In honor of International Women’s Month, The Planetary Press is highlighting women around the globe who are driving positive change for our planet and global community. Today, we are thrilled to introduce you to the CEO of Rebel Girls, Jes Wolfe.

You have a very impressive background as an entrepreneur, investor, and CEO. Please tell us more about yourself and share some highlights from your career. 

I grew up on a farm in Oregon and knew there was a big world out there – my career has been about exploring, learning from, and contributing to that big world. I’ve been fortunate to be able to work in more than 25 countries and with companies as tiny as two-person startups to as large as Fortune 100 companies. 

I think about my career in two parts. The first decade was focused on learning as much as I could. I was a banker, an investor, and a consultant; I went to business school, and my job was to advise companies. Some highlights were financing a hospital group in Yemen and Egypt to being on the team working to figure out the strategy of Fannie Mae post-collapse.   

In the second decade, I was a builder, an operator, and an entrepreneur. This took me to helping hire a sales team in China, restructuring a business in Brazil, and leading a sales transformation in Australia. Ultimately I moved to San Francisco and became an entrepreneur. My first startup was a journalism technology company, which we sold to Nextdoor. And then, four years ago, I got involved with Rebel Girls!

You are the CEO of Rebel Girls. Can you tell us about the mission behind the company and what inspired you to join the team?

Rebel Girls’ mission is to help raise the most inspired and confident generation of girls today. It’s a mission I’m incredibly passionate about! After my last startup, I moved to the mountains to take some time off (and ski!). During that time, I hosted a dozen or so founders for three-day ski and strategy sessions. One of the founders was Elena Favilli – the Co-Founder of Rebel Girls. Those three days kickstarted my journey with Rebel Girls. I couldn’t think of a more worthwhile company to build or mission to support. I initially joined the Board of Directors and then became the COO and CFO, and three years ago, I had the great privilege of becoming the CEO.

The world needs Rebel Girls. By age six, girls begin to think they are less smart and less capable than boys. And by age 14, girls’ confidence is 30 percent less than boys’. Rebel Girls is focused on closing the gender confidence gap.  

What makes a rebel girl?

Being a rebel girl means being authentically yourself; it’s the ultimate expression of self-determination. It means being unapologetically who you are, living your life and pursuing your passions, and making your mark on the world in a way that is so true to the individual. A true rebel does that regardless of societal, familial, or cultural expectations. That is how rebels contribute so much to society and leave their marks on the world.

At Rebel Girls, we showcase women who had callings and interests; and they pursued them regardless of whether they had the means, the path, encouragement, or whether the system or society welcomed them. Through this, they gave back to society, and their actions resulted in a better world. We want to inspire and empower girls everywhere to see themselves in all the diverse and inspiring Rebel Girls around the world.

How can storytelling be a powerful vehicle for empowering current and future generations of young women?

The power of the pen has and will continue to change the world. Storytelling is the most tried and true method for how kids learn. A story can stick with a person for decades. Stories help us remember important lessons, and they can also be fun, inspiring, and entertaining. 

Sadly, the stories we tell our children today are not empowering equally. Only one-third of characters are women – and only 19 percent of children’s books include stories of women with agency. In TV and movies, female protagonists often times use magic to save the day, whereas male protagonists use STEM skills or their strength. 

Rebel Girls tells the stories of incredible, diverse real-life women. So far, we have told the stories of more than 2,000 women across 400 plus professions and from more than 100 countries. This is so every girl out there can find at least one, if not dozens, of role models to shape her hopes and dreams for the future and to give her the confidence to pursue those dreams. 

Jes Wolfe with mountaineer and Rebel Girl Carla Perez, the first woman from the Americas to summit both Everest and K2 without supplemental oxygen, on Cotopaxi.

How many Rebel Girls books have been published, and what is one thing you want your readers to walk away with?

As of March 2023, we’ve published around 25 titles in English and sold 8.5 million books in more than 110 countries and 50 languages. We will publish another eight titles plus a box set this year. We’ve also reached more than 20 million podcast downloads and 12 million music streams. 

We want our readers and audio listeners (whether girls, boys, parents, caregivers, educators, etc.) to believe that girls can and should do anything they set their minds to and to celebrate the numerous contributions and successes that so many amazing women have achieved. Our goal is for girls to be the stars of their own stories and to be the heroes of tomorrow. 

What’s up next for Rebel Girls?

So much! We recently raised our Series A to focus on audience growth and scaling content. You’ll see us doubling our publishing, including new areas like fiction and graphic novels and similar for audio in the next year. Plus, we’re finalizing partnerships to enter the metaverse, including Roblox and Minecraft. Not to mention we are working on a TV show, a live theater piece, and so much more! 

Rebel Girls has published and broadcasted numerous stories of extraordinary women and inspired millions of girls around the globe. Who inspires you? 

So, so many women. When I’m feeling down, I like to listen to the story of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Her story reminds me to never give up, no matter what.

When I’m going on an outdoor adventure, I like the story of Junko Tabei, who was the first woman to climb Everest (after her expedition was taken out by an avalanche!), and the story of Kit DesLauriers, who was the first person to ski Everest and the Seven Summits. 

Alicia Alonso’s story is incredible. She was a professional ballerina, went blind, was bedridden for a year, and could only practice dancing with her fingers. She got up, got back on stage, and continued her career as a professional ballerina – while blind. Her dedication and creativity are inspiring.  

From a business perspective, Asma Ishaq, the CEO of Modere, is a true powerhouse. What’s remarkable about her is not just how she built a business, sold it, became CEO of the new business, and has exponentially grown that business, but she brings people along with her.

Given your expertise, how can investing be used as an opportunity to empower and support women?

In 2022, women only received two percent of venture funding. For women entrepreneurs to be empowered and supported, that has to change. Women-led businesses are creative; women leaders are tenacious. They create jobs, and they deliver outstanding returns; we should all be investing in women-led companies and women founders. This can be through investing in an official capacity or Kickstarter, local business support, mentorship, or any other means you have. 

Why do we need more women in leadership roles?

As of January 2023, about ten percent of Fortune 500 CEOs were women, and approximately 22 percent of corporate board members were women. This is the highest ever, and yet it’s not nearly enough. Women make up 50 percent of the population and 70 percent of purchasing decision-making. To truly serve this important population, we need way more women in positions of power and leadership. We need more women leading businesses, holding high government roles, and being in decision-making positions across all industries to create systemic change. 

What book would you recommend to inspire people? 

A few favorites:

  • Learning to Breathe: One Woman’s Journey of Spirit and Survival by Alison Wright
  • The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
  • And I’m a big fan of our chapter books:
    • Madam CJ Walker Starts a Business
    • Junko Tabei Masters the Mountains
    • Alicia Alonso Takes the Stage

What music motivates you? Who is your favorite? 

I listen to AC/DC kind of all the time. I started listening to them when I was 12 years old – at swim meets. I’d listen to their music when I was behind the blocks, waiting for my race as pump-up music. Their songs still pump me up for a run or a surf or to get in the mood to go do something bold. 

Keep up with Jes and Rebel Girls!
Twitter: @rebelgirlsbook
Facebook: @rebelgirls
Instagram: @rebelgirls
TikTok: @rebelgirlsbook
LinkedIn: Rebel Girls