Those of you who follow me know that I’m a firm believer that mentorship is in the moment – and it’s not just top-down but all around. That’s why I was thrilled when Caitlyn Kumi, a tech product marketer at Google and founder of a young women’s empowerment group, reached out to me last year and asked to meet. I was fascinated by all that she had accomplished at such a young age and knew she had a lot to teach me – and she did. Caitlyn and I developed a reciprocal relationship and she forwards me articles and news she knows I’ll find useful.
She’s also an example of paying it forward. Caitlyn is a Gen Z role model who has enthusiastically joined the creator economy and harnessed technology to engage and uplift other young women by sharing tips for professional and personal success. Coming off the Female Quotient’s tenth anniversary at CES, I wanted to check in with this rising tech star. Whether you’re a Zoomer or a Boomer, I think you’ll have something to learn from Caitlyn.
Shelley Zalis: You founded Miss EmpowHer when you were still in college. Tell us what your goals were and what the organization has accomplished.
Caitlyn Kumi: I started Miss EmpowHer when I was 20 years old and I’m now 23. During freshman and sophomore year of college, I was feeling anxiety about my future when I decided not to go to law school. I was also struggling with body insecurities and feeling uncomfortable in my skin. I would go to networking events and not know what to say. I think a lot of women feel that way: afraid to pursue opportunities, fear of rejection, not feeling confident. Then I took an entrepreneurship course where I was on an all-women team in a pitch competition. Even though the judges were mostly men, we won! Next, I got recruited to work as a DEI consultant at my university’s entrepreneurship center, where I was preparing our director for meetings with donors and the board of advisors. Additionally I led a group called Spark designed to assist in the recruitment and retention of minority women at my school, the University of North Carolina.
All that experience gave me the confidence to launch Miss EmpowHer during the pandemic with the first pillar centering on body positivity and acceptance. After achieving success in that realm, I realized there was a strong need to provide personal and professional development, but I knew I didn’t have the business expertise and needed to bring in advisers. So we revamped our web site, posted on social media and grew our community from there. We host virtual talks where we focus on women in different industries, most recently tech. We write blog posts offering advice on how to land an internship or job. We showcase the best Instagram accounts to follow as you transition from your teenage years to adulthood. It’s been so rewarding to create a brand that supports young women along their professional and personal journeys.
SZ: How do you sustain the brand you founded in college while working full-time at Google?
CK: After I graduated, I had to figure out how to build a viable long-term business without grants from my school. We drive revenue through e-commerce, partnerships and affiliate marketing. Our board of advisors has helped immensely with the internship program that we offer three times a year. I have a passion for mentorship and giving back, and I crafted my program to be mutually beneficial. The interns help us run events and create social and web site content. They are also remotely interning for amazing companies like EY, NBC, Accenture, FleishmanHillard. I’m not a big fan of busywork; the goal is to give them transferable skills and experiences they can use in applying to jobs.
I also schedule regular check-ins with them where we conduct interview prep or whatever else they need. Miss EmpowHer interns also are building a network and a community they can tap into going forward. I’m proud that we’ve positively impacted over 1 million young women, whether participating in our internship program, viewing our social media/blog content, attending our events or purchasing Miss EmpowHer waist beads.
SZ: You’re a lifestyle and education content creator sharing, among other things, career advice to Gen Z women. What kinds of content best resonates with your audience?
CK: I first started posting heavily when I launched my brand in 2020 but it really took off in 2022, especially on LinkedIn and TikTok. A popular series is the “Day in the Life,” where I pull back the curtain to show what it looks like to be an associate marketing product manager at Google. I also share specific career advice. How do you get someone to respond to your outreach efforts? How do you have a successful coffee meeting? How do you set yourself up for financial success? I share life lessons from my own therapy sessions: setting boundaries, best communication practices, dealing with insecurities. And since we’re all human, I also post my favorite perfumes and makeup tips.
With 2.4 million views, my “Women in Tech series” really put me on the map. Honestly, I mainly did it because I didn’t know anybody when I started at Google and I was nervous. So I reached out to colleagues and asked questions about their college majors, their current role at Google and the advice they’d give to their younger selves. It was simple but it allowed me to build my personal brand at a huge company. At our holiday party I ran into the CMO and told her about the series and she got excited and recommended more people for me to talk to. Before I first started posting, I reviewed the company’s social media policy and made sure they knew about my Miss EmpowHer content. To play it safe I add the disclaimer “all views are my own,” and I’ve had nothing but support from my leadership.
Our generation is redefining professionalism. If you have an authentic social media presence, it makes you more interesting and approachable. I do want to point out that tech companies are typically more open-minded about social media practices. Get to know what your company’s social media presence looks like and their audience. My shining example of an influencer is Carla Harris, who my dad told me about. She is a trailblazing banking leader who was one of the first Black women in her space to share on social media and helped redefine thought leadership.
SZ: What are the biggest challenges that Gen Z faces in the workplace?
CK: I get lots of feedback on this topic from my followers and network. The biggest thing a lot of Gen Z struggled with was launching their career during the pandemic. Companies really need to have strong, engaging onboarding and training programs, not just videos and decks. I have a background in HR from my time at EY, where your manager would act almost as a career coach helping you navigate projects. I had a “peer buddy” as well who I could ask stupid questions like how to use a special function on Excel. This provided me with community from the beginning. When I started at Google, the best advice I got from my mentor was not to rush to try to do everything. Set up one-on-one meetings with every member of your team. Understand your product and how you’ll interact with your different team members and what their roles are.
SZ: How can organizations do better in attracting and retaining top Gen Z talent?
CK: For Gen Z it’s critical to leverage the power of technology. One tool that I love is the CliftonStrengths talent assessment – I think it’s better than Myers Briggs. I think it would be beneficial for more companies to use surveys like that to understand how people can best work together. It also provides managers with examples of how to form teams that optimize those traits. For example, I’m strategic, a maximizer, a relationship builder and connector. I’m good at identifying people’s strengths and so you will want me on a project that’s cross functional. A lot of career development programs are rotational and people don’t always have positive experiences. That’s why I’d encourage companies to use surveys and technology to improve their matching process and relationships. When people are happy, it leads to better business results.
Employers need to understand that in the wake of the pandemic, well-being is a top priority for Gen Z. This cohort is proactive about protecting their health and avoiding burnout, making sure they’re taking PTO to rest. One company I worked with had a flexible wellness fund that you could not only use for a gym membership but for travel as well, because they realize people are recharging that way. You could use it to get a new mattress. Some companies will offer therapy or life coaching. Flexibility across the board is meaningful to Gen Z, which, by the way, is the most diverse generation to join the workplace. It’s important for companies to institutionalize meaningful dialogue among new hires, management and senior leadership, who should actively support professional development for younger workers. It’s an investment that will pay off.
This is the first time in history we have five generations working together and it’s an amazing opportunity to learn from each other. Open your mind, open your ears, and listen to young leaders like Caitlyn who are rewriting the rules of the workplace and have new ideas that will propel your business. Let’s make it our collective resolution to treat these team members as a precious resource and help them thrive.