Supporting refugee and asylum seeker women to achieve their career aspirations: a meaningful partnership with real impact

by Jun 16, 2023Awareness Raising, Campaigning, News, Refugee support

As we celebrate Refugee Week – with a focus this year on compassion – we want to shine a light on our work with Routes which supports refugee and asylum-seeking women on their career journeys.

As an organisation focused on connecting and championing women, Routes aims to create possibilities for learning and growth. The focus of their work is two-fold: to support refugee and asylum-seeking women in London to develop confidence, build relationships and access opportunities, whilst also providing training across sectors to build empowering, compassionate and authentic professional leaders.

At the core of Routes’ work is an individualised mentoring programme which recognises that people have very different personal and professional development goals and subsequently different support needs. With the one-to-one support of a mentor, over a period of four months, women seeking safety in the UK are encouraged to move towards whatever aspirations they have; whether building their careers, doing a PhD or developing their digital skills. The programme is achieving impressive results, with 46 women having completed it this year and 74% starting a job or course within six months. 97% of mentees reported increased skills and knowledge, 92% felt their self-confidence had improved and 82% expanded their networks.

Most recent programme graduation celebration

Also noteworthy is the impact of Routes’ work in the training of professionals across sectors to become more inclusive and compassionate leaders. Feedback from this year has shown significant skills development in coaching, relationship building and communication, and 71% of mentors report feeling more open-minded. In 2022, Routes also developed a pilot reverse mentoring programme in partnership with UBS, enabling seven alumni mentees to grow their leadership skills through mentoring senior leaders to reflect on their own leadership styles. 83% reported improvements in their self-confidence, leadership skills, time management and self-assurance in approaching new people professionally.

Complementing Routes’ remarkable programmes is the continuous support it provides for its programme mentees and alumni community, which includes a range of information and opportunity-sharing ventures. It is here that the City & Guilds Foundation has come together with Routes to provide mentees with access to Foundation bursaries of up to £5,000. The bursaries have delivered financial support to eleven women on vocational courses, covering course fees, resources and access costs (including childcare and travel). Crucially, this partnership has allowed mentees to progress and develop on their chosen pathways:

“I am now taking the first steps towards my dream career and this has been only possible because of your support and the opportunity you have given me.” City & Guilds bursary recipient and alumna mentee of the Routes programme

Mentees on the mentor programme who apply for a bursary are guaranteed an interview, enabling them to benefit from the support of their mentor in identifying and applying for the right opportunity for them. Furthermore, the flexibility of the bursary – which allows a year for course commencement – has proved essential in ensuring that asylum seekers can still participate in courses when unstable living circumstances might have prevented it. Subsequently, not only has this important partnership enhanced opportunities for learning and development, it has also been especially valuable in meeting the specific needs of women seeking safety in the UK.

“The partnership between Routes and the City & Guilds Foundation has enabled us to be more ambitious than ever in our mission to support women from refugee backgrounds into fulfilling employment that is aligned with their aspirations. The quick, direct access to course fees, materials and travel expenses has enabled women in our community to take up opportunities that they never thought possible in the UK, and this has a transformational impact both in the short and long term.” Leyla Mclennan, Founding Director, Routes

The important work of Routes continues with an event in honour of Refugee Week, free and open to all, which engages with how workplaces can create a more compassionate welcome for people seeking safety. The aim is to bring together people in the sector, people with lived experience and people within business to think about supporting people. More details can be found at:

Routes is always looking for businesses to support and partner with them on their mentoring programme so if you want to support refugee women with their professional goals, and want to support your employees to become inclusive and thoughtful leaders, you can find out more here:

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