Yesterday, women made history as we celebrated a record number of female candidates (over 110!) winning seats in the US House of Representatives. And did you know that fifty-eight percent of those female representatives elected to the 116th Congress are Girl Scout Alums ? Clearly, this organization that boldly aims to give girls a space of their own in a male-dominated world has had a profound impact on the future for women.
I have a long history of volunteering and serving as a board member of organizations that serve girls such as Girl Scouts, Girls Hope of Pittsburgh, Girls on the Run, Step Up for Women and Girls Inc of NYC so I know first-hand the unique value of single-gender learning experiences. As a mother of two daughters, I am a staunch advocate for efforts to leverage single-gender expertise to uniquely serve the needs of girls. And so, when I first heard about the lawsuit the Girls Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) filed against the Boy Scouts of America for trademark infringement, it made me want to shine a light on the impact that GSUSA has had on my life and why I stand by them.
In January of 2000, I was student government president at the University of Pittsburgh, representing a student body of over 18,000 undergraduates. I was a huge leadership book junkie and an administrator handed me Hesselbein on Leadership by Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA. This was the first leadership book I had ever seen that had a woman’s face on the front cover and was written about her own leadership principles. Being exposed to Frances at a pivotal moment in my early leadership experiences was transformative. And since then, I have had the fortune of having Frances as a trusted mentor whose wisdom has played a strong hand in guiding my own career.
But my knowledge and admiration for the work Frances and GSUSA do is not just anecdotal. It’s backed up by solid research. Advocates for single-gender education argue that when children learn with single-gender peers, they are more likely to thrive because the environment better supports their learning. The data is compelling and time-tested in support of providing safe spaces for girls in the classroom and outside of it.
Here are the top 3 reasons why girls-only spaces deserve our support:
- Comfort breeds confidence
In an article on the recent proliferation of women-only work spaces, one woman interviewed explained, “If you go into a space with you in mind you’re more likely to speak up and more likely to lead.” This is the value of single-gender environments, especially for girls whose voices and learning preferences can get drowned out—and continue to be drowned out into adulthood—in a male-dominated world.
She continued, “Women need these spaces. We know the outcomes for women and men in corporate America are very different. Women are just as intelligent and just as ambitious. It matters where people feel comfortable using their voices and being heard.”
Yes, women absolutely need these spaces—and they need them the most in their formative years when girls’ confidence levels have been documented to take a nosedive (between eight and fourteen, research shows that girls’ confidence in themselves falls by thirty percent).
- “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
As Marian Wright Edelman said “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Girls organizations like GSUSA and Girls Inc. are filled with female leaders that young girls can look up to and aspire to be. They shorten the distance between aspiration and reality by showing girls what women who used to be just like them can achieve. From my mentor, Frances Hesselbein who tripled the diversity of the girl scout members in the 80s to today’s Rocket Scientist CEO, Sylvia Acevedo, GSUSA female role models are visible and hands on.
- More opportunities
While single-gender environments benefit both girls and boys, research shows that females especially thrive in single-sex schools and colleges because they empower them to become bold leaders and experiment with roles and interests usually relegated to males. According to the Goodman Research Group, “93% of girls’ school grads say they were offered greater leadership opportunities than peers at coed schools and 80% have held leadership positions since graduating from high school.”
The National Coalition of Girl’s Schools (NCGS) documents that girls’ school grads are six times more likely to consider majoring in math, science, and technology and three times more likely to consider an engineering career. Fun fact: The Girl Scouts recently launched 30 new STEM related badges including robotics, computer science and space exploration. In 1913, Girl Scouts created its Electrician and Flyer badges, the very first STEM-related badges.
Adolescents feel pressures worldwide, as found in the Global Early Adolescent Study by Johns Hopkins and the World Health Organization. Girls organizations like GSUSA meet girls where they are, helping them to overcome the unique challenges they face, like self-limiting behaviors and gender bias, with the utmost support and encouragement.
The last thing that girls and our society need right now is any attempt to undermine their success. And that is why I stand with the GSUSA and in support of girls organizations everywhere.
More Info: forbes.com