Gen Z girls want to make a difference and use the digital tools they’ve grown up with to chart a path to success—this organization is giving them the knowledge, and confidence, they need…
Gen Z has grown up in a tumultuous era. YPulse research shows they believe that racism is the biggest problem their generation is facing today, and feels climate change is an immediate threat to their lives. They also know that they need to chart their own paths to success. The generation was raised in the shadow of the Great Recession, and now faces the enormous challenges of creating a career in a post-COVID world. Young people are the most likely to be unemployed or underemployed because of COVID, and many of their educational plans have been derailed.
But Gen Z females face their own unique challenges in creating a successful future. YPulse research has found that young girls’ confidence drops considerably between the ages of eight and 14 when compared to boys, creating a widening gap that doesn’t close throughout adolescence. Girls are more likely than boys to describe themselves as stressed, anxious, shy, emotional, worried, depressed, and ugly while boys are more likely to say they’re confident, strong, adventurous, and fearless. We also found that one in three boys and girls believe that boys will make more money in life. But young girls are craving the confidence that they lack, and perhaps now more than ever, they want to understand how to unlock it and be prepared for creating their own brighter future.
Girls With Impact is a nonprofit organization finding ways to help this generation of diverse young girls by giving them the training needed to become entrepreneurs and arming them for the challenges they will face in achieving their goals. The only live, online entrepreneurship program for girls, Girls With Impact describes themselves as a “mini Harvard Business School” and offers courses on financial management, how to build business plans, and how to build confidence. Girls With Impact CEO Jennifer Openshaw explains that it’s vital to teach girls these skills and boost their confidence early: “If we don’t change it at this early age, it impacts them for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t only impact the positions they might land, but their compensation and their own financial security. When we tackle it early on, we’re impacting their success, and having more women in the workplace and creating that diverse talent pipeline that companies say they’re hungry for.”
We spoke with Openshaw to learn more about the program, why Gen Z is different from the generations that have come before them, how the organization has weathered the COVID storm, what brands should know about Gen Z’s entrepreneurialism, and more:
YPulse: What does Girls With Impact do?
Jennifer Openshaw: We run the nation’s only live, online entrepreneurship program for girls. The intention was to deliver a modern business curriculum that would really equipped the next generation to lead from the top. It started when I was in Davos at the World Economic Forum when major CEOs were talking about five years asking, “Why aren’t there more women in the talent pipeline?” and at the same time, everyone is focused on innovation and our economy. I said there’s no reason we can’t better train young people to be tomorrow’s CEOs and entrepreneurs. We just need to start younger—and that was the genesis.
YPulse: Our research has found that between the ages of eight and 14, girls’ confidence drops 30%. What has Girls With Impact learned about young females’ confidence levels and how do you try to counter that drop we see?
JO: There’s no question that you can turn it around. You can’t build one’s confidence by just saying “Be confident!” It just doesn’t work that way, right? It has to come from experience. What’s powerful about the Girls With Impact curriculum is that girls are executing. They’re going outside of their comfort zones, and executing their confidence build, and it doesn’t even take that long. We’ve had girls literally three weeks into the program tell us: “I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel more powerful.” I think the other thing that works here is that the girls are not alone in executing a real business plan. They’re doing it with peers in a supportive environment. It’s not with their parents or a teacher. I think that’s what drives a winning formula. We’re seeing girls as leaders and seeing their confidence double with their tech skills, public speaking, collaborating with others—a whole host of being able to differentiate themselves and it all starts with executing.
YPulse: Do you see any differences between Gen Z girls compared to girls from previous generations when they were the same age?
JO: I think one of the big differences that this generation has is they have many more digital tools at their disposal. One of our graduates said: “We want to know how to drive change. We have the tools. You just need to show us.” They are very hungry, and they have those tools to drive the change. They also have a huge focus on activism more than any prior generation. They’re saying, “I only grew up knowing about global warming and crisis.” They’re usually focused on wanting to drive that change. They see entrepreneurship as activism in disguise. It’s a way for them to problem solve in a very deliberate way. It doesn’t have to be a for-profit business. It can be tackling big issues of the day. Of the girls’ ventures—and they stand for-profit and nonprofit—the overwhelming majority have some social impact component even if they’re for-profit. We see a lot of focus on the big issues of the moment: diversity, Black Lives Matter, and the environment. Those are the big social change areas that are top of mind. Even in equal justice, LGBTQ, and mental health.
YPulse: Do you think Gen Z will be more entrepreneurial than Millennials were? How does your program inspire entrepreneurship in the next generation of Gen Z girls?
JO: I think [Gen Z] is more entrepreneurial. They have to be partly because 40% of our economy is a gig economy. Whether they go into a corporate world or they’re in business for themselves, they almost have to have that entrepreneurial mindset. In our own report “What’s On the Minds of Gen Z?” [we found] the majority (60%) want to personally drive social change. In the real world, they’d like to be their own boss, but they also happen to be concerned with their financial security and being able to earn a steady paycheck. But they’re entrepreneurial because they’re seeing big issues that haven’t been addressed by the prior generation. It’s Gen Z that’s giving the Black Lives Matter movement its legs and momentum, and they’re demanding change. It’s not Millennials so much. When we look at our own program in Girls With Impact, the reason entrepreneurship is compelling is because when you allow someone to start with their own passions or strengths to build an idea, it takes on a whole different meaning because as one young woman said: “It’s my idea. It’s not somebody else’s.” It’s a compelling launching pad for them to learn “business 101” whether it’s design thinking, marketing, value proposition, finances—and being able to come out of it with a real business plan and adventure pitch. It puts them in a whole different seat and path for their future career and success. We do it by starting from their passions or interests and ideating on several ventures and hone it down to one. From there, they’re building a business plan for the next ten weeks or so.
YPulse: What are some of your most popular courses with Gen Z females? Why do you think that is?
JO: One of the areas is in public speaking and being able to bring a product, work, business to life. But public speaking is a big one. I think that’s people’s number one fear. Another area we see huge interest is our money workshop, “Make me a millionaire.” We also do an introductory workshop called “Impact Your World” where it’s a way for them to get a taste into entrepreneurship and that’s where they start with their passion and idea. This idea that they can make positive change is a real draw for this generation. We recently did a national workshop with the U.S. Bank Foundation and [Gunjan Kedia] the woman who is their head of wealth management . We had 400 girls on that call and they were all super engaged. Part of the reason is because she was giving them very specific tips on the don’t and dos of interviewing, landing a job, positioning themselves, and answering a lot of questions like: “I have dark skin. How did you overcome that?” or “Did you encounter any bias?” That was a great example of young women learning in a supportive environment from someone starting from those trials and tribulations. The other thing that I think is worth mentioning is that I see the power of all-girls learning. Because when you put them in this environment overcoming their fears, they come out of it. Girls have told us they feel comfortable taking risks and that is an indicator of overcoming the confident issues that come in the way of young women’s success. If we don’t change it at this early age, it impacts them for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t only impact the positions they might land, but their compensation and their own financial security. When we tackle it early on, we’re impacting their success, and having more women in the workplace and creating that diverse talent pipeline that companies say they’re hungry for.
YPulse: How has COVID-19 impacted your program?
JO: It has forced the rest of the world to turn to online learning so that’s been a good thing about us. We’ve never been in emergency mode because we’ve always delivered our program live online. Think of us as a mini-Harvard Business School. Every quarter we’re graduating girls and every quarter, we’re putting more girls through it. We’ve been able to really step in and fill some big gaps in areas. From school districts that were behind digitally or haven’t even been able to get their families online yet, or for working parents who’ve been grappling with playing supervisor or teacher when they’re trying to work and not having any after school options, we’ve been a really powerful after school option for them. One of the things we did when COVID hit is really making our program financially accessible. Our program normally is worth $2,000—it’s a college prep program—and these girls come out of it with a business plan, prototype, venture pitch, and improvements in their mind with confidence and leadership skills. For a short time, we offered our classes at 50% during the start of the fall.
YPulse: Are you seeing a heightened interest from Gen Z girls in learning financial management or career planning during the pandemic?
JO: I think two things. One is that savvy girls are looking to stay engaged and build work experience even if it’s virtually. We have a number of them working for us, and it’s working out great. We did the same over the summer. The U.S. Bank Foundation workshop we did focused on a day in the life of a top wealth management leader, but also how she got to where she is and what some of her challenges were as well as career tips. They’re really hungry for that. I think even more so in this climate, they understand they have to position themselves. It’s a little tougher, the dynamics have changed. They can’t be in front of somebody, so, being able to speak clearly, being able to be compelling, being able to set yourself apart is the important and the number one reason girls come into our program. They want to be able to distinguish themselves whether in college or the workplace. The old paradigm used to be that they have to be good grades, playing sports, or be involved in community service. If everyone is doing that, how are you setting yourself apart? That’s what Girls With Impact enables them to do. They can do it no matter what their interest. Whether it’s math, music, medicine, or machines—they need those business fundamentals wherever they go.
YPulse found that 58% of 13-37-year-olds wish their parents had taught them more about managing finances. Why do you think young people aren’t learning these skills at home and parents need an outside resource?
JO: Studies show that most parents didn’t grow up talking about money at the dinner table, and being able to teach it to their kids takes time and focus, which is scarce and takes knowledge with the material. I actually used to be the money expert for CBS-TV in Los Angeles. It took me ten years to get to that point to really know that material. It’s not that difficult. There’s a lot of great worksheets and tools they can easily do with their kids, but again, it takes time and energy. But it’s something that has to be made a priority because young kids go through school learning and preparing themselves to earn a paycheck, but not learning how to manage it.
YPulse: What should brands know about Girls With Impact?
JO: We’re the only business or entrepreneurship program digitally delivered that focuses on Gen Z girls. There really is no other program in the country. It’s a tremendous opportunity for other brands both from a brand and a customer acquisition standpoint, an opportunity for employment engagement, and mentoring opportunities. We’re talking to companies right now because we’re building a self-paced version of GWI—something we could easily deliver to a million girls and we’re looking for brands that want to join us in sponsoring that and having their brand on that, and making that possible through some major national organizations.
The other thing is it’s a really compelling way to take action on Black Lives Matter and diversity. Using the U.S. Bank Foundation as an example again, they said they wanted to focus their dollars on girls of color in New York. That’s great because the beauty of our program is we can go where our partners need to go. Most of our girls are of color and if you look at the diversity, it’s an impressive story from all backgrounds whether it’s Latinas, African Americans, Asians, or Caucasians, so it’s a strong choice whether they’re really looking to build a relationship with the next generation or take action on some of today’s most important issues.
I think the other thing worth mentioning is that we’ve been bringing our program to companies’ employees. Because a lot of companies are feeling like they need to take action during COVID to help support their employees and their families, we’ve been a solution around that. Johnson & Johnson bought seats for their employees’ daughters. We’re also building a co-ed version, so, if there’s a brand that wants to do Youth With Impact on a very large scale, we have that platform as well. That’s one benefit that was particularly attractive to BIC. They just came on board and a company named Apricus who is lesser known, but they are in Louisville, Kentucky, so both of their heads of HR loved the program for the impact it’s having on the communities.
YPulse: What’s next for your organization?
JO: We’re focused on training 10,000 young women. We’re talking to companies who want to join some of the great brands we already have with us to make that possible. We’d love to have someone get behind making it a million girls with this new self-paced platform that we’ll have in a couple months. This is really our moment to seize. There’s been a lot of CEOs having more women in the talent pipeline. We are building the talent pipeline. There’s been a lot of focus on STEM. But if you combine STEM with entrepreneurship or business, it’s a winning formula for increasing the number of women who are going to be either tomorrow’s business leaders or entrepreneurs creating more jobs.
Jennifer Openshaw’s passion for advancing girls stems from her own life story. At the age of 14, she took on her first “real” job as a maid in a motel while her mother worked two full-time jobs as a waitress to support the family. Jen has gone on to launch or build five new organizations, author three books, and provide financial tools to some half-million consumers. Learn more about her here.