We continue to see diversity issues in senior leadership and in technology related roles. There are not enough women in these areas. When I set out to tackle this, I chose to address the issue at the start of the funnel: empowering future women leaders to believe that they can achieve what they want—that they can be better than who they see themselves today. There are no “should”s or “shouldn’t”s to stop them from going after their dreams.
Through leadership programs in partnership with companies under Actv8 Network, these future leaders, aged between 13-15 years old, work with women professionals from the companies to solve actual business problems. The programs benefit the company, the women employees, and the students who participate.
Recently I sat down with one of the student participants, Kenzy, and asked her what she thought about the program and leadership. Here is our conversation:
Can you describe what you did during the Actv8 program last year?
Last year, it was also based on sustainability. We were divided into groups and each group was assigned a topic. Each group had four girls and two mentors. We worked to find a solution to the problem that we were given, and the solution had to be practical for the school to apply. My group was tasked with how to save more energy in school.
When I first heard the topic of saving energy, I thought about how many computers in the school were actually turned off when we leave the building. Many of us don’t switch off the computers, just putting it to sleep or in shut down mode, rather than fully turned off. So I decided to research how much energy we would save if we actually turned off the computers before leaving the school. I went from room to room, counting the number of computers that were left switched on, and for how many hours. I researched online what this equated to in terms of energy and carbon emissions. AltCap: Since you presented your findings and how much potential energy could be saved, what has been done? Kenzy: I used to remind the teachers about switching off the computers before leaving school. But since COVID-19 when the school was closed for months, we don’t focus on saving energy now. Whatever money is available now is invested in COVID-19 related safety precautions. So some things that may have been important before, are not so important right now. AltCap: What else do you remember about the program?
Learning to Work with Others
Kenzy: We had a mix of in-person and online individual meetings with our mentors which I really liked. In that year, my group didn’t mesh as well. I didn’t want to show up in the program and not have anything so I did a lot of the work that year. I was paired up with students that I didn’t really talk to before, including someone that I didn’t get along with. I tried to set that aside and communicate as much as possible with the group. But when the others in the group didn’t do what they said they would, I just ended up doing the work by myself. I didn’t want to be embarrassed during the group presentation and I wanted to do things properly. AltCap: Describe the Actv8 program this year. Kenzy: We were tasked with creating a sustainability qualification and design a new way of learning. We had to conduct a survey to find out what students thought the most important problem was in the world. We got a list of eight global problems and had to present on two or three topics that students considered to be important to learn about in sustainability. This first presentation was more about data collection, seeing what other people said on the spectrum.
Then the second presentation was more about solutions and how we can educate students. We worked in similar groups as last year. So, four students and two mentors. But this year we had a learner coach, who was a student from the year above. I really enjoyed engaging with the learner coach—having someone we knew who was on hand to help us if we needed it. The program was very interesting this year and I definitely enjoyed it and found it extremely fun. AltCap: Did you know the other students from your group this year? Kenzy: I knew all of them to some extent. I had one close friend on the team, but the others I knew because they were my classes.
Helping Others Grow
Did the relationship grow during the program? How did you develop the relationships within the team?
My relationship with the other girls grew a lot, especially with Nana. We got to know each other more and learned to work together. She would give me feedback and let me know where I was going wrong.
With Maya, I enjoyed seeing her come out of her shell because she’s quite a shy student. Getting her to speak up and present definitely helped her grow.
What else did you learn from this program?
I learned how to communicate with my team better. So, like I said before, last year I did the project myself this year but I realized that with exams and other things going on in general, it wouldn’t be good to just do it myself this year. We have teammates who deserve to share the pride of creating something. So, communicating with them and making sure that they did their parts and if they didn’t, then I could support them.
Learning to Balance
AltCap: Talk a bit about the app you designed during the program this year. Kenzy: The idea is based on several other apps I played, for example, Life, is a life simulation game. You make choices that determine how you grow up and what you become. It was based on how you can create the right choices while keeping a balance with all the factors like economic, environmental, social, or personal.
I also researched strategy and other simulation games, including one that was based around a post-apocalyptic world. That game teaches you to be a leader. So I thought it would be cool to design a video game app to teach people about sustainability. Looking at the list of global problems that we were given, I thought that sustainability is about keeping a balance of environmental, social, economic, and personal factors. So it links to your life and personal development in general. It felt natural to have those four topics in rather than maybe like a topic that was linked to sustainability but not so much you as a person.
Supporting Others as a Leader
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership means helping other people in a supportive way. Again, you have to have that balance between the well-being of your workmates or classmates, managing the workload and being considerate to others. For example, I have to know how many things someone can do, and support them in getting those things done.
I look up to people like Ada Lovelace and others like her who defied expectations, and who took control of what they wanted to do. Ada Lovelace wasn’t expected to do any of the things that she did, these were prohibited. She just defied those expectations and worked towards her own goal. Even if she wasn’t praised at the time she was praised for her achievement at the end.
AltCap: What do you think is the role of women? Kenzy: I don’t think there is a specific role. You don’t ask someone “what’s the role of men”. There are still people who think that women should be stay at home moms. Just take a step back and look at everything that both women and men have achieved. We have women at the Olympics, the army and in science, just like men. When I was younger, people put stereotypes towards my race or my gender, like, “Hey you can’t do that because girls don’t do that”. I think stereotypes can do one of two things. Either, it forces them into the stereotype and they feel they don’t have an escape, or it almost motivates them to push themselves out of this stereotype and overcome it. It has gone the other way for me so I definitely push myself out of the mindset that you can only do this sort things based on your race or gender. I’ll do my own thing if I think it’s good for me.
If I hear someone talking about a stereotype, I would challenge them but not in an aggressive way. I will tell about data and points that would lessen the portion of people who have that kind of view.
Leaving a Legacy
AltCap: What do you want to be remembered for? Kenzy: I am thinking about being an architect and so I could be remembered for making such and such building or designing so and so city. But maybe I just wanted to be remembered by my friends and family as someone who cared for others. I don’t want to be remembered for having a net worth of $20 billion. I just want to be remembered for being a good person, and having people around me. I want to support others. I’m not expecting anything back. That’s what a good person means to me. AltCap: What are your worries or fears? Kenzy: There’s nothing to be afraid of. In the end, I think you’ll look back and think that “I shouldn’t have been scared”, or “I should have gone for it”. Being scared and avoiding something means that you’ll regret in the end for passing up opportunities. So I try not to fear things. AltCap: So the journey is more important than the end result? Kenzy: Yeah, definitely. I was telling Anna (my mentor) during our last 1:1 session. We didn’t win the competition during the project, but at a personal level we gained a lot. It was such a pleasure to see all my teammates grow in different ways and being able to adapt and reflect and say, “Oh, well, this didn’t work for us, but maybe next time we can do this”.