By Dianne Nason, Senior Vice President, Key Bank and Cary Olson Cartwright, Assistant Vice President, Corporate and Social Responsibility, Unum
We are excited to be part of a broad and diverse group that is supporting the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, helping to elevate the confidence and aspirations of high school girls.
With this tremendous support, the Institute has designed a three-year, evidenced-based program focused on the themes My Values (sophomore year), My Voice (junior year), and My Vision (senior year). Each year offers an intensive one-day kick-off session, followed by monthly meetings with trained advisors and continued communication through a private online community.
At the outset, our companies, Unum and Key Bank, provided early and important financial support to the Institute. After learning more about the Institute and its remarkable work, we both decided to get involved personally in the Institute’s first year beta program.
We are the trained advisors, known as Olympia’s Leaders Advisors, for Spruce Mountain High School in Jay. Once a month, we meet with the students, named “Olympia’s Leaders” after the Institute’s founder, U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, and lead them through various exercises pertaining to the My Values 10th grade program. At the first monthly meeting, the girls were a little quiet, reserved, and shy to confidently participate in the discussion. Things changed quickly, and we’ve seen the girls actively participate and share with us.
As our meetings have progressed, the girls have shown increased confidence in sharing their views and experiences. We love seeing the girls, who weren’t close friends before joining the Institute, checking in on each other and encouraging each other to participate in new ways. And, they are excited about the Institute! They wear their Institute t-shirts to our meetings and are always looking forward to the meetings and discussions.
The girls were very interested in how they were chosen for this program because they didn’t perceive themselves to be the “typical leaders” that are chosen for various activities. They have actively participated in this program and continue to grow. These girls are thoughtful and caring, and being part of this has been special for them. They’ve even asked to have a school assembly to celebrate them being part of the Institute.
Honestly, we have gained just as much from this experience as the girls have.
Studies show that between elementary and high school, girls’ self-esteem drops, on average, 3.5 times more than boys’. This drop in female confidence often leads to not trying new things or taking on bigger challenges, dropping out of school activities, and not believing they are good in math or science.
Other studies show that as early as middle school, girls are 25% less likely than boys to say they like taking the lead.
And, as we know from our own experiences, even women well into their careers suffer from a lack of confidence. A KPMG study on women’s leadership noted that although 64% of respondents aspire to senior leadership positions, 56% of working women see themselves as being more cautious about moving toward leadership roles, and 59% of all women responded, “I sometimes find it hard to see myself as a leader.”
That lack of confidence can be addressed by interacting with other successful women, which is the opportunity we are committed to giving these young Maine women. Respondents in the KPMG study were “twice as likely to feel confident” if they had positive role models when growing up.
These data points, and our own experiences and observations, make us even more determined to support Maine girls, and the Institute and its efforts.
The Institute’s three-year evidence-based program is designed to intervene at a pivotal moment in girls’ development, giving them the skills and confidence that will serve them well throughout their lives.
We are honored to be an active part of this important initiative and are so very appreciative that Senator Snowe has chosen this mission as her legacy.