I love so many things about Girl Scouts. When I was a Junior and Cadette, my favorite thing was earning badges; I still have them all, proudly displayed in my office in a shadow box. I love the outdoors, and while I wouldn’t consider myself much of a camper, I love walking around Girl Scout camp – smelling the fresh air, crunchy pine needles under my feet, roasting marshmallows for S’mores. Today, as a Girl Scout professional, I especially love that I am part of the amazing accomplishments of thousands of girls each year. Already, over the four short years I’ve served as CEO, I have seen girls transform in maturity, poise and confidence. I’ve seen them tackle community problems through Bronze, Silver and Gold Award projects and use their voices to speak on issues that they care passionately about. Our organization is special and like me, if you are Girl Scout, parent or volunteer, you know it too.
There is one thing that does drive me a little crazy – something that does affect us and can’t be ignored, but needs to be put in proper perspective. It’s something that I call our “Boy Scout thing”.
Many of you know what I mean. It’s when we get frustrated about how come “no one” knows about the Gold Award and everyone knows what an Eagle Scout is. It’s the competition over who has the best STEM or Outdoor program, in a day when girls are welcomed into Boy Scouting to participate in those programs. And, it’s fear of that possible big move by Boy Scouts - becoming co-ed. As someone who was part of the YWCA movement for 15 years (and always lived in the shadow of the YMCA), I have a special sensitivity to how the comparisons and associations between Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are challenging. We are competing for the limited time and resources that families have to give in today’s busy world. Both of us are challenged to be relevant for our youth, and we both need family engagement and volunteers to be successful.
Here’s the thing though. Whether Boy Scouting ever goes co-ed or not, our girl-only, girl-led model is critical to the continuing success of girls and women in our society. We provide value to girls. Let’s make that our focus and our charge!
Our Girl Scout Leadership Experience model is unique and was developed to suit girls’ interests in collaborative or shared leadership, rather than other traditional leadership models. Our own Girl Scout Research Institute research has found girls aspire to the shared leadership model most. At the same time, we know that in today’s world girls have lots of options for fun, learning and development. While I hope that all girls will develop their leadership at Girl Scouts – just like I did - there are certainly some girls who will prefer other experiences. Our values honor each girl’s journey of development of her strong self – regardless of how that journey happens.
We’ve got data on our side too. There’s plenty of research that makes the case that girls thrive in single-gender environments. I know that was certainly the case for me. As a girl who was significantly taller than all the boys in school, I was often teased because of my height. In my Girl Scout Troop I could assert and express myself in ways that I never felt comfortable doing in school. Today, Girl Scouting has chosen to focus in areas where women are traditionally under-represented (STEM, Financial Literacy) because we know that in a Girl Scout troop, where a girl is in a safe and supportive learning environment, she can comprehend her value and her capabilities in entirely different ways. She can be free to experiment and explore, trying out new things and trying on new roles. She can follow her ambitions without wasting a second thought or a backward glance on how her male counterparts might perceive her. All this buoys her self-confidence and willingness to take risk and overcome fear. Girl Scouting also provides a wealth of positive role models and strong female mentors for girls, and we know that mentorship is a critical component to learning and success.
Girl Scouting is awesome and uniquely positioned to serve girls. Girl Scouting matters because girls need the tremendous opportunities we provide so they can build courage, confidence and character. Let’s not worry about what other organizations do. Let’s all stay focused on what’s unique, special and best about Girl Scouting for girls. THAT will make all the difference.