Jeff Bezos went from selling books online to gobbling up companies like Whole Foods and investing billions to explore how space can improve civilization.
So why is it that so many teenage girls have never (based on my own experience teaching thousands) heard of Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, the world’s richest person and one of the world’s most successful business leaders?
Teaching real business isn’t just a nicety; it’s a necessity. And girls and young women want it. They want the kind of strategic thinking that launched Amazon. They want the kind of impact that brings passion to life and shapes the world – and their futures.
Bezos found his enlightenment from the decision to leave Wall Street at the age of 30.
“The wake-up call,” Bezos has been quoted as saying, “was finding this startling statistic that web usage in the spring of 1994 was growing at 2,300 percent a year.”
“You know, things just don’t grow that fast,” he has said. “It’s highly unusual, and that started me about thinking, What kind of business plan might make sense in the context of that growth?”
After creating a list of 20 products to potentially sell online, Bezos settled on books because of their low cost and universal demand. He had the resources, but sadly, many girls today do not.
Girls especially need this kind of education because:
- The gig economy demands it — 50 million employees, girls included, will operate as a freelancer.
- Entrepreneurship is the mindset of the future. Companies want that adaptability, flexibility, collaboration and ability to see ahead of the curve, like Bezos.
- School teaching is actually limited. And the programs that do exist face challenges engaging girls.
- Girls programming has proved to double confidence and increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills, such as digital savviness, awareness and intelligence.
Every parent wants their daughter to succeed — to reach her potential — but how can she do this if we don’t equip her with the business skills for the future of work? Here’s what needs to be done.
Don’t assume entrepreneurship is only for entrepreneurs. Just because a young woman wants to follow a STEM, professional or traditional business career path doesn’t mean she won’t need an entrepreneurial mindset.
Business leaders such as Bezos, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey were first entrepreneurs, and it was those skills that set them apart and gave them the ability to execute. The workforce is changing, and the emphasis from employers is on making things happen. Let’s give girls and young women the tools to do this, whatever career she is in.
It’s essential to provide entrepreneurship training. The high school years are not too early to teach real business and entrepreneurship. Girls are capable, and it’s up to educators, parents, mentors, etc., to give them the tools.
In fact, 87 percent of Girls with Impact members are creating real business plans, launching ventures and getting press. In the process, they’re differentiating themselves, learning about money, goals, timelines and even agile development.
Let’s highlight top role models. From Bezos and Starbuck’s Howard Schultz to makeup artist and entrepreneur Bobbi Brown, who told me about starting her cosmetics business with just $5,000, we have some wonderful role models who aren’t just making money but also impacting lives where the government hasn’t (let’s think of Starbucks’ health-care plan).
It’s always good to start from “passion.” The vast majority of girls who apply for Girls with Impact do so to have a positive impact on society or to get an edge for college. Whether her passion is sports, sewing or working with underprivileged kids, there’s no reason that interest can’t be the basis for teaching the fundamentals of business and STEM.
Remember, confidence comes from doing. As one educator once told me, “You can’t just say to a girl, ‘Be confident.’” That kind of education is a failure, especially when girls face a unique fear of failure during puberty.
Instead, she has to feel confident inside. But feeling it comes from doing, from the experience, from executing. When a young woman looks in the mirror and knows she’s done something powerful, that helps build confidence.
There’s no question today’s girls can become tomorrow’s Jeff Bezos or Oprah Winfrey. But we’ll see a lot more of them if we just give them the tools and mindset right now, when it counts.
— By Jennifer Openshaw, CEO of Girls With Impact and author of “The Millionaire Zone.”