The Impact of Girl Leaders

John Gerzema leading a workshop on solving problems by tapping into Athena traits.

Last week I had the honor of addressing the delegates at the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. Girl Up, a campaign of United Nations Foundation, works to empower girls to find their voice as leaders, while supporting marginalized girls in developing countries around the world.

If you thought teenage girlhood was full of nail polish, boys, and cattiness, think again. The only “boy talk” was a conversation on how to get the boys in their respective schools involved in solving global issues that face young women worldwide. They tackle topics ranging from child marriage to the lack of education opportunities to micro finance to Malala Yousafzai with a great deal of maturity. Two Girl Up Teen Advisors spoke about the inequalities they witnessed while in Guatemala, noting that, "Midwives are paid more for delivering boys than girls.” After a few moments to ruminate, the girls sprang into action with bespoke workshops to make a tangible difference, while teaching one to have inner confidence by realizing that asking for donations for others 'is not about you'.

Whether the girls were learning how to write an op-ed or Skyping with Girl Up clubs around the world, the optimism and energy that filled the room was an inspiring reminder that these are the leaders of tomorrow, and they are here to stay. The enemy of course is conformity. Yet corporations of the not-so-distant future are going to want to have this talent, who are values-lead, collaborative and tech-forward.

My wife Mary and I––along with Samantha and Nissa from our staff–– held a workshop to help the girls solve problems using their inner Athena Traits. The girls approached the workshop exercise with an unbelievable amount of collaboration, empathy, and connectedness – a real-life reminder of the growing relevance and urgency of feminine-led leadership.

When fellow speaker Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, reminded us that on the fiftieth anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, women make just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, I was comforted to know that I was in a room full of young women who would change that statistic.

I’m proud to say my daughter, Nina, the youngest delegate at this conference, will be joining the ranks of this impressive collection of girls in the fall by starting a Girl Up club at her school, The Little Red School in Manhattan. Exhausted on the train ride home, Nina and I looked over her notebook from the Leadership Summit and saw that she wrote notes like "girls can do anything."

She also wrote down a point I made about President Shimon Peres, who said, "We are in a new world with many old minds.”

Looking at Girl Up and its supporters, nothing could be further from the case.

Editor's note: This blog was originally posted on on June 17, 2013. All proceeds from the Athena Doctrine support Girl Up. Get your copy today!


Submitted by Petty on June 22, 2013

Very good steps.

Submitted by Emily H on June 20, 2013

Sounds like your daughter latched on to the most important message from the Leadership Summit -- girls have limitless potential! Good luck to Nina with her Girl Up club next year!

Enter this word: