Linda Calhoun is Inspiring the World’s Youth Through Role Model Interviews
Linda Calhoun is an entrepreneur, activist, and community leader based in San Francisco, California. A graduate of Boston University with a B.S. in Mass Communication, Linda’s career path led her to work in international policy coordination, media, technology, and data management. Her work has met the unique and increasingly important intersections of STEM and Social Justice. In 1994, she had the honor of being a member of the United Nations Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA) as an election monitor in the KwaZulu Natal Province. In addition to earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communication, she also received a certificate in International Marketing from the American
University of Paris. Linda is the Founder and Executive Producer of Career Girls, a nonprofit that was created as a response to the inequality of opportunity that Linda encountered in her story. Linda is the President of the Career Girls board and additionally sits on the board for various other organizations such as Alliance for Girls and Friends of the Commission on the Status of Women.
Q & A with Linda Calhoun:
Q: What is your story for creating Career Girls as a means of impacting the futures of girls and young women?
A: I wished I had known…Like a lot of people, I knew growing up that my parents and grandparents were hard workers, but none of them had attended college. Scholarships, work-study jobs, and ambition got me to the college graduation finish line, but I really had no blueprint
for what to do next. All I could do was put one foot in front of the other and try to figure it out as I went along. Fast forward 10 years later, I was having an experience of a lifetime working on a technology project in the beautiful mountains of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I was at a large gathering of other USAID contractors, and I remember looking around and seeing only 3 or 4 women and absolutely no one else of color. The only reason I was included in that room was because of my level of educational attainment, the skillset I had developed, my passion for the subject, and the fact that I had somehow stumbled across the knowledge that a career like that even existed. It hit me like an epiphany – if I could be in that room, any girl could be in that room.
Career Girls is founded on the dream that every girl around the world, regardless of their
background, has access to diverse and accomplished women role models that inspire them to
reach for the stars professionally and in life. I wanted to help more young girls like me who didn’t grow up with mentors or professional role models to help them find their own path to
Q: You talk about closing the “imagination gap” – can you explain what that means?
A: The “imagination gap” is the difference between the limited career choices that a girl might imagine for herself, versus the reality of the much broader range of careers actually available for her to pursue based on what she finds interesting or is passionate about. Girls might not know that women, or women who look like them, have careers in certain fields. Girls might not know a particular career even exists. Our role models allow girls to see over 600 diverse and accomplished women working across a wide variety of careers and hear their career, educational, and life journeys.
Q: You’ve managed to expand Career Girls into 232 countries and have acquired a library of 11,000 video clips of role models (some who have even shared their stories in their native language). This is quite an undertaking. Who are your viewers and stakeholders?
A: Careergirls.org went live in January 2011, and since then, we have recorded over 7.5 million page views from individuals in 232 countries and territories. Our primary goal is to reach girls ages 10 – 13, an age group where role models have been shown to make a critical difference. Research from the American Association of University Women’s study “Why so Few?” found that boys and girls have complete parity in math and science, in terms of aptitude and interest, until about 4th grade when girls start to fall behind. However, girls are much more likely to stay on track academically in math and science if they see women who are successfully working in fields that utilize those subjects.
While it is essential for girls to start early, we are a career exploration destination for all girls, no matter their age. Reflecting the unique nature of our content, we get traction from girls in elementary school, middle school, high school, and even college. In our videos, we ask role
models not to avoid complex topics, but to explain them in a way that a 10-year-old can understand. We also work hand-in-hand with teachers, school counselors, library media specialists, group leaders, mentors, and family members to facilitate interactive lessons plans, and offerings like Career Girls Clubs and Career Girls Days. Our website, videos, and curriculum provide an easy tool for each of these specialized groups to use in their work impacting girls every day.
Q: How do you measure your impact?
A: As a website designed for children, privacy is our number one concern. We do not allow any type of user login, but we can still measure impact through Google analytics, which shows our high levels of interest and engagement. When we engage in direct programs with girls, we conduct pre- and post-event surveys to measure impact. We also receive anecdotal stories from girls and educators about the impact of our content.
Q: Where are you headed with Career Girls now and what do you need to get there?
A: We believe every girl deserves access to the tools and support she needs to succeed and change the world. We recently launched our Career Girls Mobile Learning Center (MLC) pilot program for 100 girls in Rwanda in partnership with the social enterprise Starlight Africa. The program makes Careergirls.org content available offline, breaking down barriers like access to role models, electricity, and quality education. To serve the demands of our growing audience in the US and around the world, we are focusing on developing new partnerships, collaborations, and securing more funding to support our plan to film more women role models and implement more Career Girls Mobile Learning Center (MLC) programs around the world.
Linda’s Networking Interests:
- Philanthropists focused on girls education and empowerment
- Women working in AI, machine learning, and robotics
- Corporate social responsibility officers with shared goals