WEX headquarters was pleased to recently host former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe and a gathering of corporate leaders who support the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute (OSWLI). Founded when she retired from the Senate in 2013 after her third 6-year term, OSWLI focuses on empowering future generations of young women by raising their confidence and aspirations through hands-on mentoring and training.
The group came together to celebrate the OSWLI school program for girls in grades 10-12, which is entering its third year with 330 girls participating from 36 Maine high schools. Many women attending the event act as youth mentors or speakers for the school program, with corporate sponsors like WEX providing funds and job shadowing opportunities.
“I want every Maine girl to know she can be whatever she wants to be; that she has the values, strength, and skills to get there; and that there are many women across the state eager for girls to reach their full potential—and willing to help. With the guidance and encouragement of these successful women leaders, I know we can help unlock the doors to the amazing futures that await them,” says Senator Snowe.
A Curriculum for Empowerment
The Institute cites a number of studies that support Senator Snowe’s own observations and experiences that illustrate the need to foster leadership in young women:
- Between elementary and high school, girls’ self-esteem drops, on average, 3.5 times more than boys’, often leading girls to not try new things, drop out of school activities, and believe they’re not good in math or science
- As early as middle school, girls are 25% less likely than boys to say they like taking the lead
- Women in a KPMG study reported they were “twice as likely to feel confident” if they had positive role models when growing up.
In response to these obstacles, the Institute designed a 3-year evidence-based program for young women, with a curriculum for each year focused on a theme:
My Values: Sophomore year students focus on identifying their strengths, values and passions and how to apply this knowledge to making sound choices in their own lives.
My Voice: Junior year finds students developing skills in everything from presentations and public speaking to problem solving and leadership.
My Vision: In their Senior year, participants address their next phase of life, including education and career choices, as well as ways to become leaders in their families, careers and communities.
“This program is really important for girls in those parts of Maine, like where I grew up, where access to possibilities are really limited,” said WEX CEO Melissa Smith in her introduction of Senator Snowe. “When a woman breaks a barrier and does it well, it resets the bar, and that’s what Olympia has done for women in a very public way. It’s been a privilege to have her as a role model, and this program for her home state will be an important part of her legacy.”