Post by Judy Schoenberg, Director, Research & Outreach, Girl Scouts of the USA
Girl leaders have been at the heart of Girl Scouts since its founding in 1912, when Juliette Gordon Low recognized that developing girls’ leadership abilities was critical for ensuring they would be the change-makers of the future. However approaching the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting we know that as much as things have changed for girls and women, there is still more work to be done.
There is a current crisis in female leadership in the U.S. and only a small percentage of women occupy top leadership positions across business, politics, academia and government. What will it take to change this course of history? One thing we know for sure from research conducted in 2008 by the Girl Scout Research Institute reported in Change It Up! What Girls Say About Redefining Leadership is that the current model of “command and control” leadership does not resonate with girls’ desire to make a difference in the world around them. Instead, girls told us they want a version of leadership infused with morals, ethics and social change values. In a new study commissioned by the Girl Scouts of the USA and conducted by Harris, Good Intentions: The Beliefs and Values of Teens and Tweens Today (2009) we further explored the actual values girls and youth aspire to and how this thinking may inform their leadership skills and qualities.
What we found in Good Intentions is that compared to two decades ago, youth today say they will make responsible choices and refrain from risky behaviors. As Laura mentioned in last Friday’s post, they value diversity and acceptance; demonstrate a strong civic commitment and engagement and say they can withstand peer pressure and are willing to stand up for themselves. However while many youth have good intentions about making responsible choices, they need help connecting their desires to action. We hope findings from this study will help inform the development of leadership experiences that help girls live out the values and beliefs they espouse in Girl Scouting and beyond.
One role for adults to help youth actualize their intentions is to keep them focused on their goals. Youth need adults to support them by discussing their decision-making process rather than placing judgment and to treat their personal struggles with respect. Young people need ample opportunity engage on issues that matter to them and to take action by serving in their communities. The New Girl Scout Leadership Experience does just that – in partnership with adults girls discover the world around them, connect with others, and take action on issues they care about and advocate for girls both locally and globally. Their actions and behaviors will then in turn be measured by a new national outcomes model that articulates 15 outcomes for girls from early childhood through adolescence summarized in Transforming Leadership: Focusing on Outcomes of the New Girl Scout Leadership Experience (2008).
We’re certainly not alone in offering young people opportunities to express themselves and build leadership skills, but all of us must redouble our efforts. That's why we want to hear it from you: How do you empower girls to make the world a better place? What activities have been the most successful? What tips can you offer other adults committed to helping girls grow?
Judy Schoenberg, Ed.M., is the Director of Research & Outreach at the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI), Girl Scouts of the USA. There she conducts original national research studies on issues focused on the healthy development of girls 6-17 and develops strategic relationships with partners to promote the GSRI as a thought-leader on girls’ issues. Judy also tracks youth trends and writes research reviews on topics of interest to educators, policymakers and practitioners. Judy is a national spokesperson for GSUSA and frequently speaks at conferences and other events. Her work has been cited in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and NPR among others.