Opinion Columns & Blogs

Girl Scouts: Raising the nation’s female leaders

Modesto Girl Scout Troop 3380 preparing for an activity.
Modesto Girl Scout Troop 3380 preparing for an activity.

A lot has been said about the Boy Scouts of America’s recent decision to offer their programs to girls.

While this sounds like a step in the right direction for gender equality, research shows that a single-gender environment is essential in the development of leadership among the girls and young women in our nation.

As CEO of Girl Scouts Heart of Central California, which serves girls in 18 counties in Northern and Central California, I believe that we owe it to girls to give them programs that are specially designed to meet their unique developmental needs. Giving them the access to programs designed for boys is woefully inadequate and short-changes their potential as leaders in our society.

For more than 100 years, Girl Scout programs have inspired girls to stretch beyond limits and transfer valuable knowledge and skills to any environment, both now and in the future. The girl-only, girl-defined and girl-led aspects of Girl Scouts are crucial, because not all girls have access to single-gender environments in other parts of their lives.

Girl Scouts helps girls step out of their comfort zones; supports them in taking risks; provides opportunities they would not otherwise have, and helps them become the leaders our world needs. This is accomplished through a research-based program in a safe, all-girls environment.

Research shows girls are more likely to speak openly and honestly in an all-girl space. Girls report they are more authentic and are more likely to take risks when it is “just girls.” As a result, girl-only programs tend to be dynamic, unrestricted and bursting with ideas that might otherwise be kept quiet in a co-ed environment.

Our Girl Scout Leadership Experience is a one-of-a-kind, proven leadership development program that helps girls develop both hard and soft skills, preparing them to take the lead in co-ed environments. There’s no replacement for the benefits Girl Scouting offers.

I’ve been inspired by our Girl Scouts in Modesto who have taken advantage of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience. In addition to developing positive relationships with their peers, these young leaders enact community change in a powerful, sustainable way. Research shows girls carry the skills developed through Girl Scouting with them throughout their lives.

Though we are best known for the world’s largest girl-run business – our cookie program – that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We offer more than 260 badges that give girls experience in financial literacy, life skills and outdoor challenges. More than a third of our badges are focused on outdoor skills and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills.

In our region, we offer two resident camps on more than 500 acres in El Dorado and Calaveras counties. While developing an appreciation for the outdoors, girls can ride one of our 18 horses, climb rocks in Yosemite, build a cabin in our Under Construction program, and cook over campfires they build.

This month, we’re opening a STEM Center + MakerSpace at our Sacramento Program Center. We plan to open a second at our Modesto Program Center in less than a year. Later, we’ll create a mobile STEM Center that will serve more rural communities.

The highest honor in Girl Scouts is the Gold Award. It’s every bit as rigorous as the Eagle Scout program, and girls report that completing a Gold Award project is transformational. Gold Award projects are, by design, game-changers in our communities.

In the process of earning the award, Gold Award Girl Scouts must prove that their projects have a measurable, sustainable impact.

Earning the Gold Award influences a girl’s long-term success. Gold Award Girl Scouts have the opportunity to enter the armed services one rank higher than other recruits and are eligible for more than 40 different college scholarships. We offer two scholarships for Gold Award Girl Scouts at our council.

Girl Scouts enter college and the workforce prepared to lead and with a greater commitment to their communities and volunteer pursuits. They also report a greater sense of self and exhibit better problem-solving skills than non-Girl Scout peers.

Today’s girls deserve a program designed and dedicated specifically for them – a program based on research that is prepared to meet them where they are and grow along with them throughout their lives. They deserve the Girl Scout advantage!

Dr. Linda E. Farley is CEO of Girl Scouts Heart of Central California, which serves girls in 18 counties, including Calaveras, Mariposa, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties. She is a lifetime Girl Scout.