Oak Park and River Forest High School held its first Young Women in Business workshop Nov. 7. The Business Education Department held the event to inspire young women to consider pursuing careers in business and encourage them to take advantage of OPRF’s business class offerings. 

“I think we’re achieving a level of inspiration and confidence building,” said OPRF business teacher and department chair Matt Prebble.

The event was divided into eight sessions, one per class period, each with a different group of female students. Local businesswomen gave presentations and participated in group discussions with students to examine the importance of female representation in business and the social stigmas women with business careers face. 

Kaylin Simmons, a senior, said the workshop was informative and she learned there was a variety of different jobs in business. 

“I’ve never really wanted to own a business or anything like that, but that’s not the only thing you learn at this. You get to learn about marketing and other things like that,” she said.

Beyond Green CFO Chee-Young Kim, one of the businesswomen who attended, called the workshop a great program. 

“I kind of wish I had this while I was in high school,” Kim said. She said she’s going to have her daughter, an OPRF student, take one of the classes.

The business department, which intends to make the workshop a biannual event, also used the time to address low female enrollment in such classes and get feedback from female students currently enrolled in business classes.

 “We’re struggling with female enrollment. We don’t really know why,” said Prebble. Girls make up only about 33 percent of students taking business classes.

 “When you look at some of our classes, they’re very male, very white,” he said. “That’s something we’re getting feedback on today.”

Prebble said the department suspects the idea that “business is for boys” is the primary reason girls aren’t signing up. 

“We’ve definitely got a perception problem,” said Prebble, noting the fact that, out of the five business teachers, only one is a woman. 

During the workshop, girls said the titles of business classes can be off-putting. They also gave faculty ideas for what they’d like to see incorporated in business class curricula. Many shared that they didn’t even know about a lot of the different business courses OPRF offers prior to the workshop. 

“We need to do more work in our curriculum design, not just class titles, just to make sure the females who do enroll feel welcome, feel like they can explore what they’re interested in and not just a few girls in among a class full of boys, not wanting to say much because they’re going to be judged by a bunch of boys,” said Prebble. 

Junior Iza Jedrzejzzyk said the workshop was worth attending. “I learned how to start a business, like the process of it, and that women made a lot of inventions that you wouldn’t even think about,” she said. “It’s more than you’d expect.”

Although the number of women-owned businesses in Illinois and the total United States has grown, the growth rate in Illinois is far lower than the national number. According to a 2018 American Express study, the number of women-owned businesses in Illinois rose only 35 percent, while nationally the number grew by almost 58 percent. 

“We have an opportunity here to start changing that. I think it starts at the high school level,” Prebble said. “Hopefully this is day one of what is a long-term, effective initiative.”

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