Copyright © 2018. Inter-American Development Bank. If you wish to republish this article, please request authorization at sph-communication@iadb.org

Interview by Andrea Proaño Calderon.

Lee la versión en español aquí.

Did you know that, by the time they reach the fifth grade, there are almost three times as many boys as girls in the top 5% with regards to math achievement? This gap, contrary to popular belief, cannot be explained by biological differences. Rather, it may have a lot to do with, among other factors, sociocultural and inter-generational barriers that play negatively on girls’ confidence.

So how can we counter this trend? We push back.  

The Moms as Mentors Project, created in 2007, is one such initiative. It offers leadership and team-building workshops to empower moms and daughters to become “self-confident and influential women.” We spoke to Leslie Coles, Co-Founder and Executive Director, to learn about the ‘secret formula’ for moms to raise confident girls. Ahead of Mother’s Day, we can think of no better way to honor them, than by recognizing them as our biggest role models in life.

Tell us a little bit about how Moms as Mentors came to be. What motivated it? What gap was it trying to fill?

After learning about the critical role moms play in girls’ confidence while at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Founder Emilie Liebhoff wanted to help girls build up their own confidence and see their own moms as role models. The mom-daughter relationship is such a powerful one, and Emilie realized that moms are an untapped and unexplored resource to influence girls’ socio-emotional and career choices and improve their outcomes, regardless of their own background and skillset.

In 2014, I joined Emilie to form the next chapter of Moms as Mentors® –we officially became a non-profit then and grew our focus to helping moms promote their daughters’ interest and confidence in fast-growing fields where women remain underrepresented – with an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), entrepreneurship and politics.

The programs received amazing feedback from the very beginning, and we now have a bigger demand for programs than we can meet.

What types of programs do you offer?

At its core, Moms as Mentors® is about raising the next generation of confident women. We want girls to understand the power of their own voices and help mothers seize the opportunity to become mentors to their daughters in their daily lives.

Our flagship mom/daughter programs nurture confidence and create leadership and bonding moments through activities that promote teamwork, communication, and mutual understanding and strengthen connections.

Each program also features a hands-on activity centered around either a STEM, entrepreneurship or political engagement theme. We emphasize teamwork, communication, and collaboration and challenge moms and girls to troubleshoot together. In the process, mothers often witness the creative capabilities of their daughters and equally daughters see their moms in a new light.

We also offer several parent’s workshops*, like how to be a STEM/STEAM mentor, and on topics like how to encourage girls to discover new fields of interest, how to help their children make a difference, and how parents can raise boys to become male allies for women in the STEM/entrepreneurship and political fields.

Economists refer to the theory of change as a motive behind an intervention, what was yours?

We were thinking about how to address the lack of confidence in moms and in girls, of women not being recognized —or not recognizing themselves— for their role, achievements, capacities… Part of achieving confidence levels in moms is helping them to understand how it affects their daughters to hear them say things like “Oh I’m not good at math, ask your dad…” We wanted to break intergenerational ideologies, attitudes and insecurities that can get passed down from mom to daughter, such as math anxiety. Behavioral change happens over time, and we know that small adjustments in girls’ daily interactions with their mothers can have a powerful impact– in the backyard, at the dinner table, in the car, etc. Through our concept, moms become the vehicles through which we can achieve the goal of building girls’ confidence and self-esteem.

How do you select your target population, or do they select you?

We work mostly with elementary and middle school aged girls and have worked with more than 1,000 girls and women since 2014.

To connect with our clients, we partner with community organizations, like local libraries, schools, universities and companies… we go where there is interest! Most of the demand for our programs spread by word-of-mouth.

Has your initiative been evaluated?

It would be great eventually to be able to conduct a formal evaluation and follow-up research. But for now, our main feedback comes from surveys we conduct at the end of each program to determine whether the mom and daughter relationship and their own confidence is changing.

Surveys have shown that:

    • the programs form stronger bonds between mothers-daughters for over 90% of participants
    • over 90% of girls said that our programs sparked new interest/enthusiasm in entrepreneurship and made them feel more confident about STEM
    • 100% of moms said our program gave them tools for being a “STEM” mentor
    • 94% of participating girls afterwards reported feeling “more confident speaking up about issues that matter to them.”

We’ve also learned from our surveys and follow up communication with mom participants that the power of the programs continues at home – girls participate in more STEM activities, are more likely to get STEM toys and moms and daughters keep cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit they were exposed to in the workshops.

And finally, we’ve found that 75% of the mothers who participate feel more confident as women in the world and in the workplace (beyond their role as moms), which excites us as it means we are impacting two generations at once –moms and their girls, who can then pass that confidence on to their daughters!

If you could convey one idea about Moms as Mentors to mothers, fathers, policy-makers and anyone interested in finding new solutions to empowering girls, what would it be?

Moms as Mentors® is all about recognizing the power of moms.

A mom doesn’t have to have a particular career or education path in order to play a significant role in impacting a girl’s confidence, both in life and in her career. There are many ways in which moms can have an influence as a mentor and a role model –  a trusted advisor who promotes confidence, strength and perseverance in the face of inevitable obstacles.

This is about empowering moms to embrace their mentorship, to model confidence themselves and to be there for their daughters in their daily lives.

It’s really a simple idea. We believe that through moms we can raise the most confident generation of girls yet.

Do you know of other initiatives that empower moms to help their daughters and sons succeed? Share the story of your own mentor in the comments section or mentioning @BIDgente on Twitter.

*Most Moms as Mentors® programming is geared towards mothers and daughters, but any adult role model is always welcome (including dads) and the parent workshops address topics that are relevant for sons as well.

Andrea Proaño Calderon is the communications consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank’s Social Protection and Health Division.

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