By Sheryl Chen
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, team captain, 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 HS (15 years old) 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 chapters through youth activists across the nation, 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. Our mission hopes to harness female youth activism to pursue their dreams by providing resources to do so.
Of course, starting any project is not a piece of cake. The genesis of my non-profit organization, GALS, was most definitely not a glamorous process. Especially as a one-woman operation, I realized that I could not embark on this journey alone. I organized a permanent team of interns from a competitive pool of 32 applicants. I partnered up with small business development centers and incubators to help develop marketing plans and assess our viability. I won $1,500 seed capital from winning first place in national business pitches. The #WeAreGALS movement came to fruition after winning national business competitions and grants, as well as donations.Through partnering with various organizations, I learned the importance of networking and building genuine relationships.
One important skill I continue to gain is humility. Many times, I was rejected for press releases and hosting events because of my young age. However, I was persistent in pushing for business opportunities, interviews, and projects despite much rejection and doubtful thinking. Soon, I started getting a lot of positive feedback and support, even from inspirational leaders like Sheryl Sandberg.
Most importantly, I never stopped working: I was constantly e-mailing potential keynote speakers, updating social media and the website, creating fliers, booking venues, applying for grants, creating t-shirts, handing out business cards. Building GALS was taking up almost all of my time, and I was hustling to make GALS recognized in the non-profit community. Through my hard efforts, I learned the importance of hard work, hustle, and most importantly – passion.
Specifically, I am passionate about serial social entrepreneurship, digital media, community service, and women’s rights. My passion is solving problems and creating social impact through nonprofit management, youth activism, and public policy. I would best be described as an insatiable knowledge seeker and innovator, always trying to better my community and leave the world a better place than how I found it. In addition to my work with GALS, I am a Global Kindness Ambassador for GenerationOn, leading guided discussions and designing creative service projects for youth. I also founded stylestargirl.com to provide style knacks and travel tips to low-budget teens on a digital platform. Within school, I am a leader and team player. I am Vice President of Leadership of National Honor Society, President of Key Club (a community service organization), President of Model UN, and Vice President of Future Business Leaders of America. In addition, I run on the Varsity Cross Country and Track & Field Team, specializing in 1500m race walk.