Empowering women to become leaders
Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Doan Winkel considers himself a change agent, an entrepreneur, an educator, a dreamer, and a doer. “I strive to change the education system, both K-12 and higher education, to create more impactful learning experiences, and to empower young women to think and act more entrepreneurially and innovatively,” he said.
When he first began teaching at Illinois State University over five years ago, Winkel realized there were very few women enrolled in his classes. “Women are very much underrepresented in entrepreneur programs, which mirrors the real world,” he said. One of his main focuses has become empowering young women before they begin their careers. “I want to help them figure out where they want to go with their life, and help give them the experiences to gain the confidence and empower them to do what they want to do,” he added.
As part of his vision to encourage female students, he reached out to successful women entrepreneurs, investors, innovators, CEOs, and founders asking them how he could attract and retain more women in his programs. “In one year, I spoke to nearly 600 professional women about this,” explained Winkel.
After talking to these professionals, he realized the main challenge women face is lack of confidence–confidence in terms of “this is what I want to do with my life, I’m capable of doing it, and I can get the resources and navigate the path,’” he explained.
Winkel then put his plan in motion. “I started doing a lot of one-on-one mentoring, helping these students with their resumes, and just talking about what they want to do with their life,” he said. “I also connect many of these young women with the professional women I meet. This is all part of building confidence.”
He said the interest from the professional women is overwhelming. “These professional women are excited about being involved because they like to mentor young women,” said Winkel. “They generally mentor young ‘professional’ women, but have a hard time gaining access to ‘college’ women.”
As a result of Winkel’s ambition to help encourage female entrepreneurs, he has created the organization Legacy Out Loud. “This is a global initiative that can teach skills such as how to ask better questions, how to do sales, and how to network,” he explained. The program’s mission is to refocus the foundational conversations that inspire, empower, and give young women the confidence to think and act entrepreneurially, reverse engineer their careers, and become the leaders of their generation.
The first Legacy Out Loud conference will be held this December in New York at the United Nations in conjunction with Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. Illinois State has two young women participating along with 10 other students from eight universities across the country. Successful women entrepreneurs and leaders are slated to speak at the event, including Sheila Crump Johnson, the co-founder of BET (Black Entertainment Television) and the first African-American female billionaire; and Leslie Blodgett, creator of bareMinerals makeup and a member of Spanx Advisory Board.
Winkel was recently awarded the McLean County Chamber of Commerce ATHENA Leadership Award, which honors those who empower female leaders. He has also helped organize TEDxNormal, the With My Girls Empowerment Institute at Heartland Community College, and the Women Mean Business panel.
He has spent extensive time over the last five years guiding and mentoring entrepreneurs and startups throughout the community. “I believe I can create a greater impact by working with underrepresented populations that have considerable leadership and innovative potential–namely, women,” said Winkel. “And I hope Bloomington-Normal will become a community known as a place where female entrepreneurs are welcomed, supported, and successful.”