Girls Don’t Want to Be LeadersApril 06, 2008
Girls don’t want to be leaders. That’s what the first sentences of a Washington Post article on a newly released survey from the Girl Scouts USA leave you with. Girls are more interested in “fitting in,” “making a lot of money,” and “helping animals or the environment.” Let that sink in for a moment. But then you begin to wonder, Who was surveyed? How did the respondents define leadership? Were the girls much different from the boys?
Covering youth ages 8–17, the survey goes on to say that it’s not that girls don’t want to be leaders; they want to be a different kind of leader. They reject traditional top-down approaches to leadership. (Really … who likes being told what to do?) According to Judy Schoenberg, director of research and outreach at the Girl Scout Research Institute and lead author of the study, “Girls today appear to be redefining leadership in terms of being more inclusive and serving a larger purpose.”
These results point to why it is critical to invest in experiences for girls and young women that help them begin to envision themselves as leaders. Girls are faced with a variety of mixed messages in their lives on what will garner acceptance among peers and the greater world. (Take the recent example of Miss Bimbo, the newly infamous online game.) Gaining the identity of a leader takes time, just as gaining confidence and learning leadership skills take time.
AAUW has invested in younger women’s leadership for years, focusing most recently on empowering college women at our National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. The conference tackles contemporary leadership issues, with speakers, workshops, and plenty of time to dialogue and network, because both peer support and role models can help demonstrate the many ways young women can be leaders in their communities.
We also look to invest in activities that women are engaged in on their own college campuses with our Campus Action Projects. This year seven campuses are implementing activities that highlight the gender pay gap. AAUW, along with Girl Scouts USA, is also a partner on the National Girls Collaborative Project, which focuses on building collaboration among girl-serving STEM organizations.
One might question whether this survey’s findings would be the same in previous generations of 8- to 17-year-olds. Would you have said you wanted to be a “leader” when you were a teenager? What influenced you to identify as a leader?