Closing the ‘confidence gap’ to help girls become leaders

Ashley Northington

Ashley Northington

I dreamed of becoming a preacher when I was six years old.

I thought the ministry would suit me well. In my 6-year-old logic, becoming a member of the clergy meant that I would get to talk to people all of the time and help them with their problem; people would be excited to see me and hear me speak; and I would get to eat chicken (my favorite) each and every Sunday.

Luckily for me, I had a grandmother who taught me to believe in the power of my dreams and instilled in me the courage to doggedly pursue them. She taught me that I was strong, smart, and resourceful enough to make whatever I had the audacity to dream come true. So, at 6, I believed I was destined to be a minister. At 17, I believed I’d become a forensic psychologist (thanks, CSI and Law and Order). At 22, I was set to become an amazing journalist. At 30, I’d become a dedicated entrepreneur.

While I never became a minister or a forensic psychologist, I did become a journalist, a speaker, a published author, a noted trainer, and an entrepreneur. I have been able to live in beautiful places, learn new things, meet interesting people, and do amazing things. I am still dreaming, and, most importantly, I’m still finding ways to turn my dreams into a reality.

But there are so many girls who aren’t fortunate enough to have a Granny like mine who will encourage them to create the life and career they want, no matter the circumstances. Girls as young as 6 can be led to believe men are inherently smarter and more talented than women, making them less motivated to pursue ambitious careers.

Study after study suggests that girls tend to pursue careers aligned with their (lower) level of self-esteem or confidence – and not necessarily those that match their skill, ability, or dreams. Less than one in 20 girls considers a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) compared to one in five boys.

And when these girls grow up, the effect compounds. Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.

That’s exactly why Girls to the Moon and its upcoming Campference is so important. The organization produces events designed to help instill confidence in girls ages 10-14. Its annual event, which takes place on Saturday, September 16 at Nossi College of Art, brings together girls and their caregivers to explore everything from puberty to entrepreneurship to consent to the power of their dreams – that’s where I come in.

I’m excited to help girls discover their own set of personal values that set them apart from their peers. I’ll also share with them how to tap into those values to help envision their future and chart their own course in the world. I’m going to teach girls how to dream and how to leverage that dream for their future success.

By encouraging girls to dream, plan, and create the life and career they want, we also give them the courage to pursue their wildest ambitions. We teach them, by our example, that confidence is just as important as competence. We give them permission to become the leaders our world so desperately needs.

I think my former 6-year-old self would be thrilled to see me today. I do get to talk to people all of them time and help them. People are excited to see me and hear me speak.

I was able to make my dreams come true. I want this for every young girl with an ambitious goal, and I won’t stop until we get there.

Ashley Northington is an award-winning marketing communications professional and entrepreneur. She is the founder and agency director at DENOR Brands & Public Relations, a public relations, marketing, and brand strategy firm in Tennessee, Louisiana and beyond. She is also the creator of The Dream Planner, a vision-setting and goal-realization guide for students, individuals, and entrepreneurs.