In celebration of International Women's Day this past Sunday, I had the chance to speak briefly with Yetunde A. Odugbesan-Omede about her powerful new book, A Young Woman's Guide. I was truly inspired by her fearlessness at sharing her personal story as well as advice on how young women can put their best selves forward.
Who is Yetunde Odugbesan-Omede? She's a motivational speaker and the founder of Young Woman's Guide, an organization that provides holistic leadership development for young women from all backgrounds. Her long resume includes service on the United Nations Population Fund executive board, working on issues like sexual health and reproductive rights, safety and security and the development of adolescent girls globally. She's also chaired the Youth Affairs division of Nigerians in the Diaspora and served with the UN Association of New York and Young Professionals for International Cooperation.
Let me put into perspective why all this is important: According to the Center for American Progress, women earn almost 60 percent of undergraduate degrees, 60 percent of all master’s degrees, 47 percent of law degrees and 48 percent of medical degrees. They earn more than 44 percent of master’s degrees in business and management, including 37 percent of MBAs. They are 47 percent of the U.S. labor force.
However, women still lag behind men their representation in leadership positions: They are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. What this shows is that despite the educational background and expertise they have to assume leadership positions, they are not being given the opportunity to lead. The only way to change this is to groom the young women of today and create opportunities where their likelihood of becoming a CEO or executive officer increases dramatically.
This is where Young Woman's Guide comes in, for its advice, leadership tips and tools for young women to live purposeful and well-rounded lives. The book features timeless topics on leadership, professional, personal and emotional development as well advice on empowering practical messages to promote good habits, cultivate positive attitudes and build self-confidence.
From my conversation with Yetunde, I gathered four tips -- as well as some inspirational quotes -- on what business leaders need to do, and better understand, to groom our young women leaders:
1. Identify young female employees' passions and aid them in turning those passions into a profit machine.
"In order to truly be successful, a young woman must first find what she is passionate about. Passion will always serve as her compass to finding her purpose."
Helping young women to turn their passions into a product-based or service-oriented business early in their careers is vital. Yes, "passion" is the foundation. But to build an empire or even just a sustainable business, young women must understand the fundamentals of building and maintaining a revenue model. Grasping the importance of monetization is an important step toward building a woman executive.
2. Invest in "leadership camp."
Work with a leadership development and training organization to develop programs and courses for young women. An example is Yetunde's own leadership development and training organization, Young Woman's Guide, Inc.
3. Educate young women on where to access funding opportunities.
"Life is all about seizing opportunities, making the right decisions and being prepared."
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to aid her in mapping out her short- and long-term goals and strategies on how she plans to get there and how she plans to use every opportunity to its full advantage."
Providing information on where women can access business loans and grants, especially those specifically designated for women-owned businesses is, again, vital. Obviously, money is critical to any business.
4. Help women develop a rich network of advisors and "divine helpers."
"She needs to realize that opportunities, wants and needs are at times in the hands of someone else. So, encourage her to speak up and never be afraid to ask questions or express her needs. "
Teaching young women to develop long-lasting relationships and strategic partnerships will help them further achieve their business goals. Networking goes hand in hand with developing businesses. But all this is much deeper than the cliche term we know as "networking." We need to ensure that our fiery young women learn the rules of engagement. These include: connecting to those who inspire them and eliminating the "sales pitch" while mastering the art of relaying their business ideas and being explicit about their needs.
By consciously developing young women leaders, we shift and diminish any negative cultural or societal stereotypes of their gender. And the mission is critical: We need more women in positions of leadership, especially in the private sector.
We need to encourage innovation and ensure that young women gain the opportunities to create and build lasting brands and companies, because, as Yetunde says, "Harnessing the talents and gifts of young women is key to future economic development."