Having founded Être, a mentorship program that brings girls directly into companies to meet female leaders face to face, Illana Raia has observed first-hand the confidence boost that those brief interactions can inspire. Well aware of the drop in girls’ confidence that occurs in middle school, Raia’s anecdotal evidence suggested that early access to mentors could provide just the antidote that girls needed, so she partnered with a leading authority on Millennials and Gen Z to commission a national survey to prove it.
“When we first commissioned the survey last summer, my goal was to see whether the confidence boom we saw bringing girls into companies to meet mentors was more than just anecdotal, Raia explains. “Maybe, I thought, the empowerment we see from girls spinning in boardroom chairs and shooting their hands up to ask questions is just incidental. Could we measure, quantitatively, the impact early mentorship has on girls’ confidence? The answer was, happily, yes.”
Être partnered with YPulse to commission a national survey among 1000+ girls ages 13 to 18—the first of its kind since the pandemic, incorporating inclusive gender classifications and social media influence—exploring and understanding the current state of next gen girls’ confidence levels, where they’re looking for guidance and the impact it has on their emotional lives. Respondents spanned all U.S. regions and areas, with a range of grade levels, perceived household income, a mix of race and ethnicities and included 1001 girls and 539 boys, 64 of whom identify as non-binary, transgender, and other genders.
Among others, two key findings underscored the importance of Raia’s work. Indeed, there was good news and bad news.
First, the bad news.
“While girls at age 14 are 20% more confident now than they were five years ago (as compared to the Confidence Code study done by YPulse in 2018), that confidence level drops steadily from ages 14 to 18,” Raia explains.
Indeed, the study reports concerning statistics:
· 36% of 13 years-old girls describe themselves as confident compared to only 23% of 18 year-olds
· At age 13, 42% of girls select smart as one of their top characteristics, compared to only 28% of 18-year-olds
· At 13 57% describe themselves as happy, compared to only 44% of 18 year-olds
· 43% of 13 year-olds describe themselves as creative, but among 18 year-olds, the percentage drops to 32%
“The transition for a girl from the age of 14 to 15 is a pivotal moment in their life. The pressures they face seem to have an outsized impact on their identity and how they describe themselves,” explains Laura Barajas, Chief Research Strategy Officer at YPulse. “In the data, we see a significant shift downward in seeing themselves as confident, happy, creative, and smart.”
Fortunately, there’s also good news.
The findings clearly suggest that mentorship can stop that harmful confidence slide.
In fact, a whopping 86% of girls said they would be more confident with a mentor.
Specifically, their research found that 93% of girls interested in finance believe a mentorship would be helpful for their future. 86% of those interested in STEM similarly felt that a mentor would be helpful as did 69% of those interested in sports.
As to why mentors during early teen years make such a difference, Raia insists, “Mentors matter because they bolster girls’ confidence exactly when they need it most.” While many may mistakenly assume that simply buckling down and getting good grades is all that’s required for career success, Raia’s research suggests that that type of thinking may not fully appreciate what is needed in today’s increasingly competitive, demanding and dynamic world of work. Arguably, it seems that strong grades and effort are increasingly necessary but not sufficient, particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields. “Mentors augment and enhance any strong education by spring-boarding girls out of their comfort zones and toward scary or intimidating goals,” she explains.
And Être girls certainly seem to agree that on an individual level, the mentor impact can be profound.
“Through a recent company visit to TikTok with Être, I have learned from female leaders that there is no one prescribed path to success, and if you follow what you are passionate about, you will find that there is a job that is right for you,” insists 16-year-old Ava Liu, Être member. “As a young person, it’s exciting for me to hear of the endless possibilities that my future can hold.”
In many ways Raia’s research simply confirms what she’s known for years—mentors can be the difference maker for adolescent girls and young women looking to realize their full potential and break barriers in traditionally male-dominated spaces. She’s on a mission to facilitate interactions and experiences that allow girls to see successful women in action within some of the world’s most prestigious companies. Raia insists, “The confidence we’re seeing when girls raise their hands in boardrooms isn’t anecdotal. It’s essential. If we want to see more women in boardrooms, we need to save seats for girls, and middle school is not too young to start.”