But is this the message preteen and teen girls get?
From the moment they enter adolescence, society labels girls’ inexperience as a lack of self-esteem and confidence. The prevailing preoccupation with the confidence collapse focuses concern toward the instinct many girls have to step back and observe the grown-up world before wading in. But when girls do begin to explore, they’re not well served by current cultural forces. From persistent under-representation in leadership to hyper-sexualization in the media, girls suffer from high-expectations and stress.
Strong evidence suggests there are systemic issues to address, but there are practical things parents, educators and caring adults can do to help girls navigate toward autonomy, agency and, yes, confidence. Rather than dwelling on the pressures they face, what if we offered girls empathy as beginner adults and empowered them with real-world knowledge and experience instead? In other words, to begin building confidence, girls need encouragement to learn outside of school.
Enter entrepreneurship, the perfect teaching tool. From babysitting and cookie-making to e-commerce and technology innovation, it’s the process that matters for girls early on, not the outcome. Ideally, girls who learn entrepreneurial skills continue to dabble informally outside of formal programming to gain experience through trial and error. Framing girls’ growing engagement with the grown-up world through an entrepreneurial lens is a great way to help them bring their emerging independence to life. Here are a few reasons why:
- Entrepreneurship equips girls with critical financial literacy. Not only do they learn what it takes to generate revenue, manage expenses and avoid debt, running an enterprise helps girls discern important concepts of time, money and value. Even if they never become a millionaire tycoon, the exposure to money management fuels their future in a meaningful way.
- Starting a business or social enterprise gives girls an opportunity to practice turning their ideas into action. By understanding how to take initiative, which decisions need to be made and how a business works, girls experience first-hand what it means to ‘take the lead.’
- There is no better way to build both hard and soft skills than by creating value in the form of a good or service – and then finding customers who will pay. From digital production and prototyping to sales and customer service, entrepreneurship fosters continuous learning, a proactive attitude and the ability to communicate with clarity.
- At its essence, entrepreneurship is problem-solving. Girls who are engaged in an entrepreneurial endeavour are actively confronting problems, adapting to changing circumstances and creating opportunities out of challenge. Often this is the result of botched attempts or market feedback, as business ideas don’t always succeed. For girls who feel they’re not allowed to fail, entrepreneurship builds grit, resilience and a growth mindset.
- Finally, learning and practicing entrepreneurship equips girls with the language to participate more fully in the grown-up world they now occupy. Armed with a few basic concepts and a new vocabulary, girls are better positioned bring their ideas to the dinner table and contribute substantively to adult conversation. This, too, is valuable experience that can have a cumulative effect.
When girls arrive in adolescence, their ambitions begin to refine. That makes it an ideal time to introduce entrepreneurship. The practical skills and real-life knowledge gained boost girls’ confidence in the short term while empowering them with the mindset and experience they will need to navigate education and career choices and, ultimately, be ready to step forward and lead.