Girl Scouts: The 51% Solution

by Joy Wheeler, CEO, Girl Scouts of NE Kansas and NW Missouri

It’s time for the Girl Scouts to put a stake in the ground. That stake marks a future where girls and women – who represent 51% of our population – become the solution to the serious workforce challenges that are weighing down our economy. A future where the gender gaps in pay, socioeconomic status, funding and power no longer exist.

You probably realize that we’re pretty far from that future right now. But I want you to know today that the Girl Scouts are driving us there. We’re preparing Kindergarten – 12th-grade girls for a lifetime of leadership and workforce impact. And we need your help to succeed. We need you to join us in Standing Up for G.I.R.L.s (Go-getters, Innovators, Risk-takers, Leaders).

Imagine an equitable future
Take a few minutes and imagine with me what is possible. Picture a world where the United States is the definitive leader in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – precisely because we have learned to harness the power of all people to lead in those jobs, regardless of gender. Consider how your business could excel if you had access to a complete, well-trained and flexible pipeline of workers at all times. What would it be like if Capitol Hill, our board rooms and our leadership teams reflected the gender balance of our adult population?

Now, just think about the possibilities for our country if every child had the opportunity to succeed. What would happen if girls had the same socioeconomic, mental and physical health status as boys? And how would it affect our economy and our social programs if women received the same pay as men doing similar work?

You would like that, wouldn’t you? I mean, who wouldn’t?

We have a long way to go
There’s no disputing we are quite far from achieving that vision of the future. And it seems like we’re actually going backward right now. The U.S. can’t fill the increasing demand for STEM workers – not with men and not with women. And is it any wonder? We know that more than 80 percent of young girls are interested in STEM jobs, but only 13 percent push through the gender bias and pursue this career path. The Smithsonian estimated that 2.4 million STEM jobs would go unfilled last year.

And women are hugely under-represented in government: Around a quarter of state and federal legislators are women. Women hold only 20 percent of corporate board seats. And only 6 percent of CEOs are female.

With that level of representation, is it any wonder that the health and socioeconomic status of girls is lagging, too? Sadly, our Girl Scout research tells us more girls are living in poverty today than they were 10 years ago. And at the current rate of change, the gender pay gap – with women earning just 80 cents for every dollar made by men – isn’t expected to close for another 90 years. Fully two-thirds of minimum wage jobs in the U.S. are held by women.

Girl Scouts can get us there
Clearly, women can be the solution to these social and economic gaps. And Girl Scouts are a key contributor to the 51% solution. The Girl Scouts bring 100+ years of experience and a research-based approach to providing topnotch, innovative programming in financial literacy, STEM, healthy living, environmental stewardship and global citizenship, delivered in the way girls learn best. We are preparing girls for a lifetime of leadership – ensuring women have a voice in all settings that is commensurate with their 51% stake.

Our programs connect girls with female role models in their communities. They immerse young women in a wide variety of opportunities and experiences so they can pursue their full potential. And they challenge girls to the highest standard of achievement through the Gold Award.

The path of a young girl to teenager largely defines the path of the next generation. Will she become a pregnant teenager, leading to a lack of education, hopelessness and economic instability? Or will she become a woman who is supported and nurtured to have the courage and confidence that comes from enriched experiences and education? A woman who knows her worth and is prepared to reject domestic violence and pursue equity? By changing a girl’s confidence to pursue opportunities and reach her full potential, we decrease the demand for social and rehabilitative services. We drive more leadership for female equality, representation and inclusion. In short, we expand the potential for success among everyone in our society – all genders, all ages, all socioeconomic strata.

Single-gender learning is the right thing to do
So let’s address the elephant in the room – the Boy Scouts’ attempt to add girls to their programming. On the surface it sounds kind and equitable, right? We should allow girls to have the same experiences as boys. But let’s be real for a moment. Most of us can agree that boys and girls are different. While they deserve equitable opportunities, pursuing those together doesn’t always make sense.

Our research bears this out. Girls who attend single-gender schools have measurably higher academic success. Did you know a girl will generally lose 30 percent of her confidence between age 8 and 14? The single-gender learning environment provided by the Girl Scouts gives her a safe space to explore, step out of her comfort zone, take risks and become a leader. Her courage, confidence and character grow as she pursues outdoor adventure, entrepreneurship, STEM and civic engagement activities.

Girl Scouts are THE KEY to increasing STEM staffing and leadership
Here again, research underscores the role of the Girl Scouts in helping girls lead the way. Among female tech leaders, an astonishing 80 percent are Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts are twice as likely to be interested in STEM careers. That’s why Girl Scouting provides STEM programming to girls from kindergarten to age 18. We are committed to adding 2.5 million girls to the STEM pipeline by 2025.

Girl Scouts are more successful overall
It’s not just about STEM, though. The Girl Scouting program produces concrete outcomes in almost every measure of success. If you’re a Girl Scout: 

  • Your sense of self, community involvement and confidence in the future is going up during middle school, while your peers are declining in confidence.   
  • You are twice as likely to have a bachelor’s degree.
  • You earn 23 percent more than other women.
  • You’re more likely to engage in a variety of fun and challenging activities, have supportive relationships and be an active learner.

Adding to that, if you’re a Gold Award Girl Scout – representing five percent of the 50 million alums in the U.S. – you’re more successful, engaged and happy as a worker. And you have more positive life outcomes – measured by volunteerism, community and civic engagement, education level and socioeconomic status.

Girl Scouting fuels civic and business leadership
If you’re wondering whether Girl Scouts make a meaningful difference in achieving that future we discussed earlier, consider this: In 2018, 58 percent of women elected to Congress were Girl Scouts, and nearly three-quarters of women in the Senate are alums. Five of the current nine female state governors are Girl Scouts. And every female secretary of state has been a Girl Scout. It’s clear that Girl Scouts builds leaders who make a lasting impact on their communities.

Girl Scouts are well represented in business, too, with 66 percent of professional women and more than half of female entrepreneurs and business owners being alums. And you thought it was all about cookies!

The power of Girl Scouts goes beyond skill-building                                                              
I’d like to share a story with you that helps illustrate the tremendous impact our program can have on a girl’s life. Paige Taylor has experienced mental illness in her family and has been struggling with depression and anxiety herself since age 10. The high school senior from Lansing, Kansas, has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten. She calls her girl squad her “safe place” to share and says her sister Girl Scouts are her real sisters. The confidence Paige has gained through Girl Scouts has allowed her to achieve a level of success she otherwise wouldn’t have dreamed of. She recently completed her Gold Award, where she bravely shared her personal story, opened a door for other teens to share their stories, got school officials to acknowledge the statistics and add more resources, and stood with the Kansas governor who signed a state-wide proclamation. Paige plans to pursue sports psychology and counseling when she attends college next fall. When we asked what gave her the courage and confidence to break away from the stigma and challenges of mental illness, Paige gave Girl Scouts the credit: “Without Girl Scouts, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I know my voice matters and I’m empowered to continue to use it as I pursue my dreams.” Now, that’s the kind of difference we can make!

Why your support is critical right now
The value of Girl Scouts and the essential role of our contributions to solving these issues is clear. Now, more than ever, we need your help – your money, your influence and your passion.

Funding: Cookie sales make the Girl Scout experience memorable. The program supports girls to grow their financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills as it builds their confidence. But how many other organizations require their beneficiaries to fund their own services by the sweat of their brows? We need your private funding, too. Based on the latest reports available, Girl Scouts received just half the private funding of Boy Scouts, while serving approximately the same number of youth.  

Influence: We’re asking you to talk about the Girl Scouts. Use your connections to bring us to the table to represent girls and all the potential they bring to EVERY discussion about workforce development, economic equality and diversity.

Daily Advocacy: We are asking you to use your power to advocate for girls and women everywhere. If you’ve participated in Girl Scouts or have Girl Scouts in your family, you ARE Girl Scouts! Yes, gentlemen, even you. Are you Man Enough to be a Girl Scout? We want you to wear the Girl Scout identity and do things like follow and share the powerful stories of our Girl Scouts locally and beyond.

The only way we’re going to bring this solution to life is by proactively championing girls and women in our everyday lives – giving them a seat at the table and Standing up for G.I.R.L.s.   Advocating isn’t enough – we need you to be their champions – when they’re in the room and when they’re not. Because there’s something missing today – that’s the other 51%. None of us is as powerful as all of us!

Barbara Hanson – A Family Legacy of Supporting G.I.R.L.s

A family connected in Girl Scouting! Meet Barbara Hanson, a former Girl Scout troop leader, Kaw Valley Council staff member, Juliette Gordon Low Society Member and all around awesome G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)TM! For more than 30 years, Barbara helped raise Girl Scouts as a leader and inspired so many more when she worked at the former Kaw Valley Council for nearly 15 years and served in several volunteer roles. Following in her footsteps, her daughter Lori is a Gold Award Girl Scout as well as a Membership Manager at GSKSMO.  Barbara also has four granddaughters, three of which are Girl Scouts – Claire, Kate & Aidin. As a volunteer, Barbara led her granddaughter Claire’s troop when she was in the program and is currently involved in Aidin’s Girl Scout journey! Being Girl Scout Green runs in the family!

Girl Scout adventures for the Hanson’s!

Barbara started leading troops in the mid-1970s in Topeka, KS when Lori was in elementary school and continued until about 2008. As her daughter Lori recalls, “My mom became the leader when the former leader handed her the Brownie stuff and said she ‘we’re moving, you’re the leader now”!” That turned into decades of service to Girl Scouts and too many family experiences to count.

One of the best parts for Barbara was watching her own daughter, as well as her Girl Scout sisters, grow as people. “I loved watching them in Girl Scouts because girls had experiences they wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Barbara said. From trips to Kansas City that let some girls visit Missouri for the very first time, to camping adventures, there were so many opportunities that came from Girl Scouts. Many times, these experiences impacted the adult volunteers just as it did the girls.

Lori remembers her mother gaining from the experiences just as the troop did. “My mother found a passion for the outdoors that she didn’t know she had. About 6 years after become a volunteer she led a council backpacking trip with other Girl Scouts while I was on my Destination trip,” Lori said. Exposure to things that push you outside your comfort zone is a hallmark of Girl Scouting and in this case helped Barbara discover a new passion.

Left: Aidin, Lori & Barbara Hanson; Right: Larry, Barbara and Lori Hanson

Beyond troop life, Barbara found that Girl Scouts let her get closer to her daughter. “I believe that Lori and I’s closeness came from our Girl Scouting experiences,” Barbara said. She also found a close community with Girl Scouts, making friends and growing her circle of amazing families. “[Girl Scouts] has so many great experiences, especially when you get involved as an adult. You gain just as much as the girls do and you make friends,” Barbara said. Combining service, leadership and community – that’s what Girl Scouts has always been about. The Hanson family is an amazing example of what it means to be Girl Scouts through and through!

Today, Barbara continues to support the mission as a member of the Juliette Gordon Low Society. She truly exemplifies what it means to a Girl Scout for life – finding new ways to support the mission as life changes! From serving as a leader, to becoming a staff member, to being an advocate and now through generous financial giving, we thank Barbara, Lori and the entire Hanson family for all they’ve given to girls!