Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lessons in Leadership: Girls See Themselves in Politics

In a series of video's titled Portraits in Leadership, Girl Scouts sit down with female members of the United States Congress to learn about their individual leadership journeys and discover what inspired them to take on leadership roles. 

The interviews gave Girl Scouts an opportunity to ask these accomplished women for advice about the skills and the character girls will need to develop in order to lead our world in the twenty-first century. Seventy percent of the women in the U.S. Senate and 57 percent of the women in the House of Representatives are Girl Scout alumnae; but regardless of whether or not they were Girl Scouts, each congresswoman spoke of the value of having an organization such as Girl Scouts to help develop leadership qualities. 

Anyone who works regularly with girls knows how insightful and determined they can be, and if you’re an alumna, troop leader, or current Girl Scout, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that GSUSA’s recent study Running for a Change: Girls and Politics (Girl Scout Research Institute, 2014) confirms that their determination and interest extends into politics: 67 percent of girls express an interest in politics, with 22 percent describing themselves as “very interested.” An astounding 93 percent of girls have been engaged in some kind of political work, civic engagement, or leadership activity. And a vast majority (83 percent) of girls have participated in a cause, campaign, or organization they believe in strongly.

So the message is clear: girls are politically savvy and motivated. They see problems in the world and they want to be a part of the solution. And they believe in standing up, taking action, and working to make things better in their communities. Therefore, it seems safe to assume that this interest in political action translates into an interest in seeking higher office.

Sadly, it doesn’t. In fact, only 37 percent of girls say they’re interested in becoming a politician one day—and only 9 percent are “very interested.” At some point along the way, something happens to cause girls to opt out of politics as a career choice.

Girl Scouts is all about helping girls realize their true leadership potential. Not every girl, of course, will aspire to political office, and leadership can take many forms. But surely the fact that over a quarter (28 percent) of girls describe themselves as being at least “somewhat interested” in becoming a politician should translate into more than the 18 percent of women we see in Congress today.

Girls want to be engaged. They want to be involved. They want opportunities to lead. It’s time that we as a society stop causing them to turn away from politics and start changing our national dialogue about female politicians, so that girls can bring their talents to bear in the political arena. Ultimately, politics and governance need to become another space where girls are inspired and empowered to take action to change the world.

As the adults in their lives, we need to establish a culture that lifts up women in politics rather than pushes them down, so that girls—and all of us—can know a world where men and women are seen as equally qualified decision makers and ambassadors for change.