Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leadership - More Than Just Talk

By Anne Gore, Communications Manager

Leadership is a word we hear a lot in Girl Scouting. For 100 years, Girl Scouts has been helping girls discover, and fulfill, their leadership potential.

Yet how often do we have conversations about leadership -- especially the sometimes sensitive issues around women and leadership?

In early February, Girl Scouts of the USA launched its Year of the Girl campaign and the "ToGetHerThere" cause -- a multiyear effort to bring attention to and change the fact that too few women serve in leadership positions. One aspect of the campaign encourages learning and talking openly about what holds girls back, as well as what helps them succeed.

So, on the afternoon of February 7, 2012, that's exactly what we did.

Girl Scouts of Alaska invited the members of "Troop 49," an honorary Girl Scout troop comprised of Alaska's women legislators, commissioners, and the first lady, to join a small group of Juneau Girl Scouts for a dialogue about women and leadership. 

With the help of facilitators Sharon Gaiptman and Sally Saddler, who themselves are successful women leaders in the Juneau community, a lively discussion took place for over an hour.

Rep. Anna Fairclough speaks, as Rep. Berta Gardner and Rep. Tammie Wilson listen.

 The legislators began by telling personal stories about what motivated them to run for office. They were then joined by the commissioners as they explained what routes each took to get where they are today.

Then, the Girl Scouts were given a chance to weigh in, responding to questions such as "What do you think it takes to be a leader?" with answers like "courage" and "determination."

Juneau Girl Scouts listen intently as members of Honorary Troop 49 share their perspectives on leadership. 

In addition to the enthusiasm of the participants, and the heart-felt advice given by the members of Troop 49, what struck me as most interesting about the conversation was the girls' response to questions about access and opportunity. When asked if girls and boys have equal opportunities to become leaders in our country, every girl in the room agreed without question that yes, girls and boys do have the same opportunities. That was encouraging to hear.

But, one girl noted, our country has never had a female President. And, another girl observed that there aren't any women candidates for President, either. That's when a parent clarified that there are women candidates, but perhaps we don't hear about them because the media treats women differently. The legislators chimed in to share specific examples of how the media often focuses on a woman's appearance, rather than the substance of her remarks.  This prompted a Commissioner to note other challenges women can face in achieving positions of leadership -- and not just in politics. For example, men often have access to social networks and mentors, and women aren't always included.

Both adults and girls were so engaged in the discussion that time passed quickly and everyone seemed disappointed when it was time to go. The room was still buzzing with excitement as everyone gathered in a friendship circle, then posed for a group photo.

Before leaving to return to their busy lives as leaders, the members of Troop 49, along with the other adults in the room, signed the ToGetHerThere pledge, a commitment to become informed, to speak up, and to invest in girls. Already, Troop 49 members' willingness to attend the event and speak so openly with girls has made a difference.  Because, as we know in Girl Scouts, sometimes the real lessons aren't the ones that you can talk about or put into words.  

Almost every legislator referenced the things that helped them get where they are today -- the support of a parent or a friend, the encouragement of a mentor, or the simple presence of a role model to look up to. Now they in turn are serving as role models for today's girls to look up to.

Girl Scouts of Alaska is eager to organize more events like this around the state during our 100th anniversary year, and beyond. If you want help organizing an event with women leadership role models in your community, please contact Marge Stoneking or Anne Gore at the council office (907-248-2250).

Rep. Lindsey Holmes and Sen. Bettye Davis create a friendship circle 
with Juneau Girl Scouts.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Who Says Girls Don't Like Science?

By Anne Gore, Communications Manager

On February 4, the University of Alaska Anchorage campus was swarming with more than 800 Girl Scouts attending the 20th annual Women of Science and Technology Day.

It's not surprising why this event draws such a crowd.  What kid wouldn't love dissecting moose poop, playing with magnets, meeting a Great Horned owl, designing a mini roller-coaster, or drilling a hole in a tooth?  

To the casual observer, this might seem like just another great hands-on learning experience. But, there's a reason the event recruits only women presenters, and why its target audience is middle-school and younger girls.  Because behind all the fun, some serious life lessons are taking place.

Although women in the United States have made great strides in education and the work force since Girl Scouts was founded by Juliette Gordon Low 100 years ago, they haven't advanced as far as we might have expected.  Especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, collectively referred to as STEM, women continue to be underrepresented.  

Studies show that girls perform equally well, if not better, in science and math than boys at all grade levels. But by middle school, girls start to lose interest in STEM subjects. A number of factors may be at play, including lack of confidence and outdated stereotypes that girls aren't good at math or aren't suited for jobs in science.  

The good news is that when girls receive encouragement from adults and are exposed to someone working in a STEM field, they are more likely to remain interested and involved in STEM. A Girl Scout Research Institute survey released today also found that teen girls who self-identified as being interested in STEM were more likely to have done hands-on science activities when they were younger than girls who did not express an interest in STEM.   

With this knowledge in hand, Girl Scouts of Alaska is working to bridge the gender gap in STEM fields by connecting girls with women scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in their own communities.  

Check out these upcoming Women of Science events in your community.  (And a BIG thank you to BP for making all of these events possible!)

March 3 - Soldotna
March 10 - Bethel
March 31 - Juneau
March 31 - Wasilla
April 14 - Kodiak
April TBA - Cordova

By bringing unique events and experiences like this to Girl Scouts and other girls across Alaska, Girl Scouts of Alaska is inspiring future generations to do great things.  

Do you have a daughter interested in science, math, engineering or technology?  Has she attended a Women of Science event?  What other things can we do to support our girls in pursuing STEM careers?