Celebrating female leaders in Montgomery County


Photo courtesy of Ariel Beck

Ariel Beck and event attendees pose for a picture at the 2019 Girls Who Start entrepreneurship summit.

Maggie Orcev, Features Writer

Women like Susan B. Anthony, Malala Yousafzai and Michelle Obama have paved the way for female activists all over the world. With the help of these influential role models, the women’s rights movement has come a long way, but gender inequality still exists locally and happens frequently and inadvertently. Each year, Women’s History Month offers an opportunity to reflect on the barriers and successes of strong female leaders, including the ones right here in Montgomery County.

“Women belong in the kitchen.” It was a phrase first used by men around the 1940’s when women began to join the workforce, finally breaking out of the stereotypical wife role in a household. It has continued to be used throughout the years, often backed up by false sexist claims about women and their range of capabilities. Earlier generations have continued to teach and push for a narrative that supports white male supremacy in society. As a result, too many men in business today have been conditioned to believe that they are entitled to certain opportunities and more deserving than qualified women for the sole reason of being a man.

Ariel Beck is the founder of Girls Who Start, a nationwide organization that helps inspire female entrepreneurship. (Photo courtesy of Ariel Beck)

As the founder of Girls Who Start, a nationwide club that inspires women’s entrepreneurship, Ariel Beck works tirelessly to reverse this widespread belief. After attending a few business conventions, Beck knew something was not right. “I was struck by the lack of support females in business receive … only 5 percent of all venture capital funding went to female-founded companies, whereas 95 percent went to male-founded companies,” Beck said. These unsettling statistics fueled her to make a change. Girls Who Start, a connected community of girls interested in entrepreneurship, was the perfect way.

Now as a senior at Sidwell Friends in D.C., after four years, Beck has built Girls Who Start into a club that has 40 chapters covering the map, with over 1,500 active members. Girls Who Start has been successful at helping girls break into the currently male-dominated business world. “[It has done this] by creating events that showcase female leaders, creating workshops to provide girls with the tools they need for success, and creating an international community of the next generation of girls all interested in entrepreneurship and leadership,” Beck said.

Innovative leaders like Ariel Beck have paved the way for women by shattering stereotypes and combating gender inequality. Unfortunately, despite all the positive changes that have been made, time and time again, local businesses and governments have proved that they prefer to see men holding leadership positions. So much so, that when threatened, men have gone to great lengths to shut down qualified women.

Lynne Harris is a member of the Montgomery County Board of Education. (Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Public Schools)

Before claiming her position on the Montgomery County Board of Education, Lynne Harris discovered what it really felt like to be targeted because of her gender. During her time in the primary, being the only woman out of 13 candidates, she faced a great deal of hatred on social media. “I can absolutely say that some of the things people attacked me for were things that they did not attack male candidates for when the same issues applied,” Ms. Harris said via phone call.

Despite the lack of support, she prevailed in career aspirations and now proudly sits on the board as a role model for young girls. “I would encourage young female leaders in Montgomery County to fully realize their power as early as they can because I certainly did not,” Ms. Harris said. She thinks it is crucial for young women to build their confidence early, in order to be successful leaders for future generations. 

Female leaders everywhere, especially those local to them, are an inspiration to girls of all ages. During Women’s History Month, it is important for everyone to recognize the progress that has been made, but also recognize the roadblocks that still lay ahead for all women. This month and all months, everyone must continue to work towards supporting gender equality in hopes of one day breaking gender barriers once and for all.