“In the future there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”—Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO
How do you empower girls to become strong women and leaders? It’s definitely easier today than in the past, thanks to more positive female role models and better opportunities for girls to pursue careers in technology, science, and leadership positions than ever before.
Numerous Southern California middle schools and high schools now offer “STEM” – science, technology, engineering, and math programs – which many girls are enrolling in. The glass ceiling has broken, and it’s now a pathway for forward-thinking girls and women to march through to reach higher employment opportunities. However, helping them gain empowerment often begins right at home – with mom.
Karen Caplan, president and CEO of Frieda’s Specialty Produce in Los Alamitos, learned empowerment from her mother, Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan, company founder and the first woman to own and operate a wholesale produce company in the U.S.A. She was also the first to introduce kiwi fruit to Americans in 1962, which was quite a feat. The grocery and produce business is a man’s world, but that didn’t stop Frieda Caplan back then or her daughters today.
Karen says she and her sister, Jackie, also a principal in the company, were taught by their mom that there were no obstacles to their own success. She states that her mom says, “Success came to me because I saw no obstacles.”
Karen says that in order to raise empowered girls, parents should expose them to excellent role models. She suggests taking daughters to workshops, conferences, or TED talk videos featuring women speakers. Parents should also openly discuss obstacles or challenges they have faced and ask their girls about their ideas on how they would have handled them.
She also suggests parents mind their word choice. “Recently,” says Karen, “I was talking with a twenty-something female and she made the comment ‘they acted like such a girl’.” Karen asked her if she thought acting “like a girl” was negative. The woman replied, “Of course not.” Karen then suggested she should consider the word choices she’d made, and reported the experience was eye-opening for the young woman. Words matter!
Karen also notes that parents often send unintentional message to their kids by assigning different tasks or making sports or career suggestions based on gender. “All these things and parents’ commentary on them will affect their daughters and how strong and confident they are.”
She used the same thought process for her own two daughters – Alex, 28, and Sophia, 24. “I always told them, ‘You can do anything boys can do’.” If they doubted her, she would tell them, “Let’s try it!”
Heidi L. Gallegos is another strong, professional woman. As president and CEO of the Brea Chamber of Commerce, she oversees nearly 500 member businesses, including many national and international corporations located in Brea, along with a 22-member board of directors.
Heidi, like many women, cites her mother as the person who most influenced her to be empowered. “She was a strong, capable, and independent woman of her era,” says Heidi. “She installed in both my sister and I a sense of how to be resilient and a self-starter but to never forget that you are a woman.”
Heidi’s career path began at the Los Angeles Police Department, where she started as a radio-telephone operator and ultimately became an LAPD sworn officer. She later left police work to raise her twins. She became active in the community and was elected to the local school board. “I served three terms or 12 years on the Rowland Unified Board of Education,” says Heidi, “and was elected by my peers to serve as board president five times.” While on the school board, she was hired by the local chamber of commerce and eventually landed at the Brea Chamber as its the top executive.
And her influence on her own daughter? Heidi says her daughter, Corinne, 28, is a dedicated, capable woman, within whom she has tried to instill a keen sense of self. “She successfully balances work and family while pursuing a master’s degree.”
Many girls, however, lack moms or teachers to help empower them. Fortunately, Soroptimist International, whose mission is the empowerment and education of women and girls, has a successful teen girls’ mentoring program called “Dream It, Be It,” led by Soroptimist women who share their own challenging paths to career success. They help empower girls to plan and work toward their educational and career goals, which assists them in achieving success.
Positive role models, goal setting, confidence, and determination to reach those goals are what today’s girls require to attain empowerment.
Terri Daxon is a freelance writer