Not content with just “leaning in,” a new program launched in Gilroy this summer aims to close the success gap and equip young women and girls with critical leadership skills long before they send out their first resume.
“Leadership development should not begin when a woman graduates from college, searches for a job, or negotiates her first paycheck,” said Nita Singh Kaushal, founder of Miss CEO, a program that inspires young women to advocate for their own success.
“With only 4 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies held by women, we clearly need more effective, comprehensive, and innovative solutions to improve the pipeline of future women leaders,” she added.
Offering interactive workshops on leadership topics, Miss CEO provides high caliber instructors, mentors and guest speakers who are leaders in their respective fields, along with support for participants to start their own leadership project, said Kaushal.
According to Kaushal, a young woman launched a domestic violence awareness club at her San Francisco high school after attending a Miss CEO program. The woman was commended by the city’s mayor, Ed Lee.
“Most of the girls we encounter through our programs are highly ambitious, motivated, and want to tackle the significant problems present in their schools and communities and they do not view their age as a barrier,” said Kaushal via email.
“It is still exciting after all of these years to provide these girls with the tools to tap into their creativity, strengths, and resourcefulness and stretch themselves outside of their comfort zones.”
In Gilroy, 16-year-old Pranavi Kethanaboyina, an incoming junior at GECA high school, has worked for the last six months on establishing a local Miss CEO club. The group’s first meeting was held late last month.
“I didn’t even realize so many girls were interested in leadership, it was overwhelming,” said Kethanaboyina. “I was so happy to see so many girls there.”
As part of the program, Kethanaboyina, a Miss CEO ambassador, is responsible for organizing the meetings, scheduling speakers, and public relations.
“Miss CEO really breaks down stereotypes and tells women they can go out and do what they really want to do,” said Kethanaboyina.
“I like that it is catered to girls, because I feel as young women we are not taught to reach out for opportunities or assert ourselves for leadership positions,” added Lim Deng, 16, and fellow GECA student. “It’s a way for us to use practical skills we don’t really learn in the classroom.”
While both young women are student government officers at their high school and have friends who are also high achievers, they notice a strong hesitation among their female peers at critical junctures.
“A lot of my own friends in high school want internships, or want college advice but are just too scared to reach out for it,” said Deng. Kethanaboyina nods her head in agreement.
“Miss CEO teaches girls the necessary skills to advocate for themselves,” said Deng.
Studies have shown that women entrepreneurs benefit from being a part of all-women professional networking groups, as they can share resources, knowledge and support.
Kaushal, a Stanford alum who was one of a handful of women in her class to major in electrical engineering, said she has benefited from the support of organizations such as Yahoo Women in Tech, Stanford Women’s Community Center and others.
However, there is still work to be done, she said.
“Despite the emphasis on building networks, most women are still receiving limited opportunities due to restricted access to power and unconscious decision making. Furthermore, while women are finding more success securing mentors, they still have fewer sponsors, or individuals who can promote, protect, and advocate for them in the workplace.
“In order to address these issues, we have made effective networking an essential pillar of the Miss CEO leadership framework. We teach middle school and high school students the significance of creating strategic and diverse networks, especially as it applies to their current situation: Who can help you land a summer internship or research opportunity? Provide you with helpful advice about college? Teach you about their major or career? After practicing proper networking etiquette during our programs, Miss CEO graduates feel more confident in building alliances with others as they set out to achieve their goals.”
For at least for one young Gilroyan, the program has already spurred results.
Telling the story of her friend who wanted to apply for an internship but was too afraid to reach out and send an email, Kethanaboyina said that after attending the first Miss CEO meeting in Gilroy, her friend had no other choice.
“She went home and sent that email,” she said.