From an early age, Claudia Chan was exposed to strong women, extending from the leaders of her household to her experience at an all-girls high school and at Smith College.
“My mom always told me, ‘if you want your independence, you have to own your business’,” Chan told NBC News.
“That’s really where women’s empowerment started for me," she continued. "I was surrounded by strong communities and strong role models.”
Chan, who describes herself as a "women’s empowerment accelerator," is a New York-based entrepreneur and owner of S.H.E. Globl Media, a women’s empowerment media and education company. Through motivational content, leadership conferences, and educational programs, the company educates women and men on why and how they can all drive change in today’s women’s movement, while cultivating what Chan calls a “rise and lift leadership mentality.”
“I have been immersed in the community of women my whole life, from all-girl schools to co-running a girlfriend entertainment company called Shecky’s for 10 years," Chan said. "But in 2010 at age 35, when I opened my eyes to how disadvantaged women still were in society, I realized gender equality was missing from most mainstream lifestyle, business, and media forums. Women in the developed world are the most privileged women on the planet, and if we’re not educated on the status of our gender, nor taking action to fight for the equality of our gender, then who will?”
Chan, who was born in New York City and grew up in the Financial District near Manhattan's Chinatown, spent her youth working in her parents’ restaurant. Her father fled for Taiwan when communism took over China, and moved to the United States in the '60s, where he worked as a waiter before starting his own restaurant. Eventually, he was able to bring Chan’s mother to New York.
“My parents saved every penny to send me and my brother to private schools. Because my parents survived China’s civil war, I grew up with more of a survivor mentality rather than an abundance/positivity one,” Chan said.
In contrast to her parents’ immigrant mentality, Chan’s company is centered around positivity, and the idea of achieving the highest expression of oneself, according to Chan.
“My Chinese parents taught me to survive by building important networks and achieving financial security, so finding my personal calling or purpose was less in their vernacular," she said. "Thus by my mid-30s, I felt I achieved material success, but lacked a greater meaning to my life and work.”
After graduating from Smith College, Chan began her journey into entrepreneurship at the age of 23, when she began planning experiential networking events. Soon after, she found herself co-running Shecky’s, which became America’s largest traveling “Girls Night Out” shopping party, boasting 150,000 attendees in 15 cities a year, she said. Peaking in the era of “Sex in the City,” Shecky’s thrived in a time when women were beginning to use the Internet to discover emerging cosmopolitan trends. Chan described the era to be "fluffy" and fun, but said it did not provide enough substance.
At age 35, she did the hardest thing she’s ever had to do in her entire career: She walked away from the only identity she knew.
“My business partner and I didn’t see eye-to-eye anymore and I was no longer fulfilled," Chan said. "That’s when I began a journey of personal growth, leadership development and social impact, which involved life coaches, yoga immersions, weekly sermons to voracious journaling and reading every self-help/leadership guru author out there."
After reading Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, “Half the Sky,” Chan found her purpose, and dedicated her new chapter to the landscape of women’s empowerment.
“How do I get every woman to care? How do I make that cool and mainstream?” Chan said. That question gave birth to S.H.E. Globl Media, which launched in 2012.
Beginning by creating educational content that served her audience, Chan followed up her efforts by building the S.H.E. Summit, a conference that focuses on holistic empowerment, covering topics ranging from self-care and finance to career growth and motherhood. To date, the summit has featured prominent speakers, she said, including Deepak Chopra, Soledad O’Brien, and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power.
This year, the summit, which is scheduled to take place Oct. 28 to 29 in New York City, is expected to welcome singer Kelly Clarkson, "Orange Is the New Black" actress Alysia Reiner, and Reshma Saujani — founder of Girls Who Code.
“Today’s women’s movement is a macro-movement because there are thousands of issues to solve from closing pay, leadership, confidence to industry gaps," Chan said. "My ultimate goal is to connect, educate and activate individuals and corporations to clarify and amplify their specific area of women’s movement so that there is more efficiency and acceleration towards macro-gender equality actually happening while I am alive. S.H.E. Summit is an annual convening for this community, attracting women and men (S.H.E. now stands for “she and he help empower gender equality”) to amplify their leadership. And we teach them how to holistically thrive as leaders.”
Though Chan aspires to ignite women from all corners of the globe, she is aware of her role as a feminist and a Chinese American.
“I have to focus on one step at a time," Chan said. "My focus has been to build a sustainable and growing foundation of a social-impact driven business. As I get more established, I can do more to bring awareness to Asian-American voices and the topic of female cultural diversity as a whole because the global population of women is represented by all colors, and modern feminism must be inclusive."
"I feel Asian-American voices are some of the quietest in comparison to African American and Latina," she added. "Remember the young global generation of Asian girls in the world cannot be what she cannot see so I ask all Asian women to consider this. We need all of you to step up and speak out as role models for our generations of girls to follow.”