For many adults, entrepreneurship is understood as a great way to empower girls with valuable experience. In addition to building financial literacy, the hard and soft skills gained through entrepreneurial endeavours are valuable in any setting, particularly as young women navigate the transition from school to employment. In fact, as the world of work continues to evolve, the entrepreneurial skill set, grounded on adaptability to change, is fast becoming a necessity as traditional jobs are replaced by rapid technological advancement, globalization and the gig economy.
For pre-teen and teen girls however, the benefits of entrepreneurial experience aren’t necessarily so apparent. This could be simply a factor of age and developmental stage, or of cultural context, or both. To many, business is a concept brought to life through the local and global brands they encounter in their early years, both online and off. From apparel and fast-food to technology and toys, kids’ exposure is often at a scale or sophistication beyond their ability to contextualize. Entrepreneurship is not formally taught in school, and marketing sometimes rightfully earns a bad name, especially when targeted at girls. Combine these factors with strong parental influence and the prevailing cultural narrative of the entrepreneur as “rags-to-riches rock-star hero,” and it is no surprise many girls don’t perceive entrepreneurship as a career option – let alone an acquired skill set or career enabler, even for those seeking a steady job.
For parents, educators and mentors keen to encourage the girls they know, here are a few ideas to increase girls’ awareness of and interest in entrepreneurship.
Define entrepreneurship differently
Narrow definitions of entrepreneur rock stars or evil corporate entities benefit no one. What about Martha Stewart or Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook empire are relatable to a pre-teen or teen girl? The path to money and power for these big-business icons is extraordinary, and almost certainly irrelevant to a girl’s everyday life.
Instead, highlight an aunt who runs a small business or a neighbour who earns a living as self-employed freelancer. Differentiate global brands from the locally owned enterprises they frequent and talk openly about business models. How do these individuals and organizations earn revenue? What challenges and opportunities do they face? Most of all, engage girls in conversation about what it might take to turn their ideas into reality or what the pros and cons of being the boss might be. It’s a girl’s real life that will make entrepreneurship relevant.
Plant seeds of interest that might actually grow
On the other hand, girls in transition from childhood are curious about the adult world, experiencing increased independence and rapidly forming their identity. In addition to their family and peers, pop culture can play an important role. Enter celebrity gossip, musician crushes and social media stars. Rather than resist these influences, leverage interest in pop culture as another opportunity to engage.
Like it or not, these are role models that are relevant to many girls, so meet them where they are. Don’t demean their interest in a celebrity or influencer – delve deeper, especially into the entrepreneurial aspects. Why are they attracted to a celebrity, what do they stand for or where is the revenue? Girls’ values-driven, media-savvy answers may surprise you.
Provide training & skills development
With independence also comes economic awareness. Whether it’s extra money from errands or chores, a regular babysitting job or even a cause-related fundraiser, girls begin to generate revenue as early as middle school. While typically too soon for formal employment, this is a critical window for girls, as their entrepreneurial instincts are engaged and can be further developed through their increased purchasing power. For parents and educators, this an ideal time to begin closing the gap between a girl’s cultural context and her beginner-level competence.
Unfortunately, this juncture is too often missed. Without financial literacy education or entrepreneurial skills development, most girls’ instinct or interest will only take them so far. Profit is not a concept kids are born to understand, nor is debt, and this is exactly the information girls need as they begin to visit the mall.
To help them better understand the benefits of entrepreneurship, the basics of personal finance or the importance of gaining early experience to enable employment, look for formal programming that empowers girls with practical skills and knowledge. Again, it is important to encourage participation by making this type of programming relevant. Try linking the results to a girl’s ideas or interests rather then telling her she ‘should learn’ the material. Here are a few examples of programs offered both in and outside of school:
|Elementary & Middle School||High school|
· DECA (High school also)
Give ideas a place to go
Information is power, and with a little bit of know-how under their belts, girls can and do get ideas. Big or small, at any age, these ideas need to be heard and encouraged. Instead of predetermining the validity or directing next steps, take her enterprising idea seriously, listen carefully and help her get started. Most importantly, let go of your need to succeed, expect failure and be ready to adapt if her Plan A doesn’t turn out to be an opportunity. This is exactly the entrepreneurial practice she needs.
If she’s arrived at Plan B or even Plan C and is still keen, there is an entrepreneurial ecosystem in every community just waiting to welcome, support and help her ideas grow. Look for these kinds of organizations near you:
|Networking, Skills Development & Programming
· Canadian Business Network (By Province)
· Local Chamber of Commerce
· Local economic development agency or department
· StartUp Canada (Chapter)
Empowering girls with an entrepreneurial skillset is not about creating a new generation of millionaire tycoons (although that would be a good outcome, too). Instead, it’s about enhancing their economic awareness, building experience outside of school and equipping them with valuable transferable skills. Remember: relevance is the key ingredient when getting girls interested.