As a female-founded company, at Malone Souliers we are passionate about women’s empowerment. That is why in 2021, we started a long-term partnership to support the non-profit organisation Girl Up - a UN Foundation initiative that unites girls to change the world.
To mark International Women’s Day (IWD), we are launching a new interview series, spotlighting inspiring female leaders and trailblazers who share their words of wisdom as they build their careers, brands, and organisations.
Melissa Kilby, Executive Director of Girl Up, talks to us about the importance of lighting up other women, advocacy, and the brilliant work Girl Up are doing to advance girls’ rights and leadership skills.
What inspired you to start your career in this industry?
I joined the non-profit industry right out of college. I have a journalism degree in advertising and decided very early on to leverage my skills, talents, and education to support and advance causes and organisations.
Marketing a non-profit brand and fundraising can be very similar to marketing consumer brands and selling products and services. It meant a lot to me for my work to have a deeper purpose. When I first learned about Girl Up, it was like “all-systems-go” in my brain, heart, and body. I wanted to know more, I wanted to do work like this; I was incredibly inspired by the idea of supporting girls all around the world. There was a part of me that felt like this might have been the thing missing from my own teenage years, so I was very excited to join the Girl Up team as it celebrated its first anniversary. It has been the pleasure and privilege of my life to help lead and grow it into the global movement it is today.
What is your power shoe of choice?
My style, comfort, and confidence have shifted a lot in the last few years. I love a good heel, though now my ankles need a thick stack, and I do love the comfort and practicality of a stylish flat. In my mind I can still wear heels, and I do when it matters most, but my reality after two pregnancies and two years of COVID, is that my body really prefers a flat these days. For me, it depends on the moment, the pressure, and how much I need my shoe to help me in that moment!
Which women in your life have inspired you most and why?
I have three great sources of female inspiration. The first being my mom – she worked, she traveled, and she had a full life before she became my mom – she also held onto to her own identity while becoming a mom. To grow up never questioning whether that was possible was an important gift. Her example helps me hold true to my leadership identity as I continue to make room for my motherhood identity.
My other two sources of inspiration are my colleagues at Girl Up and the teen girl leaders of Girl Up. My team inspires me daily by their commitment, excellence, and creativity. The Girl Up leaders have informed who I am now as a person – not just as a leader but as a human being on this earth. They have taught me how to see the world through open, authentic, and intersectional lenses, and I will forever be grateful to have learned from them these years.
Tell us something that no one knows about you?
I have a secret dream to write and publish fiction one day.
Best advice you’d give your teenage self?
Stay open. The twists and turns will lead you exactly where you are supposed to be next. Trust yourself and lean into your strengths. Stay open to feedback so you can learn, understand, and change. Your ability to grow and evolve will be your greatest asset.
Best advice when thinking of investing in your future?
I believe in hard work. Not overwork and burnout, but putting in the time, the effort and showing your drive toward the things you enjoy, the activities that will make you invaluable to your colleagues, and the work that ignites you. Persevere when things get hard – they will. If there is purpose driving you, learn to weather the storms so you can make your goals a reality. You will do so over and over through life, so staying committed to your goals is a solid way to invest in your future.
When it comes to advocacy, what are some general tips you can share to make a difference?
Know your “why”. When you are trying to make change, really understanding why the issue or cause matters to you will give you a guiding light. You will be able to tell a compelling story, change hearts and minds, and weather the “haters”. You will be able to participate in dialogue and find common understanding if you know why it matters to YOU.
Can you tell us a bit about the Girl Up mentorship program, and why you think that this is taking a huge step to help young women?
We just launched our Girl Up Alumni Network after more than eleven years of bringing young women together for gender equality. And since 2010, 125,000 of these leaders have been a part of Girl Up. Many of them are now entering the workforce or preparing for it in college. It fires me up to imagine the future with these young women moving up the ranks to decision-making tables and in positions of power. We know mentors can help accelerate and advance women throughout their professional journeys so, finally, launching a mentorship program to do just that, as our Girl Up alumni are shifting to this stage of life, is a perfect next phase in the fight for gender equality.
How can women support each other?
I think many of us women still suffer from a scarcity mentality and still spend too much time comparing ourselves to each other. This holds us back. Men do not worry about there being too many men at any table and they spend much less time comparing their awesomeness and their abilities. When women can use their light to light up other women, we all benefit. More seats are created, more confidence is built, and we aren’t wasting precious time we could be using to actually accomplish our goals.
How has personal style helped you shape your identity and confidence?
My personal style has evolved with my own growth and confidence. I’ve found styles that match my more casual personality – but I also use my wardrobe to amp it up when needed. There is nothing that tells me “I’m on” more than a power blazer or good pair of heels (especially since I don’t where them as much anymore). It’s a trigger to pull out a different element of myself, to own a space, to elicit focus. A pair of heels or powerful blazer can be like a superhero cape – whatever we need to own our power!