I’ve been thinking lately about the role of education in the lives of young people today. Of course, I believe in education as a central element in our overall preparedness for what life throws our way and in our ultimate ability to succeed. However, I also believe strongly in enrichment and empowerment initiatives for young people outside of school and sports in order to bolster and add to what our young people are learning – especially, for young women. Often it is a relationship, an opportunity, or a unique inspirational moment that can “stick” with us and set us on the path that makes us the people we are today. Given that ANN INC. is a company made up of 95% women, with a customer base of 100% women, we feel it’s our responsibility to empower the next generation of young female leaders, and we take this commitment very seriously.
We have been working with Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international non-governmental organization, on an inspiring initiative called ANNpower. Its sole mission is to empower young women (of high school age), and provide them with leadership training and opportunities to meet with accomplished leaders worldwide. The program strives to find and nurture the unique spark within each young woman, helping her to cultivate and grow her unique voice over time – so that she will eventually use it to do great things in her community.
I can personally attest to the fact that working with these young women is truly incredible! They are so inspiring to me and to all with whom they connect. I feel like nothing is going to stop them. But they are still in high school – and I want them to enter the next chapter of their lives in college as confident, young women who are ready to be successful. I was surprised by a recent study that cited that once young women arrive on campus, many of them are not raising their hands in class, not going for the top leadership roles (only the roles that do the work, but don’t have the title), and not finding female mentors.
So how do we reach more young women at this important age and help them on their life journey so they will not be afraid to have a voice? We need to instill in them the urgency of maintaining their confidence, their passion, and their “conquer the world” attitude. In hindsight, my personal experience at all-girls schools was good for me – I did get tapped for the leadership roles, I had female mentors, and I developed the confidence needed to be successful. Many of the benefits that are offered in both co-ed colleges and women’s colleges should be pursued by young women today.
In my experience, I have learned there are three key actions young women absolutely must take as they head out into the workforce, and in to life in general. I use this advice for all those I mentor in and outside of work, and the young women I care about personally. I think these can be valuable for many of us, as we nurture and encourage the young women in our lives and in our workplaces.
We need to tell them, without question – get a mentor, build a support network and have a voice.
Get a mentor – it’s quite possibly the easiest thing for them to do, especially at the start of a new year or a new job. These women will be surrounded by inspirational professors, colleagues and other strong leaders that will support them, guide them and be honored and eager to mentor them. They shouldn’t be afraid to ask.
Build a support network to help you grow – otherwise known as a group of nurturing, trusted friends, family and peers from whom they can learn, and with whom they can share their aspirations and grow side-by-side as they encounter new opportunities, disappointments, failure and success. It’s crucial to build a strong support system with those that have their best interest at heart…in their academic careers, professional and personal lives. Everyone, no matter how old or young or successful, needs encouragement and advice throughout their lives.
Have a voice – encourage young women to raise their hands and develop the confidence to stand up for their opinions. I always say, “Be brave, take on the tougher classes and workplace projects, be secure in what you have learned and use it to grow. Make sure your unique voice is always heard.”
If we can ensure that the young women in our lives follow these keys to success in school, in college, in work and in life, we will be well on our way toward building the next generation of unstoppable female leaders that will ultimately change the world. We also need to tell them to discover their “passion” early on to set them on the path to being personally fulfilled and ultimately successful.