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Podcast Episode 35: Finding your career path with Hanneke Antonelli

Meet Leslie Coles, ED of Moms as Mentors & Director of Programs of VentureLab

Leslie Coles is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Moms as Mentors. Leslie also serves as the Director of Programs at VentureLab, a non-profit organization that is helping develop the next generation of innovators and changemakers through experiential entrepreneurship education.

Leslie’s prior role was Director of Strategic Initiatives & Programs at the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, where she took the lead role in implementing programs that advanced NCGS’ mission to empower girls to be influential contributors to the world. A highlight for her was designing and executing highly-acclaimed national conferences for educators and administrators on such topics as advancing girls in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), business and political leadership, media literacy and the healthy development of girls. 

How (and when) did you get into your current field or company?
My first entry into work related to girls’ and women’s advancement was when I was working at WGBH, Boston’s PBS station. I worked on a website called engineeryourlife.org designed to encourage college bound girls to explore engineering. It was part of a larger effort to “rebrand” engineering for girls—emphasizing aspects of engineering that would resonate most with girls—namely, that engineering provides excellent opportunities to help people, pursue your dreams and be creative and innovative. I realized that while I, myself, am not in the STEM fields, I have a passion for helping girls realize their full potential and expose them to fast-growing and high-paying career paths they might not have known about or ever considered.  Eventually I began doing work related to not only getting more girls to pursue engineering and other STEM fields, but also other areas where women remain underrepresented, including business/entrepreneurship and politics. Most importantly, I have a passion to make sure girls have the confidence to pursue their dream careers, no matter what they are!

What does a typical day look like for you?
My full-time job is as Program Director at VentureLab, which is based in Texas but I work remotely from Boston, MA. VentureLab’s mission is to spread the entrepreneurial mindset around the world to empower youth, and especially girls, with the tools needed to become the next generation of innovators and changemakers.

A typical day starts with some form of coffee (iced or hot) and a trip into the office. With a remote team, I’m fortunate to have the chance to work out of Impact Hub Boston, a co-working community space for social entrepreneurs, so while my VentureLab colleagues are located in different parts of the country, I have the pleasure of coming in to work each day and seeing familiar friendly faces (including the amazing SGO-Founders Felicia and Rachel!).

With coffee in hand, I hop on the VentureLab morning “huddle”- a team video call where we catch up with one another, share news, discuss our focus of the day and address any hurdles any of us might be facing. On a typical day I do a lot of different things, which is perfect for me because I need a lot of variety in my job. I am often connecting with a team of curriculum writers I manage and strategizing with my VentureLab teammates on matters like how to increasing VentureLab’s reach and impact on girls and underserved youth. With my background, I’m also the team’s resident “girl expert” so I try to always look for new girl/women-related articles and research that’s relevant to our work and mission. I love being part of a small start-up so I have the chance to be involved in a lot of different aspects of growing the organization.

Full disclosure: I’ve been known to take a work break to visit the many kitchens at the office—they have amazing snacks, and different rotating specialty ones on each floor. Nothing like a good stretch of the legs while opening countless number of cupboards looking for delicious treats!

In the evening I often work on the non-profit I co-founded called Moms as Mentors®. Our mission is to provide moms with the tools and opportunities they need to be mentors in their daughters’ daily lives, ultimately helping their girls to grow into confident and influential women. We focus especially on what moms can do to encourage their daughters to pursue STEM and entrepreneurship as well as to become civic and politically engaged. On a weeknight, I’ll get caught up on emails, connect with our amazing volunteers and often run workshops on topics like “How to be a STEM Mentor” and “Opening Doors for Your Daughter’s Future” for moms and other adults with girls in their lives.

Then it’s a trip to the gym and/or dinner with friends. Lately I’ve gotten a lot more in to cooking so that’s been fun! Then I’ll add some Netflix to the mix and call it a day!

What is the favorite part of your day?
I love any time where I am getting to interact with my colleagues both at VentureLab and Moms as Mentors. I feel incredibly lucky to work with individuals who I deeply respect and genuinely enjoy being around. They also have a great sense of humor, which is so important!

Besides that, food takes up an embarrassing amount of brain space for me so I love any part of the day that involves a meal, snack or treat (particularly baked goods!).

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
At one point not too long ago I was working on something where my confidence was shaky and I was so worried about making a mistake or “doing something wrong” that it was slowing me down. I had started overly questioning my own abilities in an area where I had a lot of knowledge and experience. Having noticed this, my brother gave me some amazing advice: which was, if you are gonna err, err on the side of trusting YOURSELF too much. It made a huge difference for me and now when I find myself unsure about something, and I know there’s a possibility of making a mistake, I just ask myself, which kind of mistake do I want to make? Ones where I did or didn’t trust myself? And then I err on the side of trusting myself.

What other women inspire you?
Emilie Liebhoff, the Founder of Moms as Mentors and the person who originally hired me at the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools when she served as Deputy Director. I could go on and on about all the reasons she inspires me. But I’ll give two:

  1. Emilie understands that if you lift up your team members, everyone rises. Other people’s successes inspire her, not threaten her.  This may sound obvious but I believe it is rare, powerful and does not get talked about enough in relation to leadership, management and mentorship.
  2. Her passion for helping raise confidence in girls and women emanates from her deep inside and extends to her fingertips and toes, which is inspiring to me and everyone she meets.

I’m also inspired by the Founder and CEO of VentureLab, Cristal Glanchai. She’s accomplished an amazing amount in the STEM and entrepreneurship fields, and now devotes her time to making sure kids of all ages have the confidence, mindset and skillset to do whatever they are most passionate about. I also love how she reads forward-thinking books geared towards adults about innovation, entrepreneurship, leadership and creativity and then figures out ways to make sure kids as young as 5-years-old could benefit and learn from the ideas presented. Rather than selling kids short, she challenges us to keep the bar high to figure out the most innovative ways to teach young people the skills they are going to need most in the future regardless of what their career paths are (e.g. persistence and grit, not being afraid to try and fail, empathy, risk-taking).

What do you geek out about?

  • Stand-up comedy
  • Brunch (eating it, planning it, thinking about it, recommending it to others)