Updated: Feb 7, 2020
International Day of Girl is on October 11th. The United Nations came up with this day in 2011 as a way to help girls worldwide. The goal is to help girls reach their full potential, and to shed light on the challenges that they face in the world today. The theme of 2019 Day of Girl is “GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable.” This is the year where we celebrate the achievements of girls! Girls and women that are working toward equality and making the world a better place.
As a way to celebrate, I decided to talk to a few companies that are all about empowering females and moving forward. I spoke with Melody Pourmoradi of GiRLiFE Empowerment, Kristi Balzer of Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls, Dilim Dieke and Dipabali Chowdhury of Lit Network NYC, and Gina Keller of Nasty Women Cosmetics. I felt a strong connection to these women. Their amazing ambitions, for women young and old around the world, are inspirational. I believe that they are truly determined to leave this world (and the women in it especially!) better.
To begin, let’s start with GiRLiFe Empowerment.
Melody began her career as a Life Coach and then decided to market her ideas in workshop form, to young women. This company is this organization gives women the tools to begin coaching young girls. The goal to help these young girls grow into powerful and ambitious women. Melody provides whomever participates in the workshop with all the tools they need and by implementing the workshop ideas, participants are able to counsel and inspire young girls. The targeted age group is 5 to 12 years old which is a pivotal point for young girls. Around this time is when the pressures of society and social media begin to affect them. She provides a program with the core beliefs that: our thoughts are powerful tools and need to be honed, girls who believe in themselves are happier, and opportunities are endless - if only they can believe in themselves.
Liz: So I’ve looked into your program and it looks great! What gave you the idea to start it? Melody: Thanks so much for looking at the program. I actually started it because, after coaching hundreds of women in my class, I realized that what we were really doing the most of was unlearning a lot of fear that they had picked up in childhood. And this includes myself as well. So, I felt like: what if we started a whole new generation of girls off with a strong foundation? Where we’re not operating out of fear, but we’re operating out of love and confidence and intuition. And that’s really how GiRLiFE got off the ground. I decided to take the message that I had been giving women for all these years in my practice, by breaking it down and delivering it to young girls in a workshop series.
Liz: Oh wow! That’s incredible. How did you fund it in the beginning?
Melody: Well, I had been working as a Life Coach, as mentioned, for years beforehand. And I really was a one woman show, so I tapped into my savings, and hired the right people to help me along the journey, in the form of virtual assistants and publicists. More than anything, it was an investment of my own time to create the content. By day I was coaching and working with my clients, and by night I was a mother to my two girls, my twins, and I was really putting my focus on making a curriculum that would resonate with young girls.
Liz: I’m sure it was exhausting being a mom, a coach, and beginning your own business. But your program inspires other women to do the same. Would you say this is a profitable venture for other women?
Melody: It really was a lot of juggling, and wearing a lot of hats. But I was so excited by every step of the process, and so sure that I was on the right path and doing the right thing. The next right step was always available to me. And I think I was a better mother for it, for so many reasons. As far as this being a profitable venture, absolutely. As a Life Coach, my main focus has always been to help women to find personal fulfillment, whatever that may look like. And with this course, it’s really a two-tiered sense of empowerment. I’m teaching other passionate women like myself to step into their own power, to step into becoming a leader in their community, to run these workshops. They’re also able to earn from this great work that they’re doing. They’re all taking this program and running with it. Some are social workers and psychiatrists, life and wellness coaches who have been able to bring clients in because they’re running this program. So really, it’s like all things. Whatever energy and time and investment put into this project - they will generate what they put into it. It’s definitely a way for women to be financially independent and do good work.
Liz: Did you see your own children dealing with some of this fear, and societies standards? Did that also motivate you to begin this?
Melody: My daughters were definitely a huge motivator in getting this program off the ground. There are so many rites of passage that a young girl goes through, and with things like social media around, it’s very difficult not to be affected by it. So my daughters were definitely motivators. They feel social pressures just like every other child does and I like to think that they’ve got extra tools because they’ve grown up in these workshops from the beginning. My daughters were 7 when I started the program, and so at 7 years of age they were participants in my program and workshops. Now they’re 13 years old and they’re my partners. Together we set up the program and the individual workshops. It’s been a really nice way to connect with my daughters and teach them about what it is to start something and create something. My hope is that it’s an example for my girls to go after everything with their full hearts, and to know that they have the capacity to earn for the good work that they’re doing, and to earn unapologetically.
Liz: This is so inspirational! I love that you refer to your daughters as your partners. Being a teenager can be really difficult on both mothers and teenagers, but it sounds as if you’ve found a way to bond with them and connect with them. And doing that while also teaching them, and teaching others. So, how did you decide on the age group of the targeted girls, ages 5-12?
Melody: The reason I chose this age group is because I wanted to get to girls before they were socialized in ways that would disempower them. I really wanted them to experience the curriculum, and build a strong foundation within themselves before the pressures of society and social media were able to affect them.
Liz: That’s a great idea about the age group. Do you have any great personal success stories that you’d like to share?
Melody: One of my favorite stories is about a young girl who was allergic to peanuts. As you can imagine, for a young child that really affects their lives: their play dates and where they can sit at lunch, and so much of their day to day world. And this one girl who came into my “Meditation and Mindfulness” seminar, was so nervous. She was going in to get an allergy test, to see if she had passed through the difficult parts of the allergy, and maybe wouldn’t have such heavy allergies anymore. And she was so nervous that her mom said she basically decided to meditate and breathe through all of the difficult feelings. She managed to get herself to a comfortable state, so that regardless of the outcome, she would feel ok. If she passed the allergy test or not, she had the tools within her to deal with whatever the outcome could be. That’s really one of my favorite stories because it just talks about how we’re teaching kids that there’s such an inner brilliance and light within them. And that if only they believe it, and know just how strong that intuition and inner brilliance is, they can really use it to their advantage for their entire lives.
Liz: Wow! That was such a heartwarming story. Thank you so much for all your help. You have been wonderful to talk to. (You can find GiRLiFE Empowerment on Instagram at: @girllifeempowerment )
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls next. The camp began in 2001 by a Portland State University student as a summer day camp. Although it is based in Portland, Oregon, they now have over 100 camps all over the world, for girls ages 9-17. The girls form bands, write their own songs, and then perform together (I know so cool right!). The camp is inclusive and opens its doors to girls who are cis-female, transgender, and gender non-binary. While at camp these girls explore music, art, and self expression. Not only do they learn more about music, they also find positive role models at camp and find empowerment in their creative self expression. Kristi Balzer is now the executive director. She holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from San Diego State University. She joined Rock Camp in the Spring of 2015. Programs at the camps include: Summer Camp, Liberation Rock Camp, and coming soon: Team Rock and Roaming Rock Camp. Kristi enjoys her role at the original Rock Camp very much! I was very excited to speak with her.
Liz: What does being a girl mean to you? Kristi: I don't know that I could define being a girl in any one way. We have the capacity to be so many things and inhabit so many characteristics, but ultimately I think, regardless of your gender identity, the thing to strive for is kindness and understanding toward others, and strength and resistance in the face of hate and harm.
Liz: How did this organization come about? Kristi: Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls was actually started in 2001 by Misty McElroy. Misty was a PSU student and a punk musician who experienced much discrimination against women in the Portland music scene. She wanted to create a safe space where girls and trans youth could play any kind of music they wanted, surrounded by a community of supportive peers and mentors.
Liz: How do you empower other girls? Kristi: We empower girls by giving them the opportunity to get loud, take up space, and challenge social norms. We create a culture at camp of inclusion, acceptance, and support. It means all of our campers feel free to be who they are and express their true selves through music creation and performance.
Liz: Self expression is so important! What do you think are some challenges that girls face? Kristi: We all face our own individual challenges, which is why I say go in with kindness. But women, girls, and trans folk face a unique set of challenges as we continue to combat sexism in society. At this time, I think we are challenged to do away with the notion that we must compete with one another for scarce resources of all kinds. We must develop a mindset of abundance that recognizes that other women are not the ones who are reducing our access to the resources we need to thrive.
Liz: Do you believe that girls have enough of a voice, if not, do you believe that you are giving them one? Kristi: I believe all young girls and trans youth can benefit from discovering the power of their voice and Rock Camp is a great platform for amplifying youth voices. There is something really empowering about handing a kid an electric guitar for the first time and telling them they can learn to play music of their own in just one week. So it's not so much about having enough of a voice, but instead guiding them to discover that they do have a voice that can help create positive change in the world.
Liz: How can girls help other girls at your camp, and in general? Kristi: At Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls we provide a safe space where all of our campers are encouraged to be supportive of one another, to really listen to each other, and embrace the idea that there's room for everyone. And that everyone has something special to contribute to the world. I'd like to think that since we've been doing this for almost 20 years, and that there are over 100 camps world-wide also furthering our mission, that we are creating new generations of youth who will take that confidence and spread it throughout their communities, to other girls all over the world.
Liz: What do you think about equality between men and women? Have we achieved it yet? Is that still far in the future?
Kristi: I think as a society we have made huge strides in creating a more gender equitable society, but we still have work to do. It's important to remember the place where we came from, that there was a time when women did not have the right to vote, access to birth control, the ability to own property or even a credit card. And that it was women throughout history that changed those things for the better. But, there's important work still to do. We still don't have pay equity in most professions, the equal rights amendment has yet to pass congress, and trans and non-binary folk are especially effected by these inequalities.
Liz: Tell me more about yourself, and what led to this. Was it some event in your life? Kristi: I came to Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls after moving to Portland in 2015. I was looking for a new adventure in the non-profit world. But I was wide open to possibilities. Rock Camp was looking for a new Executive Director at the time and their/our mission really struck me. I love the idea that we are creating a space where girls can build each other up rather than tear each other down. I think there is so much unnecessary competition among adolescent girls. I love the idea that we provide one place, at least once a year, where there is no sense of competition. That we are all rooting for and supporting one another no matter what.
Liz: Well, I love to hear about rock n’ roll, and what you’re doing with these girls is super fantastic. Thank you for letting me interview you!
(You can find Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls IG @rocknrollcampforgirls )
Next up I had the pleasure to interview the LitNetwork NYC! (They are lit y’all) LIT stands for Learn - Invest - Transform. It is the first ever women of color young professional network of emerging leaders nationally. They help women of color achieve mobility in the workplace. They are trying to get women of color the right tools, information, and resources to take their personal and professionals lives to a new level. Women alone have a hard time in a male dominated world, but women of color face particular hardships. Black and Hispanic women make up a smaller percentage of total women employed in management, business and financial operations occupations than White or Asian women.
The founders of LIT are Dilim Dieke and Dipabali Chowdhury, and their organization recently just turned 2 years old! The founders worked extra hard to get this company off the ground, continuously hustling so that they could make a difference in other women’s lives. Neither of them knew much about business before starting this, but they educated themselves and tried. They’ve hosted several workshops and recently began an internship program at NYU! They have made great strides in a very short amount of time, and I was so excited to interview them.
Liz: First off, can you both tell me a little about yourselves, just so we know the women behind this amazing company?
Dilim and Dipabali: We are Dilim Dieke, LMSW; and Dipabali Chowdhury. We are the founders of the LIT Network. Dilim is Nigerian American and is a licensed social worker / program manager at a non-profit organization in NYC. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Global Studies and Economics from Arizona State University and a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University. Dipabali is Indian and Bengali American and is a learning and development specialist at a tech company based in New York City. She is a New York City native and has a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School.
Liz: What made you start this company? It is such a powerful movement, to bring to light the challenges that women of color face particularly - and then to support them.
Dilim and Dipabali: The LIT journey started back in February of 2017 when we both worked at a nonprofit. We started to have conversations about women of color in the workplace, and how we constantly felt like outsiders. We felt as though we could not bring our whole selves to work and we felt exhausted to continually put on a façade to please the Eurocentric norms of the workplace. We noticed disparities amongst those who were front-line and those in management positions. Managers didn’t reflect the demographics we served nor did we have anyone in the executive team who was a person of color. These stark disparities made us question why this was happening and if there was anything out there that addressed this issue. To our surprise, we did not find any groups that supported young professionals. There were groups that focused on women of color managers and directors, but none that focused on women who were 2-3 years out of college. So we decided to create our own in September 2017. In our early days, The LIT Network was just a support group for women of color but now we’re an organization that provides consulting services, community events, socials and a digital storytelling platform for women of color.
Liz: Did you think it would become such a huge success when you started the company?
Dilim & Dipabali: Yes we did!
Liz: What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced as women of color? Dilim & Dipabali: In the workplace, women of color are systematically less represented, supported, and given less opportunities. We have both experienced racial and gender discrimination, and bias, and have felt like outsiders working in predominately white spaces. We have had to work twice as hard as men and white women to receive the same recognition. Additionally, there is this persistent feeling that you, being brown /black is always on display, while also feeling constantly ignored and alienated by the whiteness surrounding you. This hypervisibility forces women of color to change their tone, be less direct in communication or use inflection when they speak in order to not be perceived as “aggressive,” “hostile” or “sassy.” In other words, we struggle with feeling we can be our authentic selves at work. Outside of work, women of color are often burdened with upholding society’s and our family’s expectations and dreams for us, and therefore we never get to live for ourselves. As women of color, we spend most of our time caring for the needs of others — family, friends, coworkers and spouses — that we put our own needs on the back burner.
Liz: What does it mean to you to be a powerful woman?
Dilim & Dipabali: A powerful woman is someone who boldly and unapologetically chooses to live a life for herself. She chooses to say no to things she is not comfortable with, she is okay with not pleasing everyone, and she is confident in who she is and what she stands for. A powerful woman lives an authentic life and works to share her talents and gifts with the world no matter what.
Liz: Can you tell me more about what you hope to achieve with this company and what you have achieved so far?
Dilim & Dipabali: Out of all Fortune 500 CEOs, only 1 is a woman of color. LIT is here to change the narrative of women of color. By 2024, women of color will be the majority in the workplace when compared to white women. This is driving the urgency behind our work. Many of us have dreams to be entrepreneurs and leaders in our respective fields but there is no universal platform for all women of color, regardless of industry and race, to come together. We want LIT to be that platform.
Our vision is to live in a world where there are more WOC CEOs, more WOC represented in C-Suites, more WOC managers, and more WOC entrepreneurs. Since launching The LIT Network, we have been able to host several community events and have launched our digital storytelling platform. Our community events are inspired by the challenges women of color have been facing both in their personal and professional lives. Our events are intentionally focused on women of color only because we rarely have a safe space that is ours.
Lastly, through our digital storytelling platform, we have worked to elevate WOC voices, humanize WOC experiences, shift social perceptions, and celebrate the excellence of WOC. We are happy to have started The LIT Network, a community where women of color are accepting of everyone’s journeys no matter how different they are from each other. It is a community where we can lean on each other and go through this journey together because we know this work is far from easy. But this startup journey hasn't been easy, we embarked on this journey with no money and limited time... just faith, pure hustle and an unwavering belief in the power of women of color coming together in solidarity to elevate one another.
Liz: How did you get involved with NYU and what was that process like? What does the International Student Success Program do for these students?
Dilim & Dipabali: When we launched LIT 2 years ago, we realized that we needed to extend our community to students of color. We knew that our work would not be complete if we weren’t preparing the next generation of people of color leaders.
So last year, we partnered with NYU to pilot a program to help students of color prepare to navigate the workplace. Our program series provided specialized guidance in starting and navigating the job search process, securing a fulfilling job, professional networking, navigating workplace discrimination, & financial management. The program was a huge success and more than we could’ve ever imagined but we knew that if we were to renew this partnership
This year, we are partnering again NYU to develop an international student success program. Research shows that international students deal with academic challenges, social isolation, and cultural adjustment. Our program helps international students discover and develop the necessary skills to navigate their college experience and learn the tools and resources to successfully navigate life as an international student in the United States.
Liz: You both are doing so much and I have so many questions! But I will just you both if you have anything else you’d like to add?
Dilim & Dipabali: The Authenticity over Approval Campaign - Digital Storytelling Platform / Product Line.
To celebrate the 2-year anniversary of the LIT Network, we are so excited to unveil our first product line and campaign. The Authenticity Over Approval campaign has been our dream for the past 2 years. This campaign seeks to empower everyone to boldly and unapologetically choose an authentic life despite societal and family expectations.
Since we’ve launched the LIT Network, we’ve had to question whether we were living an authentic life and redefine what that meant for us. For us, authenticity means doing the inner work to find what you’re truly connected to and then finding a way to live that life despite what others may think.
Our hope is that this t-shirt reminds you not to conform to the expectations that were set for you and instead boldly live a life that you choose. We will start selling our t-shirts soon. If you want to be the first one to know when we sell our product line, please follow us on Instagram @litnetworknyc. If you want to get involved in the campaign, please contact us on how to engage. We’d love to feature your story!
Liz: I’ll leave you with a quote from their Out & Equal Executive Director: “No one should ever have to choose between a career we love and living our lives with authenticity and integrity.” - Selisse Berry
(You can find LitNetwork NYC on Instagram at: @litnetworknyc )
Lastly, I had the opportunity to talk to Gina of Nasty Woman Cosmetics, as I'm a lover of lipstick and makeup, and also women's rights. Gina Keller founded the company in 2017 as a way to fund her activism. The products are all cruelty free and include matte lipstick, lip gloss, and lip scrubs. Proceeds of every sale support organizations that share values of equality and empowerment such as: Emily’s List, ACLU Michigan, and Planned Parenthood. They are also a part of PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies program. They have a blog that discusses topics such as politics in dating, how females and males still have a huge pay wage gap, and why we need feminism.
Liz: In your eveyday life how do empower other girls?
Gina: I like to empower women by supporting women in whatever ventures I can. Most of the people who helped me start my business were women. They were able to impart some hard won knowledge to me. I always try to pay that forward. I also like to feature and highlight other women in my work - much like you!
Liz: What do you think are some challenges that girls face?