People in the community often ask us whether the Girl Scouts, with its storied 105-year history, is still relevant. We contend that organizations whose mission is to grow girl leaders are as relevant now, if not more so, as when they were founded.
Recent research backs this up. In 2015, the World Economic Forum Global Agenda listed lack of leadership third on its list of top 10 trends. In a study of 95 countries that comprise 97 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and 93 percent of the world’s women, the McKinsey Growth Institute noted gender balance in the workforce could have a $12.1 trillion effect on the global economy by 2025.
Another study by human resources consultant DDI and The Conference Board concludes that companies with more women leaders outperform companies with fewer women leaders on financial success measures. This study looked at corporate leadership at all levels, not just upper echelons. The DDI study had another puzzling finding: Women have less confidence in themselves as leaders than men do.
It’s a global problem, and the United States has far to go: Only 14.6 percent of executives in top companies are women, and only 4.6 percent of CEOs in those companies are women.
So, if we know that the world is facing a leadership crisis, that the global economy will increase if the workforce is gender balanced, and that companies with more women in leadership roles are more successful, it is obvious that gender-balanced leadership teams are the solution.
If women need more confidence to lead, the question then becomes, how do we build more confident women leaders? The answer: We must purposely and intentionally begin to create women leaders at a young age, continuously reinforcing leadership qualities as girls mature. There are three key requirements:
• Girls need an environment in which they can seek challenges. Meeting challenges and overcoming fears, and taking risks in a monitored environment, builds courage. This, as a result, builds confidence in a girl’s ability. Completing a ropes course, learning a new skill like sailing or kayaking, camping and hiking in the wilderness, or taking on the responsibility to plan and carry out a trip all allow girls to try something new, and perhaps try again, until they succeed.
• Girls need a girls-only safe space for at least part of their week, where they have ample opportunities to take on a leadership role. These all-girl environments might be dance teams, sports teams or even their Girl Scout troops. In these spaces, girls can stretch their limits without fear of comparison to (or comparing herself to) boys. Studies show that girls who take part in certain all-girl activities go on to have more successful careers, experience higher levels of education and be happier in general. Who doesn’t want that for their daughters, nieces, granddaughters and female friends?
• Girls need places and people that reinforce strong character and values. Strength of character is a crucial leadership trait. Caring adults in a girl’s life who help them understand right from wrong and how to be courageous and strong make all the difference. Churches, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls clubs, afterschool programs and the “Y” can all contribute to building strong character.
When you look at your daughter, niece, granddaughter or young female friends and wish the best for them, please also recognize your responsibility to help them become the best they can be. You can help in many ways. We recommend you consider volunteering as a Girl Scout leader.
Wednesday’s announcement by the Boy Scouts of America, opening up their program to girls, has saddened us. Data show that single-gender settings help to lessen the effect of gender stereotypes that can dictate the activities and subjects children choose to pursue, help children learn better and provide a more well-rounded and satisfying learning experience, all of which form a strong basis for growing leaders – for both boys and for girls.
By recognizing the need for girl leaders and by helping girls grow into leaders, Girl Scouts not only addresses the leadership needs of today, but also of tomorrow and beyond. That mission will never grow old.
Sharon Pohly is chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana. Margaret Sturm is executive director of resource development at Ivy Tech and board chair of Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana.