Sheri West on Getting Closer to an Inclusive, Equal World

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Sheri West, the Founder, CEO & Chairperson of LiveGirl, a nonprofit organization that builds confident leaders.

Sheri West is the Founder, CEO, and Chairperson of LiveGirl, a nonprofit organization that builds confident leaders. (Image Credit: Sheri West/LiveGirl)

1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?

Prior to founding LiveGirl, I worked at a large, multi-national company for almost seventeen years. So, I had to “unlearn” corporate bureaucracy in order to embrace the competitive advantage of nimbleness in a small organization. Yes, we vet ideas and have approval processes, but we focus on moving fast when responding to the world. We mine for ideas that our team feels passionately about, and then we make them happen. I feel it’s more important to do what you truly believe in and pursue what makes you happy and excited.

2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we quickly adapted, moving our regular programs online and adding some new community support (e.g., coping with COVID-19 stress and anxiety). However, we quickly learned that some of our underserved youth didn’t have access to technology at home. We revamped things this summer to provide three weeks of virtual camp along with a free laptop loan to any girls who needed it.

While we are embracing technology and continue to focus on the “silver linings,” we are challenged with some of our program objectives online. For example, we offer a 10-week Confidence Club that creates a safe space for middle school girls to navigate adolescent issues. Running this program virtually presents new challenges in providing an actual physical safe space.

3. What inspires you most about your work?

The girls and young women that we work with inspire me each and every day. This summer, whether I was zooming into a virtual camp or running training for our She Works (career-readiness) interns, these girls lifted me up and gave me hope for the future. They are bright, capable, courageous, and resilient. I have come to realize that often (for the older high school and college women) we only need to give them a platform and encouragement, and then just stand back to watch them rise.

4. How does your gender identity inform your work?

My pronouns are She/Her/Hers. At LiveGirl, we believe in the power of community and welcome all girls and women who are seeking sisterhood and a female affinity space. We have many people who are non-binary and/or exploring their gender as part of our community, and they make us stronger and better. We are not in the business of determining anyone’s gender. Our policy is to never turn anyone away based on any outward expression of gender. We welcome anyone who identifies as a young woman and individuals who are questioning their gender.

As a woman who worked in corporate America for almost seventeen years, I did experience sexual harassment and other obstacles unique to women that have informed my work and commitment to “paying it forward” and helping the next generation of female leaders rise.

5. How can philanthropy support gender equality?

Philanthropy needs to step up and support women and girls. According to The Women’s Philanthropy Institute, only 1.6% of charitable donations in the U.S. go to women’s and girls’ causes. There are 25 million K-12th grade girls in the United States. If you combine the efforts of all national girl-serving organizations, they collectively are only reaching about three million, or about 12% of the country’s girls, leaving a staggering 22 million girls in the US without support.

LiveGirl’s bold goal is to close that gap. LiveGirl operates at the intersection of gender and racial equality. We firmly believe that in order to achieve equality, we must develop the next generation as confident, inclusive leaders who embrace diversity. This is why – foundational to what we do – our programs and experiences are designed to bring different people together and foster diverse relationships. We help girls and young women build authentic bridges to people whose lives are different from their own.

6. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?

I am optimistic that we will see our first female President in 2024 or 2028. We are seeing more women run for government and while there are still more CEOs named “John” than female CEOs, we are seeing more women lean-in to leadership positions.

In ten years, my daughter (current age 17) and thousands of LiveGirls will be out in the workforce, making positive change, and so that gives me hope that we will continue to see more progress. The work we are doing is generational. We will achieve gender equity in my lifetime. But I am nonetheless committed to doing my part so that my daughter may stand upon my shoulders, have mentoring and leadership opportunities that I didn’t have, and get us that much closer to an inclusive, equal world.

About Sheri West: Sheri West has a passion for girls leadership and over 25 years of corporate and leadership development experience. She is the Founder, CEO & Chairperson of LiveGirl, a nonprofit organization that builds confident leaders. Prior to LiveGirl, Ms. West spent 16 years as a finance executive at General Electric Co., a multinational company, where she was instrumental in its Women’s Network and taught leadership development courses at the GE Management Development Institute. In 2014, she founded LiveGirl to “pay it forward” and prepare the next generation of female leaders.

Sheri regularly speaks at national conferences on the importance of building confidence and resilience in girls and co-hosts the Confident Podcast with her 17-year-old daughter. Her honors include being named “Best Friend to Girls” by Moffly Media, Community Champion by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, “Connecticut’s Most Philanthropic Women” by Serendipity Magazine, a “Woman Empowering Women” by the Rowan Center, and a “Woman Of Inspiration” by the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund. Her education includes a BA Finance and Masters of Human Resources and Leadership Development from Michigan State University. She is married with three children (ages 19, 17, and 13) and lives in New Canaan, Connecticut, where she is actively involved in the community and serves on the New Canaan Public Schools Board of Education.

Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist. A Maryland transplant by way of Florida, DC, Ireland, Philadelphia, and -- most recently -- Salt Lake City, she has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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