Teaching young girls how to lead

Leadership is an important skill than anyone looking to enter the modern-day workforce needs, but oftentimes programs that teach the skills needed to be a strong leader are centered around boys.

According to the United Nations Foundation Girl Up, 80 to 90 percent of youth program participants are boys and less than two cents of every development dollar goes to programs specifically for girls, particularly those ages 10-14.

“There are more than 1.2 billion young people between the ages [of] 10 and 19 in the world today. Half of these are girls, making them the largest youth generation in history,” Girl Up writes. “Research shows that investing in girls’ health, education and empowerment leads to better educated, safer, healthier and economically powerful girls. However, most adolescent girls face challenges that make it difficult to achieve their potential.”

In Arizona, the ATHENA Valley of the Sun program is working to give high school girls the tools needed to be a leader through the Young Athena (YA) Leadership Program.

“I think exposing young women at the high school level to leadership development, opportunities to network, just the early engagement and interaction is phenomenal,” Young Athena Leadership Program Director Trenn Moore said. “There are just so many moments and opportunities for them to use what they’re learning here that I didn’t even realize before [my daughter] got involved. It’s just [taught her] leadership and life skills that I think we can all use and quite frankly the earlier the better.”

Focused around attributes of leadership that are intuitive to women including — Live Authentically; Learn Constantly; Build Relationships; Foster Collaboration; Advocate Fiercely; Act Courageously; Give Back and Celebrate —the program gives girls in grades 9 through 12 the opportunity to find mentors and build confidence.

“Right now, we’re working on the number one issues girls said in a survey they wanted to work on and that was confidence,” said Nina Johnston, founder of the YA Leadership Program chapter at Westwood High School in Mesa. “So, what we’ve done is we’ve learned about mentoring, the number one strategy for confidence is to have a mentor.”

On top of mentoring and helping young girls learn confidence, knowing how to build meaningful mentorships throughout your life can have significant personal and professional benefits.

According to a Sun Microsystems report, both mentors and mentees were approximately 20 percent more likely to get a raise than people who did not participate in the mentoring programs. (25 percent of mentees and 28 percent of mentors received a raise.)

The report also found that mentees are promoted five times more often and mentors are six times more likely to be promoted.

“I truly believe in the power of mentoring,” State Farm Insurance Architecture Manager Jennifer Beck said during a YA Leadership Program workshop. “Without those great people, I would not be where I am today.”

Mentorship programs provide mentees access to someone with greater expertise, and help them to avoid mistakes while challenging them to reach their full potential.

According to Moore, the next step for the YA Leadership Program is to expand it to more communities and/or schools as well as set up partnerships with local businesses.

“[My goal is] to get some other companies on board and involved to partner with us, both for the benefit of the students to just have exposure to folks in careers but also for the businesses to engage with the students and even have some career path and early affinity for [teens] to come work for [their] company,” Moore said. “It’s just a really strong community and business partnership that the program is letting us build.”

For more information about the YA Leadership Program and how to apply, click here.

Emily Richardson

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