Empowering girls to go out and lead

RUN THE WORLD (GIRLS): Katlyn Grasso, a senior at Penn’s Wharton School, says that growing up, she benefitted from a supportive father who made sure that she knew that girls can be anything. Grasso absorbed that lesson and set her sights on the entrepreneurship field even before she started at Wharton. When she did a simple Google search to learn more about women running companies of their own, Grasso says she was stopped short by the low numbers: Around 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies have CEOs who are women, and the percentage gets even smaller for women who start their own businesses.

BUILDING A NETWORK: Once she got to Wharton, Grasso set out to do what she could to change those numbers, channeling her own interest in starting a business into founding GenHERation, a female empowerment network for high school girls. “I realized that addressing that issue begins with high school girls, because between the ages of 11 and 17 are the most critical for girls in terms of how they form their psychological processes and the perception of their best selves,” Grasso says. “It’s sort of planting the seed very young and building and developing those skills.”

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING: The idea behind GenHERation, Grasso explains, is to provide experiential learning for young women by connecting high school girls with the opportunity to work with nonprofits and corporations in advocacy campaigns. “We’re partnering with a Fortune 500 company and giving them the opportunity to work with female executives to implement projects that will help them get into better colleges and open up their perspective about entering a career in this field,” Grasso says.

JUST DO IT: Grasso launched her idea for GenHERation after her sophmore year: “In the middle of the summer, I decided to launch a leadership camp for girls,” Grasso says. “We met every Monday night from July through August and I would bring in a different female professional to talk to the girls.” Back on campus, Grasso spent the fall and winter months of her junior year building a more robust website, and began partnering with corporations and nonprofits to get participants involved in advocacy projects. She launched a pilot project that March with about 250 girls from the Northeast.

EXPANDING THE PROGRAM: In the summer of 2014, Grasso started in her hometown of Buffalo, and traveled to New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Los Angeles over seven days to host  the first GenHERation Summer Leadership Series. In November of this year, Grasso launched the first-ever regional conference, featuring talks, skill-building activities, a negotiations workshop, and an app design challenge. Today, Grasso describes GenHERation as a comprehensive media outlet for young women, with daily skill-building activities, and content about education, technology, and health.

CONFIDENCE MATTERS: Grasso says plenty of barriers still remain for women, especially in business and entrepreneurship. She plans to work full-time on GenHERation after graduation. “Seeing is believing—if you see a woman president or CEO you think, ‘I could be her one day,’” Grasso says. “It’s not even if you see a man, you don’t think you could do that, but it’s just you associate with likeness [and] you feel more confident that you could accomplish that.”