Mogul: What inspired you to start Être?
IR: When my daughter was in middle school, I emailed some girlfriends and asked if they would take part in a one-day "Girls' Summit" at my home. I wanted my daughter and her friends to hear the wise words of accomplished women - writers, surgeons, CEOs, attorneys, news anchors - and gain valuable insight before heading off to high school.
While the Summit never took place due to packed calendars, the idea stayed with me. And when I retired from law firm life, I knew the time was right. On Mother’s Day 2016, I launched a small, non-commercial website called Être with curated links and role model quotes for motivated middle school girls. It’s truly an unexpected joy that something inspired by my daughter years ago has become such a fulfilling - and expanding - endeavor.
Mogul: What’s the story behind the name?
IR: The French word Être means "To Be" and it’s my favorite question to ask today’s girls: Who do you want TO BE? Each page of the site is keyed off this idea: #BeInformed, #BeSmart, #BeWi$e, #BeCharitable, #BeInnovative, #BeWellRead…and the resources we link to are designed to address substantive issues like political awareness, financial confidence, mentorship, philanthropy and young entrepreneurship. I don’t think it’s too early to talk to our girls about big issues like these. I think it’s time. My hope is that Être can springboard these discussions so girls can figure out exactly who they want to be.
Mogul: Is it true you have an all-girl Board of Advisors?
IR: Yes! I knew that to be really useful and of-the-moment, a project like this would need authentic and ongoing middle school feedback. We reached out to girls via social media and word of mouth, and we are so proud to have a diverse Board made up entirely of middle and high school-age girls!
Their opinions shape content on the site, the topics of our monthly HuffPost blog posts and the types of events we hold. In fact, our new after-school “club in a box” - called Club Être - was started at the suggestion of one of our Board members! We also have a new group of collegiate Être ambassadors offering a helpful glimpse of university life and a new source of mentorship for our girls.
Mogul: What do you believe is the most valuable resource available to girls today?
IR: A mentor. And female mentorship is the gold standard. From Être’s earliest days we sought inspirational quotes from rockstar women in as many fields as we could find, to show girls what is possible. People think of mentorship as such a grown-up concept, but an accomplished woman that young girls can look up to and emulate provides an invaluable early resource. It’s a huge reason why we love Mogul – it offers a world-class platform of female role models for today’s girls.
Mogul: What is your top piece of advice for girls of any age?
IR: Raise. Your. Hand. This applies in a myriad of situations, and is an important habit to instill early. Raise your hand to ask questions. Whether in a classroom or a boardroom, don’t wait in silent hope for someone else to ask for you. Raise your hand to volunteer for causes that resonate, in support of people you admire or in protest of that which you disavow. And, along the mentorship lines, raise your hand to help the next girl. In any environment and at any age, be brave. Reach high. Raise your hand.
Mogul: Advice you would give to your middle school self?
IR: It’s okay to read during homeroom. It’s okay to be super excited for social studies class. Aim high. Stay curious. Asking questions doesn’t make you impolite and the nerdy girl can be cool. But…and I say this with love…the blue suede clogs will never be cool. Ever. Just…no.
Mogul: Life motto?
IR: Never take more than you give.
Mogul: Ultimate goal in ten words or less?
IR: Inspire more girls to change the world.
Illana is a lawyer, a Guest Lecturer at Columbia University and the founder of Etregirls.com. You can follow Être on Facebook, Twitter, Insta & Snap at @etregirls.
A former Skadden, Arps lawyer and occasional guest lecturer at Columbia University, Illana has been busy since 2016 founding Être - a resource and mentorship platform for girls approaching high school. She thinks of Être as knowledge strategy for girls - highlighting valuable tools and role models [...]