Working Women Wednesday’s : Kira Van Niel
By: Breanna Hall
One of the most amazing things about being in a position of success is the way in which you choose to give back. Whether you teach, or volunteer at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, it’s vital that we use our skill set to further the cause. Our cause. Kira Van Niel works passionately to do just that. The bubbly powerhouse is using her influence to foster change and opportunities in the St. Louis community.
As a project engineer for Boeing, one of the world’s largest aerospace companies, Kira exercises her passions for communication, engineering, and travel in ways that help others. When asked about how it feels to be a Black woman in her position, Kira admitted that it has been “interesting to represent both demographics.” Undoubtedly, African Americans are
of poor representation in the STEM fields, and the numbers of African American women present are even lower. On acclimating into her
current position, Kira acknowledged that the “rhetoric around diversity is present, yet the true application of inclusion may be a little bit more challenging.” Kira has participated as a member of the Black Boeing Employee Association and the Emerging Leaders Program, which allows for professionals to network with peers and associates who are higher up on the corporate ladder and extend their network.
Although she is one of few minorities, Van Niel’s millennial perspective has never allowed for her to feel inferior in her work environment. She stated that she is always an advocate for inclusion, as well as diversity. “It’s knowing that I’m good enough. I’m smart. I’m talented. I’m ambitious. I know my worth internally and externally. And I’m not afraid to have those conversations with people who are perceived ‘out of my lane’.” Kira also stated the importance of young professionals not being afraid to take on new challenges, even if their ambition seems aggressive, which is a stereotype about millennials in the work environment. “I’ve always been an advocate… when [businesses] want to be inclusive, yet they speak on the behalf of minorities or young people, instead of having [them] represent themselves. The question becomes how do we include these groups into the conversation to further the company’s agenda, growth, and revenue potential?”
When asked about her aspirations, Kira stated that going further in leadership and “empowering African Americans from an economic standpoint” were of importance to her. As a result, the 31-year-old engineer is channeling her brainpower and energy into the community. Kira expressed that she is very much invested in STEM and providing access to technical opportunities, “so that everyone has an opportunity to be inventive and innovative.” Kira has served on the board of several organizations including the National Urban League Young Professionals Executive Board, Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis Board of Directors, and The Sophia Project Board of Directors, to name a few.
She is the co-founder of The Corporate Activist, a curriculum based advocacy platform to help employees of corporations identify their “advocacy credo” and align to their employer’s social impact statement. Kira states, “This is a beautiful unison of all of the work that I’ve done, post-college graduation, until this point. Through ‘The Corporate Activist”, we plan to help young professionals, who are interested in being more outstanding in their community impact work, align with their company’s social impact statement. We understand that this is a hard line to walk, jeopardizing their upward mobility or their professional aspirations by being too outspoken in community and social justice environments. However, I think everyone has some ownership in driving change. The ultimate goal is to make sure that we are impacting the community in a more holistic way.”
Kira is also an advocate for The Sophia Project, which is a mentoring program for young girls in middle school and high school. “This intervention program focuses on character growth by showcasing the multitude of ways in which young women can grow to be a beautiful woman. Life is about choices and they get to see the product of choice firsthand from the women who participate.”
Van Niel has always had a certain zest for life and shared that after graduating, spent six weeks touring Europe, then moved to New York. The DC native attributes North Carolina for her education and St. Louis for her growth as a woman. “My departure from college and transition into the ‘real world’ kicked o my journey through adulthood. My defining moment occurred around my 30th birthday when I realized the consequences of my successes and struggles play equally pivotal parts to my growth.” Van Niel credits another St. Louis powerhouse, Rebeccah Bennett and her concept of “How to Live an Extraordinary Life,” as a source of inspiration for her lifestyle. [Bennett states], “Part of living an extraordinary life is really predicated on your choices. When you make those choices, you’re making sure that they’re aligned with who you are in a particular space.” Kira states, “My interpretation: reduce probability of regret by owning the decisions that you make, which I think is the most powerful thing you can do. Regardless of the consequences of your choices, it was something that you wanted, therefore you own your decisions and your journey.”
Kira credits her love of yoga with helping her channel her energy in the best possible way. Over the years, she has learned to maintain her personal health and growth, while continuing to give. “I got more specific on how I could use my skills to help, and I learned how to say ‘no’. As a result, I learned the value of investing in myself more.” Of her work, Kira says,
“My time here in St. Louis has really helped me to define what ‘hill’ I stand on, also known as my advocacy credo. I know that I am a solution broker committed to empowering the black community by helping pave pathways to economic self-reliance and women and girls through innovative learning initiatives. My work will always fall into these buckets.”
Interested in keeping up with Kira? She’s available on all social media at @itskmv.
If you know of any young girl who would bene t from The Sophia Project, please visit http://www.thesophiaproject.org/.