Interview with Diana Wilson – Yaaw (Yielding Accomplished African Women)

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Diana Wilson is the founder of Yielding Accomplished African Women (YAAW) a non-profit organization that seeks to help African women develop a gender specific professional toolkit to succeed in business and technology related career fields. Yielding Accomplished African Women (YAAW) serves as a valuable cross-cultural experience and research opportunity for Diana. Particularly one that will add value to the dialogue on the socialization of young women in African communities in regards to social mobility in business and technology related career fields.

Diana is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia with a full scholarship from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, and over a hundred thousand dollars in other scholarships from various organizations. She was hand-picked, among the 2014 class nationwide, to receive the Bill & Melinda Gates Millennium Scholar Award, the Ronald McDonald Charities Scholarship Top Regional Winner, the Ben Carson Scholarship Award, the Forbes 30 Under 30 Scholar Award, Davis Projects for Peace, and the Coca Cola Scholarship.

During College, Diana was a consistent volunteer with A Day In the Life program where she mentors and tutors various underprivileged students at Buford Middle School But beyond her leadership and community service Diana has won the McKinsey Women’s Impact Award, Davis Projects for Peace, Office of African American Affairs award for outstanding grade point average, a Dean’s List recipient, and an Echol’s Scholar. Due to Diana’s passion for understanding the global sphere, she has traveled to 11 countries within 4 different continents on a full scholarship. She has studied global commerce in Brazil, South Africa, Eurozone, and Britain. Diana is also the co-founder and Outreach Chair for Gospel Outreach for All.

She has completed prestigious programs with PricewaterhouseCoopers, McKinsey, Google and JP Morgan Chase & Co. Through these internships, Diana has been able to hone her ability to complete in-depth analysis, keep an innovative spirit, create strategic initiatives and have a high-level “big picture” approach for tackling issues.

Lastly, she has never forgotten about the importance of lifting as she climbs. Diana won the McKinsey Woman’s Social Impact Award for her work with college students in Ghana regarding their civic engagement. Moreover, with all the racial tension and chaos surrounding her school’s campus in Charlottesville, Diana has worked on the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers project.

  • Tell us a bit about yourself

Hi I am Diana Wilson, I recently graduated from the university of Virginia with a dual degree in sociology and women gender sexuality studies and though I was a Liberal Arts Major, I worked in finance and banking all throughout college. So I worked with PWC, Mckinsey & Company and JP Morgan Chase and Company and I’ll be going to Google fulltime as a marketing strategist.

  • What was growing up like?

Growing up for me was interesting. I have a very large, loud, fun family. I was raised by my mom only and I have two other siblings and I’m the youngest. So I’d say I had the best of everything within the family because my sister and brother usually were the first to try something out and then I’ll get whatever is best after that. We were very competitive so we all worked very hard in school to kind of beat each other and I think that is where my initial academic drive came from thus the rivalry from my siblings and me.

  • How did you get started with YAAW?

I started yielding Accomplished African Women organization after coming on a study abroad trip to Ghana in December 2016 to January 2017. We went to different companies to visit and learn about how business works in Ghana and I was very shocked to see the lack of women representation at all these top firms that we went to, both international and local. I realized that this is something that isn’t really idiosyncratic to Ghana but this is something that is a global phenomenon. So when I got home, I felt it upon my spirit that there’s more I can do about it and I got together with a few friends and family and by September 2017 we came out with YAAW.

  • Any awesome projects you’re currently working on, you’d like to share?

So the way YAAW is structured is that, it’s a 12 month fully sponsored program. We spilt it between 3 main programs, the 7 week intensive boot camp, the 9 month online training and then the 2 month internship. Currently we are putting our students through the 9 month online training via code avengers and Wall Street Prep and also have provided them each with a mentor in the financial or technology field to be able to accelerate their growth process within these next 9 months.

  • How do these young women benefit from the YAAW outfit?

They benefit a lot, the first is technical training. We want to make sure that we provide them with a professional tool kit that will allow them to really go to any company and be able to show their value preposition and be first class elite contenders for jobs in the highly skilled labor market. Secondly, women’s empowerment; so we had a full week of women like Ethel Coffie, Regina Agyare, Golda Addo coming to speak to them to give understandings of what it means to be a successful Ghanaian woman, what does it look like, what trials they have been through, how they can persevere past the trials. And so we wanted to not only equip them with quantitative skills but qualitative skills. Lastly I think it just gives them hope that they too can be successful, it gives them hope that they can graduate college and get a job and make sure they can economically sustain themselves and also their families. Those are the three main things that women benefit from our program.

  • Where do you get funding for your projects?

Funding from our projects comes from foundations, universities in the US, specifically University of Virginia and Cornell University and our corporate partners. So we have corporate partners on both the finance and technology track that provide us funding.

  • Are the women trained mainly in technology?

No! For the finance track they are trained on the fundamental principles of finance; things like learning about the capital markets, learning about the difference between a stock and a bond and then they are also trained on Excel, extensive income statement modelling, pivot tables etc. And lastly they are trained on problem solving through case studies. Then for the technology track, what we did with them was PHP and Python, they were able to create a blog, all of them created a mobile app and a website for their final project on a specific company they want to start. We try to teach them entrepreneurial skills as well. 

  • Would you ever consider including men on your platform? 

Errm Yes. I think one day when I feel we have impacted enough women and we have seen enough women go into the high skilled labor market. When I feel that we are actually making headway towards decreasing the gender gap in the high skilled labor market, then I’ll put more of my resources into men and women but until then, it’s all women.

  • I asked because there’s a lot your platform is offering to women in terms of training and don’t you think the same resources will be helpful to men out here as well?

I get that but the thing is that there’s structural and social issues that affect women that don’t necessarily affect men. Even in my time here in Ghana, I usually brought a man with me to important meetings, why? Because they don’t necessarily take me seriously as a woman and a young woman at that. We have to be able to give a little extra to the people who are affected more but that’s not to say that men still don’t need this training.

  • What is one personal trait that has helped you become successful with YAAW?

I think its Grit. My mum raised 3 kids by herself, went to nursing school by herself and really has been able to sustain my siblings and me together with other family members and she persisted. In everything, she continued on and worked very hard. My first example of what a woman should be, was a powerful woman who can work all night, come home and make us breakfast, take us to school and do it all over again. Make sure we have our homework done and so that passion and grit was instilled in me and I think that’s what has taken me along this journey.

  • What business-related book has inspired you the most?

I don’t really read business books, I read more of I’d say liberal arts books. The book I read most recently is Trevor Noah’s book (Born a Crime) about growing up in South Africa.

  • Are you a feminist?

Yes! Definitely! I’m definitely a feminist. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t be.

  • What is the best advice you’ve ever received from a mentor?

Always watch your back and your front. And that’s because when you are doing well, when you are trying to do something to impact other people, there may be people who don’t necessarily want to see you win. There are just a lot of haters in this world right, and so you always have to make sure that everything that you do is ethical. Thus you always have to make sure that you present yourself and your reputation well so very few people can speak badly upon it.

  • Have you had any form of training in Communications or PR? You speak really well.

Thank you. Hmm! no, but I was in a lot of leadership positions where I had to do a lot of speeches and I went to a lot of public speaking courses and trainings and so I think that’s where I learned how to really effectively speak and both my siblings are phenomenal speech writers and I also dabble with spoken word and that helps with presenting myself.

  • What’s the future for YAAW and Diana Wilson?

The future is very bright. I’m very excited. We’ve already had 50 percent of our students get internships before 25 percent of our program was done. We’ve had all of them receive externship experiences at various firms in Ghana and so I’m very hopeful for what the next 9 months looks like for this Cohort. I know they are definitely going to grow their skills and attain much more than we ever thought they would and also be able to pay it forward for the next generation and the next Cohorts of YAAW. I really hope to be able to grow it next year to about 30 participants instead of 10 and also make it residential so that we are able to accommodate anyone who may be from the Northern region or Volta region because this year it was really hard for those students to join the program since it wasn’t residential.

For Diana Wilson, in the near future I’m hoping to start at Google at the headquarters in Mountain View California as an associate product marketing manager and I’m really excited to learn a lot and work at the world’s number one technology firm. So I’m excited about that and also to just make sure that YAAW is successful, we are gaining more funding, more corporate partners and also more visibility.

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