I’m a woman entrepreneur and co-founder of a multi-million dollar start-up that first began as a side hobby in my living room. I’m also a mother of three, including two young girls. Professionally and personally, I’m always thinking about empowering and uplifting girls and women, whether it be my kids, my employees, my customers, my friends, or society. With that in mind, I’d like to share a few tips for my fellow entrepreneurs, business leaders, and moms out there. Together, we can do more to raise girls up to meet their true potential and possibly generate more female entrepreneurship in the process.
1. Expose them to everything
If we want our girls to come up with game-changing ideas and then summon the courage and motivation to put them into motion, we have to do much more to foster their curiosity and development – especially in early childhood.
Molding and shaping a curious and active brain starts with widespread exposure to new people, places, things, ideas, and experiences. I think that we could go much farther as a society to nudge our girls and young women toward diverse and alternative paths, just to push them outside their comfort zones and get their brains working a little harder. For most American girls, “normal” growing-up experiences might include sleepovers with friends, playing in the neighborhood, shopping at the local grocery store, and school-sanctioned after school activities or team sports. While these are wonderful formative experiences for all kids, I think our young people – girls in particular – would benefit from folding in some encounters and experiences that are truly unique and memorable. As just one example, I recently discovered a local welding shop offering special tutorials and classes for young women who’d like to learn the craft. This is a different kind of experience for the typical young woman, one that may become a brick on the path from a curious girl to an entrepreneurial woman.
2. Praise their work ethic (more than their looks)
Working in fashion e-commerce, I certainly understand the pressure that young girls and women feel to maintain an attractive appearance. We women are constantly recognized, praised, or admonished for our looks – and it can be exhausting. While I personally pride myself on taking care of my body and dressing well, I do it because it makes me feel confident and happy, not to please anyone else. And while there’s nothing wrong with caring about appearance, I would genuinely like to see our society praising and acknowledging young girls for their work ethic and smarts at least as often as we praise them for their looks. As a mom of two daughters, I’ve noticed the effects of compliments on their developing personalities. When we compliment our girls on their hair, faces, or outfits, they take that to heart and start to attach value to those aspects of themselves. They’ll start to devote greater care and attention to those aspects in the future to try to continue to secure that positive reinforcement. The same is true for non-physical compliments tied to intelligence, ability, or work ethic.
When we praise our girls and boys for what they can do and how hard they’re working, that reinforces and perpetuates that ability or behavior. Let’s raise this next generation to feel proud of their capabilities, not just their cuteness.
3. Encourage experimentation and mistakes
Finally and perhaps most significantly, I believe we must do more to encourage young kids – especially girls – to be imperfect and make mistakes. The fact is, all the great entrepreneurs, visionaries, and leaders of history carried with them a long record of “failures.” Walt Disney filed for bankruptcy about seven years before he came up with the concept of a friendly little mouse, and Thomas Edison tried more than 10,000 times to invent the light bulb before he was finally successful. Stephen King submitted his first manuscript, Carrie, to dozens of publishers and was rejected by all of them before the book was ultimately accepted. There are countless stories like this, and we need to share them with our kids.
We need to let them know that it is more than okay to make mistakes as they attempt to achieve their goals. In fact, it’s not just okay – it’s expected and encouraged.
Failing along the way is part of growing, learning, and ultimately succeeding. Great entrepreneurs understand that.