Encouraging Young Women To Become Entrepreneurs With Sylvia R.J. Scott and Rosie Zilinskas, No Woman Left Behind
March 18, 2023
In this episode, we’re going to be chatting with Sylvia R.J. Scott. She is going to be talking to us about her work with high school and college-aged women, and how she encourages them to become entrepreneurs. This is key because when I graduated back in 1992 from U of I, there was no purview in my brain about entrepreneurship. I had no idea what it was or that I could even become an entrepreneur. It is fantastic that Sylvia is encouraging these young high school and college-aged women to go into entrepreneurship. She’s also going to be talking to us about what they can bring the table, as well as how branding can be impactful in their careers.
This is going to be a fantastic conversation because it’s a little bit off the beaten path of what we are generally talking about, which is women advancing in the corporate world. For women to become entrepreneurs right out of high school and college is phenomenal because they can become their own bosses and create the life that they love. Stay tuned for my conversation with Sylvia.
—Sylvia, thank you so much for being here. You are very interested in helping young women up and coming. They’re entrepreneurs or young female professionals. First of all, why did you start Girls’ C.E.O. Connection™?
Why I started the Girls’ C.E.O. Connection™
I worked with an organization for several years that produced conferences for women entrepreneurs with high-growth companies. One reason they did that is that women don’t go back usually to get an advanced degree when they start their businesses. I watched how empowerment came from being a woman entrepreneur. I saw it in the breakout sessions and as they were talking with them. With college women, I saw the same thing, the empowerment that comes from being an entrepreneur.
People tell me that in high school and college, I was entrepreneurial. In college, I wanted my own business and nobody was there to support me. It was the fact that I want to see the empowerment that goes along, helping the self-esteem of high school girls, college women, and then women in the corporate world who realized maybe they don’t belong there.
That happened to me. I loved my job, but I realized there was something more that I wanted to do with it. There was time for me when I did go off on my own with more freelance work or with this women’s entrepreneurship conference for two years, but we did five conferences a year in the cities that had the highest population of women entrepreneurs. That’s when I realized there was something there.
I worked for the Center for Women & Enterprise in Boston when I went to Babson to get my work on my MBA. Working at CWE was the same thing. I saw what happens when women want to start a business and they’re leaving the corporate world or they’re in college and they want to start a business, but they need guidance. Women’s Business Centers teach aspiring entrepreneurs things that they don’t normally get in college.
Our show focuses on women in the corporate world advancing in their careers, but that looks different for different people. Some people like yourself leave the corporate world to start their own businesses.
How do you start that conversation with a high school young lady that is trying to figure out who she is and what she wants to do? How does that conversation go?
I try to find out what their interests are starting with, “What are you passionate about? How do you see that passion coming around?” Is it something like, “I was passionate about fashion and in my mind, I was going to be a fashion director at a major department store?” It never went that way. Even after training, it went into being an associate buyer. There were a lot of different things that I didn’t realize that were going to go on with that position.
It’s something about talking to them about, “What makes a difference to you?” When I was in California producing my Realization a Vision Conferences, I had girls that had never thought about being an entrepreneur. They thought about being a lawyer and similar professional careers until they went to the conference and heard women entrepreneurs in breakout sessions talking about what it was like for them as entrepreneurs.
The bell went off. They thought, “I want to be a lawyer, but I can take that, move it around, and start my own firm at some point. I can think about it and work for somebody to think about how to take those steps.” It’s the same in the software industry. If somebody wants to work for a software company and a startup, it gives them some experience, but then they realize, “I want to do this myself.” It’s better to talk to them about it that way, rather than, “Don’t go into the corporate world.”
What do you want to do? What steps can help you gain what you want? Where is your passion? What vision do you have? Start thinking about a vision. Don’t think about, “I’m in high school and I don’t know what to do. I’m going to wait.” Start thinking about what you want out of life and what you like. What do you like to do? Take it in that direction.
Is the conversation similar with college women that are closer to entering the workforce?
For some of them, it is. I’ve had young women in college from CU Boulder that were my interns. Some of them said they had never thought about it. One loved doing research on young entrepreneurs. Where could she find them? She wanted to learn more about them. That’s what we talked about. What did you see? Some of them say, “I want to keep going in a direction.” I encourage them to meet entrepreneurs on campus and to also take a class on entrepreneurship. In fact, CU Boulder and CU Denver expanded into entrepreneurship.
I did an interview while I was working with the Marketing Director at the Jake Jabs Center. She said they’re getting more and more young women coming in. When they can see what they can do, that’s when they think, “I can only do this and that,” but they can take some business courses when they’re studying STEM, if they’re into that and want to invent something. That’s an entrepreneurial spirit, how they would market it, and what they would do.
I love that you’re doing that because when I graduated many years ago from the University of Illinois, entrepreneurship never entered my mind. I then got ingrained in the corporate world that I was like, “I like the security of the corporate world and knowing I have a specific salary and vacation.”
It has only been in the last few years for me that I’m like, “Entrepreneurship is not as bad as I thought in the past.” It’s nice to be able to provide young women that are starting out in life with options. They can go into the corporate world and the corporate world is a great venue, but they have options, and I know young people value traveling. You can easily travel as an entrepreneur because everything is remote these days versus having to come into the office.
In the corporate world these days, the employees are being asked to come back into the offices, even if it’s like 1 or 2 days a week. With those kinds of constraints, you can’t travel the world, but as an entrepreneur, you can. That’s awesome that you’re doing that and you’re encouraging young women into entrepreneurship. When you talk to these women, and I know you do a lot of education for them, what are some education initiatives that you do that resonate with these young women?
Young women need to learn soft skills
Young women are not getting soft skills. They’re not learning how to communicate effectively with people or listen. Listening is a big factor in communication. What words do you use? Think about mastering your mind. Think about, “What am I going to say so it doesn’t fall out?” Listen to what people are saying. People aren’t taught how to write emails without saying when they get upset, “Back off and let it go. Don’t say anything.”
It was interesting, there was a young woman that I was talking to. This is trying to get across to some people when they have an issue and are starting to get upset. Don’t make a phone call. You don’t have to use text. They have to learn how to use their communication skills in more than one way. They can’t just like decide, “I’m going to text someone.” A lot of people don’t want to do that, and want you to leave messages. There are all these different ways that people are not taught in college or afterward unless they get a good mentor that will work with them, but they may get thrown into something in the executive training program.
The person that they’re responding to, let’s say, is a buyer when you’re in a training program. They’re just going to expect you to know these things. A lot of it’s thinking ahead, learning these soft skills, mastering your mind, holding back on your temper and what you want to say, and different tricks about not saying things behind people’s backs. There are many, “What did somebody want to say to me?” “You’re going to go far if you don’t sit and talk in the lunchroom.” Don’t pay attention to the lunchroom.
There are a lot of things that develop leadership within. What do you want to do? Learn your leadership skills. What are you good at? What are the pluses that you can bring to the table? Think about that.
Collaboration with group projects
When I was going to Babson for my MBA class in Statistics, they put me in that because I didn’t make a great GMAT. If I passed that class with a certain grade, then I could go on. These people in college didn’t know anything about networking or organizations and what’s involved with them. I ended up in a team, writing the papers. It was one thing when you knew the stats, but it’s another thing that you had to know the people skills and dealing with it. I was friends with the dean of the business school, and she said, “I can’t believe they don’t know this.” They don’t know about collaboration. Maybe you’d collaborate in a team, but maybe someone else has a better opinion than you do. It’s all about listening to working as a team. It’s the collaboration, but networking.
Young Women Entrepreneurs: It is one thing to know the stats, but it’s another to know the people skills and dealing with it.
A lot of times in college, there are a lot of group projects. What the individuals don’t realize is that’s a little bit of what they’re going to need once they enter the workforce. Whether it’s in the corporate world or as an entrepreneur, you still have to collaborate with people to get things done. You can’t exist in a bubble without any collaboration.
What kinds of conversations are you surprised about when you’re talking to these young women?
They don’t understand branding. That’s something I’m seeing that’s important. They aren’t taught how important branding especially when their actions and clothing brand them. If they’re still in a corporation, they’re representing that corporation and how they brand themselves for their own business.
Young Women Entrepreneurs: Many young women don’t realize how important it is when they brand themselves.
Men have a certain way they dress and look. People don’t look at them as much as they do women with branding themselves like wearing a t-shirt that’s too tight, thinking you can wear flip flops into the office, or thinking about your makeup. There are girls that can’t stand it when you say something about their makeup. They don’t get that it does make a difference as a female. That’s something I see that college women and young professional women need. How are they branding themselves when they want to speak to somebody? How are they coming off?
I tell high school girls, “What do you think about if you’re going to a friend’s house for dinner and maybe their parents can help you with college or someplace if you want to start a business, and their parents have contacts? Think about how you appear to the parents. How is it going to come across?” That was hard for a group of girls to get a grip on. College girls are the same way. I’ve been to sorority meetings where I think, “Will somebody please talk to them that they’re not going on a date? They’re going to dinner.” They are not getting it. Nobody’s saying anything about it.
For the readers, branding is not a new concept. It is newer and people are more aware of branding. I know what branding is, but how would you explain branding to someone that has not been exposed to that phrase?
What is personal branding?
I remember somebody talking about it this way. She took a Coke bottle, a Pepsi bottle, and a Dr Pepper bottle. She had them on the table and said, “When you see these, what do you think of? How does that come across?” That’s the brand. Pepsi is the brand. The minute you say the word Pepsi, how does the bottle look? What does their logo look like? It’s the same with Target. How does it look? It may not be, “How does it taste?” When you first think about it and people talk about it, how does it look?
When you think about branding yourself, it’s like, “What am I wearing? What am I doing? When people first see me, what do they think? Do they think I’m serious?” I sat in on some meetings in New York with dressing like I had red, white, and blue, and it was all designer clothes then I get the feedback that the people there thought I was straight. It made me look stiff. It’s not me at all. I was in the fashion industry.
I realized I needed to loosen up a little bit and tell them, “If you are a jewelry designer and come out in a corporate suit, people aren’t going to think of you as a jewelry designer. When you attend a business conference while in high school, how are people going to perceive you if you are in jeans and a tank top?” That’s what it is. You are a brand yourself. Sylvia Scott is a brand. People grab a hold of me and think of me as my sweet spot being entrepreneurship and teenage girls in the business.
At a conference I did for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, there was a girl that I met, or I haven’t met her, but I know of her. She’s in Denver or in Littleton. She’s a little scientist and was Time Magazine’s Kid of The Year 2020. When you see this girl, you know where her mind is. You don’t see her in a pair of jeans and a fluffy pull-out. She looks very put together, but you can tell that she’s got a mind. She’s looking at doing something special by the way she looks and acts.
There’s a young woman that started a makeup or skincare business in high school. She developed everything out of her kitchen. When I saw her in high school and going into college, she was competing with adults for money through an SBDC. When you saw her in that respect, you knew she was serious about what she was doing and that she knew what she was doing. Now I see her as a young adult on Instagram and she looks too provocative. How she dresses and acts as a young adult has changed her personal branding. She’s not a woman I want to take advice for skincare or for being an entrepreneur because of how she looks.
I like your comparison as far as what a brand is. I like that you said Pepsi, Coke, and Dr Pepper, and what you think about it. When you see that, to me, that’s the brand because, with the show, we cater to women in the corporate world who are advancing in their careers or who want to advance in their careers. When people see that, they know that I am a part of the brand of collaborating with women and encouraging them that they can continue to advance in their corporate careers. That’s fantastic. I love your explanation there.
When you are working with these young women that do want to follow entrepreneurship, what training or offerings do you have for them?
I don’t. It’s all the soft skills. They want to learn about negotiation, business plans, and those hard things that they need doing a vision board that’s something different, their vision of what they want, and talking it through. If it’s something like, “I need to write a business plan,” you need to take some courses. You can take them through Junior Achievement. It has some things going on.
If you’re in college, check with your local colleges to see if there is an SBDC or Small Business Development Center or a Women’s Business Center connected to a college. Look to see what classes, courses, or extended education courses you can take so that you learn the business side. Where can you learn about your finances and the importance of finances? Not all women think about that.
I like that you made the distinction between more knowledge for entrepreneurs versus soft skills. We know that social media has impacted the ability of young people to want to make phone calls. I see it in my young adults. I have two kids. As they were going through even junior high and high school, if I said, “Make a phone call,” they would be horrified. “What do you mean to make a phone call? I don’t want to make a phone call.”
It is a very interesting progression. When you see kids coming into the corporate world, sometimes these young adults that graduated from college don’t know the soft skills. They don’t know how to write an email or answer the phone. I’m glad that you’re providing those soft skills for these young women. What other observations or realizations have you had of this younger generation coming into whether it’s the corporate world or entrepreneurship? Have you had any moments that you were like, “This is how they’re thinking,” or anything like that?
I have, and it comes through texting. They are used to texting. I have had to go back, call, and say, “What did you mean by this? This is what’s important.” As far as, “It was funny.” There was a young woman that asked me to have coffee with her. She has a nonprofit and is getting ready to graduate from college. Even though she’s from South Africa, she goes to school in Denver.
It was after the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day conference. She came up and said, “Let’s get together.” I said, “Let me get all this taken care of, the finalizing, and cleaning up everything from the conference.” There was an event in March I thought she’d like to go to and it would give me enough time to meet her. “I’ll let you know a few days in advance where to meet for coffee.”
She came back to me and said, “We should meet here at this place.” It was at a university, and I thought, “I don’t want to meet at a university. That’s not what I had in mind.” It was funny when I got back to her, and I said, “I’d prefer not to go there for coffee. I would rather go someplace closer to the event.” It was a changemakers event and I’d rather go someplace closer to the area of the schools in downtown Denver.
She got back to me and said, “All right.” It was this flippant response. I thought, “That’s not quite right. You don’t do that.” I didn’t appreciate the fact that she decided we were going to meet at this coffee shop and sent me an invite. I see that where they think it’s okay then that’s what they’re going to do. They take that initiative, but sometimes it’s not a good idea to take the initiative. I wouldn’t do that.
It was interesting, after this conference, these girls said, “We have this leftover food. Let’s take it to a rescue place.” Most people don’t think about that. I thought, “That’s a great idea.” They think about it in terms of social services sometimes and helping other people. I do see young people in high school, college, or out of college, the Gen Z are thinking about how to make the world better, which I like.
They have no qualms about saying how they feel and getting involved with how to make things better. I see that more than ever. I was in high school during the Vietnam War. We were fighting about the war, but we didn’t think about how to make things better like they are. They’re thinking about the environment, animals, and the whole world. I see that coming more through them.
I’ve noticed young people have very strong opinions about things that they care about and are passionate about. That is amazing because that’s going to hone the confidence that we need younger girls, even little girls. I read a research study that girls’ confidence peaks at age nine. That’s sad to me that their confidence peaks at age nine. How is that possible?
In the work that you and I do, we’re collectively trying to change the world through confidence, whether they’re seminars, courses, or a conversation like this. If it can help in person, that would be fantastic. When you and I had originally spoken, you had mentioned that you wanted to take Girls’ C.E.O. more internationally.
What are the goals for Girls’ C.E.O.?
I do have some contacts. I interviewed and met a girl. She lives in New Zealand now, and we stay in touch. Unfortunately, what’s happened in Afghanistan’s not going to help. My goal on that is not to work. Reaching Canada, I have women from college that know girls in Canada. That’s another outreach there. There’s a lot going on.
I’m part of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. It’s an international organization. I met somebody in Africa who’s one of their new ambassadors, and she is talking to college girls about being ambassadors. I told her I wanted to connect with her to see how she’s doing that because there’s much there. Entrepreneurship means a lot to them sometimes more than in the United States because that’s how they can survive.
That’s where I want to see it. It doesn’t have to be Africa, but I like the fact that somebody’s in New Zealand. She was in Tahiti because of her family, and then she graduated and moved to New Zealand. We’re still in touch. There are different ways that I’m trying to network to learn where I can make outreach, get introduced, and bring people in.
As far as Afghanistan, you said you wanted to go there, but because of everything that is happening there politically, that’s not going to be possible. By the way, that’s a horrible situation there. Young women in Afghanistan that have been free their whole lives and had some sense of democracy are now back in the cave ages where they can’t go anywhere without an escort. They have to cover themselves. They can’t go to school, which is an atrocity. I hope that, at some point, things will change there for them.
I know somebody that I’ve been trying to help get out. She was my menteee a few years ago and had a great business. All of this started and she missed the bus and get out of the country when they were able to when everything was happening. Since then, it’s fallen apart. She’s in a horrible situation.
I cannot imagine. I wish her the very best.
Thank you so much for everything that we have discussed.
I would like to ask you, do you have two actionable tips that you could provide to these young women that are looking to either go into the corporate world or become entrepreneurs?
1.) Find a mentor. You could find a couple of mentors and if you can do it, get a coach as well on the track that you want to go. If you want to go into the corporate world, find a couple of mentors on your own. You could find mentors for the company you want to work for. Find people that maybe your family knows, somebody that will sit there and become a mentor. It can be a man or a woman, somebody that you feel comfortable with. Look at coaching. There are many coaches out there now. Think about how to get a coach and what you need the coach can provide, but mentoring makes a big difference. If they want to become an entrepreneur, find a mentor.
I had mentors when I was working for major department stores and somebody that I’d worked for on the wholesale side. It’s wonderful that she taught me how to dress going for the corporate side of retail. There were different ways that I talked to her going forward. You don’t have to stay with them forever. It can be for a topic that you’re interested in that you need help with. You can talk to friends or parents if you’re younger. If you are out of college and going into the corporate world, start looking around, and see who you know like your friends. You can have a younger mentor. 2.) Look at coaching and mentoring.
First of all, it’s critical for people to have coaches, but the fact of having a younger mentor is not new. It also helps people like myself. I’ve been in the corporate world for many years. I learned from younger individuals too. It’s reverse mentoring as well. You’re mentoring them on the ways of how to do whatever because mentoring could look like 1 million different ways, but you’re always learning from them as well. Those are two great tips.
Thank you so much for this great conversation. I wish you the best with Girls’ C.E.O. because you’re doing great work and I love seeing all these younger women wanting to be entrepreneurs because it’s a breath of fresh air.
Any Final Words?
I would encourage everybody to expand on their toolkit. If you’re in college and you’re looking at the corporate world, take some classes in entrepreneurship, take some courses, expand your mind on it, and think about how can that benefit you and what you can bring to the table. If you want to be an entrepreneur and, say, you’re going into college or you’re in college, look to see what’s going on, what classes you can take, and the topics that would be of interest.
For those of you out of college look at small business development centers and women’s business centers. They’re usually free. You can expand it. Let’s say you’re in a job right now and you want to move on and become an entrepreneur, see where the SBDC (Small Business Development Centers) are in your area or WBC (Women’s Business Centers) because those places have classes for aspiring entrepreneurs and they’re free. They have counseling and so does SCORE. They would be happy to help you look at how to expand in starting your own business.
That SCORE advice is awesome because I use SCORE myself and they have a tremendous number of resources and do free coaching as well. That’s a fantastic tip right there. Thanks for being on the show and have a wonderful day.
Thank you so much. I appreciate it. It’s good to see you.
I love the work that Sylvia is doing to encourage high school and college-aged women to become entrepreneurs. Through her conferences and Girls’ C.E.O Connection™, she is providing these young women with such skills and knowledge to go and become an entrepreneur. I never even thought about becoming an entrepreneur at that age. If you become an entrepreneur at that age, it opens up an entirely new world for these young women.
Sylvia left us with a couple of tips. 1) Find a mentor. This is not a new tip, but if there are any young women that may have missed this tip before, we wanted to repeat it. Find a mentor on your own. It doesn’t have to be within your organization, and it can be for one particular topic. It doesn’t have to be for everything, and you don’t have to stay with a mentor for very long.
2) Obtain a coach. That’s a given. If you hire or get a coach, even if it’s for free, they are going to be able to shorten the timeframe for you to become a successful entrepreneur. She also mentioned organizations such as SCORE. It’s an organization that will provide you with tons of resources on becoming an entrepreneur or a business owner and it’s free. They also have mentorship as well. Those are very good, solid tips there. With that, remember to be brave, be bold, and take action.