “clique-y”.
Since their launch, Didihood has continued to organize many more events such as a freelance workshop for journalists at Ryerson University; a partnership with Twitter Canada where they did a panel discussion on the representation of South Asian Women in film, arts, journalism and more; a screening of the 2019 Hindi coming of age film called “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Lagha” in both Toronto and Vancouver and local drinks night with the Didis in Toronto this past August.
“Every time we get to a point where we feel like there’s too much going on and we think, “do we have time to plan an event?” Arti is the first one to say, “we can’t lose the momentum!”, said Gill.
When the co-founders were in the process of developing the mentorship, they had taken the time to spread the word during any events in order to encourage people to sign up to become either mentors or mentees.
By using a google form with a small questionnaire, the three co-founders were able to match each mentor and mentee based on location, career path and goals.
Once they had launched the mentorship program this past September, Nikki explained the four-month program saying, there are three pillars: Goal setting; resume and cover building; and networking. Goal setting was meant for the mentee to determine what they wanted from their mentor. Resume and Cover letter building was created to improve the mentee’s resume writing skills and learn about different job opportunities from their mentor. Networking is going to introduce the mentees to people in their respective career path and hopefully give them a head start.
The Future of Didihood
Although Didihood had only started a couple years ago, it was no doubt that the three of them had big dreams for the future of this program.
When asked about the future of Didihood and where they would like to see it going in the next ten years, Sahajpal said, “we definitely want to keep this mentorship program going, we want to do more events and make our events as acceptable as possible to all self-identifying South-Asian Women. We also want to grow across Canada more.”
Gill said how her favourite example would be to have mini Didihoods across every major University Campus across the country.
Patel also added how much she would love to have a large conference for Didihood that is very industry fed with networking, music and food, like 5X fest in Vancouver.
With the mentorship already in motion, the focus of Didihood is quite clear and according to the Co-Founders, the momentum isn’t stopping anytime soon.
As Gill said, “As long as you had the passion, that’s what keeps you going. And that passion doesn’t diminish because we keep seeing the fruits of our labour, we keep seeing the impact that we’re having and the spaces we’re helping create… so there’s no part of us that wants to stop.”