Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Give Gen Z Girls a Standing Ovation

October 18, 2016, 6:42 AM UTC
Fortune Most Powerful Woman Summit 2016
Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit 2016 Monday, October 17th, 2016 Laguna Niguel, CA 7:00 PM GALA DINNER Including a celebration of future leaders and the women who empower them, featuring the MPW High School Mentees CONVERSATION Angela Ahrendts, SVP, Retail and Online Stores, Apple Interviewer: Pattie Sellers, Fortune Photograph by Stuart Isett for Fortune Most Powerful Women
Stuart Isett for Fortune Most Powerful Women

Thirty-five teenage girls—juniors and seniors at Orange County high schools—outfitted in blazers and business casual wear descended on the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit Monday, prepared to network.

And they did, speed-dating style. Each young woman conducted five, 5-minute one-on-one interviews with high-profile business leaders, including Johnson & Johnson Group Worldwide Chairman Sandi Peterson, Instagram COO Marne Levine, Ulta Beauty CEO Mary Dillon, and Build-A-Bear Workshop founder Maxine Clark.

In one of her interviews, Gabriela Jimenez, a senior at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, snagged the email address of Ann-Marie Campbell, executive vice president of U.S. stores for Home Depot.

Jimenez and her fellow teenage networkers are interested in STEM fields—she aspires to work in financial technology—and they are members of Girls Inc., a non-profit focused on confidence-building in girls. They were also this year’s participants in Fortune’s Notebook Mentoring program, a 7-year-old initiative to mentor girls. The young women were accepted into the program after writing essays about technology and engineering. Jimenez wrote a piece on the leader in STEM she admires most, Sheryl Sandberg, who will speak Tuesday at the conference.

As part of the program, which is sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, the girls each received $250 to spend on a professional wardrobe. J&J also provides each of them a mentor, for a year of Skype calls and individualized attention. Heidrick & Struggles, the executive search firm, gave each of them an iPad.

The participants also got a dose of inspiration from Campbell, the Home Depot EVP, who told the young ladies of her own improbable trajectory—from cashier to executive at the home goods store—and advised them to be their best selves.

The girls, who described the experience as “#amazeballs” and “#lifechanging” were treated to a standing ovation at the opening reception of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit.

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