Today is the final day of our 2015 #RealGirlLeaders blog series. We are thrilled to announce the Grand Prize Winner of our 2015 IGNITE Change contest, Yinyu Li. Yinyu is 15 and a student at Boston Latin School. Now in it's 5th year, the IGNITE Change contests asks girls throughout Boston what they would change about the role of women and girls in their school or community. This spring, with the support of Boston GLOW, Yinyu will be implementing her project to empower women and girls in business. Congratulations Yinyu and all our #RealGirlLeaders!
Ignite Girls in Business
As a child, I remember being asked, What do you
want to be when you grow up? I had no idea at the time, but I answered solemnly, “A boss.” Adults laughed at my response, and only later did I realize why: girls aren’t expected to assume the roles of CEO or chairwoman, and with the exception of a few ambitious women, few actually reach these posts over the course of their careers.
Frankly, today’s women are devastatingly under-represented within high management positions. It is well known that only 3% of CEOs in the Fortune 500--the five hundred largest American companies--are women. This is sharply at odds with the fact that women constitute the majority of the consumer market and “control more than 80% of U.S. spending.” In other words, women have little say in the products made for and purchased by them, suggesting that in order to drive social change, women must play a more prominent role in business. Inequality on the workforce, in terms of pay and promotion, after all, has been a situation faced by women at all levels in all occupations for generations.
The challenge which stands before us is the popular perception that women are somehow unsuitable for senior management positions in businesses, which coincidentally are the highest earning jobs. For kids, this is the
idea that “bosses” are men and “secretaries” are women. For young women like me, this is an inferiority complex ingrained by our society that both discourages us from our aspirations and exacerbates workplace inequality.
However, I believe that we can alleviate this problem within our local community by introducing young girls to entrepreneurship and business. Thus I propose a program for fifteen middle-school girls from across the city over the course of ten workshops in which they will be making and selling crafts and effectively working as a team to build their own “company.” In conjunction to providing this hands-on experience, I hope to invite local college student volunteers and female entrepreneurs, perhaps from the Boston Entrepreneurs’ Network or Wonder Women of Boston, to speak with and mentor the girls during each session. This is an engaging and cost-effective opportunity for girls to foster their own entrepreneurial skills and learn more about the process of running a business.
At the start of the program, participants will learn to make a small selection of jewelry: chain necklaces, leather bracelets, and beaded earrings. The materials for these crafts will be provided by the budget and during this time, girls will be able to experiment with and develop their “product line.” I intend to make the experience highly enjoyable by providing them with the opportunity to design their own jewelry and to make crafts together, activities which will call upon the girls’ teamwork and creativity. With the help of our mentors (college business majors and female entrepreneurs), they will be guided in the process of product research and of minimizing the costs of production.
The next few workshops will involve the sale of their handmade jewelry and crafts. To promote their “company,” girls will develop a brand and marketing strategy. In this process, they will learn to distinguish themselves from competitors, to understand their customers, and to advertise online, especially through social media. The girls will sell their products themselves to their own acquaintances and at local farmers’ markets, such as the Roslindale Farmers’ Market, as well as through an online Etsy.com shop. I also plan to negotiate with local retailers, such as thrift shops like Boomerangs in West Roxbury, to sell their crafts.
At each workshop, girls will engage in a discussion and reflection upon the most effective strategies: Which designs sold the best? How can they improve sales? What was the best way to promote the “company?” By analyzing results and making influential decisions together, the girls will also be exercising their critical thinking and communication skills. Part of the budget allows for the participant team to decide on how to spend efficiently, whether on raw materials or promotion. The purpose of this activity is to hone the girls’ financial decision making, with the goal of generating as much profit as possible. These expenditures made during the program will be documented carefully and any money left the end of the program will be donated back to Boston GLOW.
The handicraft business developed by the participating girls will essentially simulate a startup company. This endeavor will present girls with an exciting introduction to the business world and may potentially inspire girls to start their own business or to become a leader within the local community. By teaching them marketable handicraft skills and crucial entrepreneurial skills, this program seeks to empower girls to become valuable leaders and capable citizens.
What I hope girls will gain from this program is a new perspective on their futures and careers--they are not confined to being subordinates in the workplace, nor do they lack anything to become successful businesswomen. I believe that women need to be able to envision themselves in high positions, to aim high, and to maintain their dreams, without being held back by traditional views of male dominance. The stigma and unequal pay that comes with being an ambitious or acknowledged woman, as seen in the case of many female celebrities and within workplaces, needs to be eradicated by the increased involvement of women in high management positions. Just by exposing young women to entrepreneurship and by showing them that they too can make money independently, I hope that more girls will be determined to become passionate and responsible leaders. Perhaps then, we will be one step closer to the day when nobody will laugh at a little girl who says she wants to become a boss.
Klotz, Frieda. "Equality At Work For Women: Is This As Good As It Gets?" Forbes. Accessed April 6, 2015. http://www.forbes.com/sites/friedaklotz/2011/12/16/equality-at-work-for-women-is-this-as-good-as-it-will-get/.
"Women Dominate The Global Market Place; Here Are 5 Keys To Reaching Them." Co.Design. April 11, 2011. Accessed April 6, 2015. http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663594/women-dominate-the-global-market-place-here-are-5-keys-to-reaching-them.