By: Tiffany Cong
Interviewing: Sheryl Chen
- When and why did you decide to start the Girls Advocating Leadership and Strength Organization?
“When I was young, I was always the shy, quiet girl in class. And when I was called on to speak, I mumbled, undermined myself with phrases such as “kind of” and “sort of”, and ended everything like an unsure question. I lacked self-confidence and was a follower, not the leader.
However, when I was in high school, I took up various leadership roles – camp counselor, club president, advisory chairwoman, and blog founder. Ever since I became aware of my skills in communications and leading people, I could envision myself reaching a high level of fulfillment from a corporate/business career. Businesses succeed when there is equal representation in professions. However, the problem lies not in the amount of women entering the workplace, but in the lack of women filling top executive positions in companies and government. As a prospective businesswoman, I don’t want to be an accountant, secretary, or salesperson – I want to be the CEO of the company.
As a result of personal experiences and startling statistics, when I was a sophomore in high school, I co-founded, Girls Advocating Leadership and Strength Inc. (GALS), a student-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in NYC Metro that aims to inspire the next generation of young female business executives by encouraging them to dream bigger. I created this organization to expand resources available to young, ambitious females, and the students who have participated in my programs have become leaders and game-changers in their communities. Programs, workshops, and events focus on empowering and inspiring girls while also exposing students to the business-related “soft skills”. By hosting symposiums in NYC and expanding outreach through youth activists, I hope to be able to reach out to previously underserved populations in order to encourage young female executive pursuits in business, politics, and law.”
2. What is your mission?
“My mission hopes to harness female youth activism to pursue their dreams by providing resources to do so. I am dedicated to helping females hone their entrepreneurial, leadership, and teamwork skills from an early age. Research has shown that the teenage years of a girl are the most important time for developing self-expression, self-discovery, and self-esteem. Thus, I founded GALS to teach girls the skills that they need to become leaders of their communities. GALS is a place where girls can learn from keynote speakers and engage in educational workshops, as well as challenge themselves to assert their voices, erase low self-esteem, build authentic support systems, and embrace their leadership skills. GALS helps to transform girls into confident, spirited, and smart leaders who will contribute to a greater and more productive society.”
3. How does GALS sets itself apart?
“GALS sets itself apart for three of the following reasons: location, career orientation, and demographics. Located in the heart of financial sector, GALS effectively markets and expand its name in NYC. With the new era of feminism in 2016, many organizations have been created for helping women. Although there are many organizations dedicated to helping females in their endeavors such as Girls Who Code or Girls Write Now, many of these groups are geared toward other professional fields. STEM careers are primarily dominated by males, but business and politics just as heavily male-oriented. I want to shine light on those bright, underrepresented females in executive business positions. Lastly, many “women in business” initiatives are for older demographics – already working women. These organizations promote private networking and personal connectivity between businesswomen. On the other hand, GALS focuses on bridging the gap for young girls to learn about the corporate world and prepare for corporate and executive pursuits. In addition, our board of directors, interns, and GALS ambassadors is built entirely by young women.”
- How do you expose students to business related skills?
“I hosted a full-day symposium in Times Square, filled with a panel of successful businesswomen and politicians and a series of leadership workshops. Though we encourage female empowerment through advocacy, I also include important professional skills – our workshops feature public speaking seminars and resume writing workshops.”
4. Who have been your role models and influential mentors?
“As you can see, I am a HUGE proponent of female initiatives and projects. I love reading self-help books from accomplished women, like #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso, I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? By Mindy Kaling, and Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I think it’s so empowering to learn from other game-changers in the field. In addition, of course my family inspires me everyday. From witnessing my brother get accepted into an elite swim team to seeing my mom persevere through esophageal cancer, I am grateful to call my family, my rock.”
5. What would you like to accomplish?
“I hope to continue working and expanding GALS in college and partner up with other female empowerment groups like GirlUp. My short term goals include managing or serving various non-profits and leaving a mark on my community. My long term goals include creating my own for-purpose consumer brand, and writing a self-help book!”
6. What was your biggest failure?
“My biggest failure was doubting myself. I like to pride myself in having a strong sense of self, but sometimes fear holds me back. However, these past few years in high school, I’ve grown immensely and have learned to pursue my dreams – whether they be small or large. It’s worth a shot.”
7. How do you handle the pressure of running a non-profit organization?
“Building the nonprofit from scratch was, to say the least, scary. My bank account had $0; nonetheless, I knew in order to have a profound impact on my community, I needed to ask for help. Almost 99% of the time, I was turned down because people underestimated me for my age and capabilities. But it was those 1% who saw my hard efforts as a 15-year old female trying to change the community: Katlyn Grasso, founder of GenHERation; Allyson Ahlstrom, Wharton senior and founder of Threads for Teens; Erin Bagwell, director of Dream, Girl film; Liz Abzug, Columbia University and Barnard College Professor; etc. GALS’s success is shown through real life testimonials: participants have started e-commerce businesses, public speaking clubs, and were even featured on Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room. I pride myself in the progress that GALS has made in influencing other females to become leaders, which motivates me to continue working everyday.”
8. What are your career goals?
“Though I’ve always had an itch to pursue business based on my sense of entrepreneurship and past experiences, my hopes to study business were confirmed from attending a selective – and rigorous, if I may add – business program. Creation – from media platforms to a national non-profit – excites me. It is not such a wild idea to use my creativity to turn the abstract into the tangible and directly impact my community.”
9. What motivates you?
“I think my Type-A personality plays a large part in my everyday behavior. Being an ambitious person has pushed me to take on new leadership roles within school and in my community. Besides that, I love being surrounded by other motivated peers – which is not hard to come by at Tech. From fostering collaborative group discussions in class to engaging with peers in extracurriculars, Tech has given me the opportunity to meet and learn from other students.”