HERlead Ambassadors with Gary Muto, Vital Voices' Alyse Nelson, Hillary Clinton and Jasmine Cephas Jones.

What’s Gary Muto, president and chief executive officer of Ann Inc., doing on the stage of the Kennedy Center in Washington? Sticking up for girls.

“Because girls’ voices have been heard, girls’ ideas are being championed around the world. Just two decades ago, the rights of girls were not part of the global agenda. Today, they are at the center of it,” Muto said at the 16th Annual Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards benefit held Wednesday night in conjunction with International Women’s Day.

He spoke along with Hillary Clinton; Kay Bailey Hutchison, a former U.S. Senator from Texas; Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Ernst & Young global vice chair of public policy, and Donna Langley, chairwoman of Universal Pictures, who addressed the importance of women in leadership.

Muto spoke about investing in girls, in part done through Ann’s HERlead program, which partners with Vital Voices to mentor sophomore and junior girls in high school, connect them with private- and public-sector leaders, provide leadership training and grants for community programs they organize.

Clinton and Queen Rania of Jordan were among those honored by Vital Voices, an organization that was founded in 1997 by Clinton and then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and supports women leaders in the areas of economic empowerment, women’s political participation and human rights.

“Girls are creating the future they imagine, and honoring the leaders who came before them. Leaders like Malala, who showed us that even the youngest voice can make a profound impact,” Muto said referring to Malala Yousafzai, a 19-year-old activist from Pakistan and youngest Nobel Prize winner who was almost killed by the Taliban when she was 12.

“We have the opportunity to give girls a shoulder to stand on and to make a difference by investing in the future of these remarkable young women,” Muto said.

Muto and Ann Inc. brought alumni of the HERlead program to Washington for a four-day HERlead Ambassador Forum where they met Clinton at the awards ceremony, connected with the Ann Inc. team, Vital Voices staff and other experts to further their leadership skills and projects. In addition to meeting with Muto, they met with Jasmine Cephas Jones from the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” who has also collaborated on designing T-shirts and necklaces for Lou & Grey, which is part of Ann Inc.

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