The recent YPO EDGE gathered together a powerhouse of leaders from 93 nations across the world. The organisation accommodated many women leaders from all over the globe who shared their insights and remarkable stories. Although the plight of noteworthy women is more widely publicised than in past years, it does not take away from the fact that women still face many gender-based challenges today. This highlights a critical problem: these stories are only a drop in the bucket. This is still a man’s world, where representation for young girls is little and advice is hard to find.
Such incredible representation of the globes foremost female experts in every industry all conversing under one roof in the month of March, which focuses on education, begs the question: “What can these powerhouses teach the girl child of today?” With so much influence comes the potential to evoke change and create real solves to some serious global challenges. This includes the opportunity to discuss how to empower future women leaders from a young age. Several renowned experts who attended the event discussed how to instil confidence in girl children to enable them to raise their voices to be heard and raise their hands for opportunities. Here are four experts’ words of advice to educate today’s girl child:
1. Connie Mashaba: One half of one of South Africa’s best-known power couples and a YPO member; Connie runs two highly successful businesses and has started her MBA. She says she hasn’t slept in two months. But it’s worth it because she loves to learn. Herman and Connie launched Black Like Me in 1985, with R30k they borrowed from friends. It grew into a multi-billion-rand enterprise, which merged with Amka in 2004. Embodying all the best principles of entrepreneurship, it’s one of SA’s foremost success stories and an example for entrepreneurs all over the world.
Her message: “First of all, just trust and believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself, that’s the most important thing in your life. Surround yourself with positive people and keep on learning. Just learn. Don’t just sit and watch soapies. Read, read, read anything relevant. There are always things to learn. The only way you can be confident is through knowledge. Immerse yourself in lots of stuff. When you learn, you are able to converse with anybody. You are able to say, ‘I don’t think that is correct’. You are to know what is right and what is wrong. This is what I tell my daughter: just trust. Trust your instinct. And if you’re not sure, ask someone you trust, who can send you into the right direction but not necessarily give you the correct answer, because the correct answer is relative. If I were young, I’d say to myself, once again, trust yourself. And be curious. If you’re not curious, you’re not going to learn. No one can teach you curiosity, it comes from within.”
2. Dr Vivienne Ming: Dr Ming was born Evan Smith. A little way down-the-line, she dropped out of her studies and lived in a car in California, while working at an abalone farm. After being offered the opportunity to study neuroscience at the Carnegie Mellon University, she gender-transitioned and met her future wife. Now a theoretical neuroscientist, technologist and entrepreneur, she co-founded Socos Labs, which utilises cognitive neuroscience and AI to help people and communities to meet their potential. She’s also a faculty member at Singularity University, a world-leading-expert in AI, and has done important research into neuro-prosthetics, diabetes and bipolar disorder.
Her message: “We’re finally moving into this world where we’re believing or at least expecting that women will have opportunity. But here’s the problem. There isn’t one kind of strength. You don’t have to be one specific kind of person to be successful and to make a difference in the world. When someone ‘says stop saying we, say I, strong people say I’, you say, ‘but this is how we are going to succeed’. It turns out that girls and young women often have a different kind of strength than men have, and my research has shown that strength has an even bigger impact on the world. And many young men are looking for that same kind of strength, so if you’re a young girl and you’re going out in the world to build a better one, then never listen to anyone who tells you that you have to change and be different, be the absolute best person that you already are.”
3. Andria Zafirakou: Andria is the best teacher in the world. Out of 30 000 entries, she won the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize. Her work at Alperton Community School – which teaches some of the most disadvantaged and ethnically-diverse children in the UK – has helped the school rank in the top o 5% of all UK schools for improving children’s achievement. As an art teacher and deputy head, she advocates strongly for the importance of creative subjects in schools, and has also kick-started a host of extracurricular activities, including meditation. She stresses the importance of real human connection and building a relationship of trust with every child.
Her message: “The world is yours. Nobody should ever tell you that you can’t. Ever. There’s no such thing as I’m not able to. The word is “yet”. You might not be able to YET. But you’ll get there. I have my daughters and they come home and sometimes they’re stressed, they don’t feel like they belong in their school, because they’re very creative and their school is not. And so, my encouragement is that you can be anyone you want to be, just work your socks off and don’t ever take no for an answer.”
4. Catherine Hodgson: Catherine is co-founder and CEO of The Hodgson Group, which specialises in residential and commercial sales and letting. She is a YPO member and also a global mentoring expert who is one of the members responsible for establishing the global mentoring programme for YPO. Additionally, she’s an Enhanced Conversational Intelligence Practitioner.
Her message: “This is what I tell my daughters. Follow your passion. So, don’t necessarily do what your parents would want you to do if you don’t feel as though that’s right for you. Look at what you’d love to do every day, so that going to work wouldn’t feel like going to work, it would just feel like as though you’re having fun. I tell my girls this all the time, and when they were looking at what to do at university, I said what do you love to do and what are you good at? And go for that, because then you’re going to have fun and you’re going to love what you’re doing. And that’s what I did. I saw what I loved to do which was actually being involved with business, and I haven’t felt as though I’ve worked. I’ve just had fun.
“And I’d also say to them to believe in themselves and stand up for themselves. So there’ll be a few times where you feel as though you should just sit back and not have a voice because sometimes it can be intimidating when you’re in a room of people who are older than you and you respect and that are wiser, but you’ve got a lot to contribute. Think about it first and then say what you think you should say and speak from the heart, speak authentically, don’t try and be someone you’re not because people see right through that. If you feel passionate about it, say it, but say it in the right way; you don’t need to be aggressive, you don’t need to come across as a smart arse. Do it kindly and if it’s appropriate as well. But have a voice. You deserve to be in that room, and you deserve to be at that table and to have an opinion.
“Be kind. Empathy will get you a long way. Listen to people. And the great thing when you are a young person is to find a mentor, because you can learn so much from them and you can also provide them with so many insights into what it’s like to be a young person in this world, because it’s very different to when they were younger. A mentor can open doors for you, open your mind and make you see things in a different light. They can ask you questions you never thought about before. They’re someone who can listen to you. My little saying is you can walk much further with a mentor by your side.”
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