I have been a Girl Scout leader, on and off, for 20 years. I have two daughters in the program and a son who was in Boy Scouts. I know from experience that Girl Scouts fulfills a unique role in the development of girls into leaders. Girl Scouts is a girl-led, all-girl environment based on more than 100 years of research and experience in learning what makes girls tick — and succeed.
Recently, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced that it would begin accepting girls into its program. That decision came after years of declining enrollment and controversies over equal access. The current plan is reportedly for individual packs to decide whether to let girls join Cub Scouts (up to age 10) and Boy Scouts starting in 2019.
This will create logistical challenges in camping or other details that BSA can certainly sort out. However, adequately designing a program that empowers girls and addresses the unique way they learn, lead and organize will be a far higher mountain to climb.
Both organizations are well-armed with data-driven research on their memberships. The Girl Scout Research Institute studies how girls learn, the challenges they face and outcomes. The Boy Scouts conducts similar research on boys and has for years.
The research led Girl Scouts to embrace its femininity and help redefine that term. Girl Scouts are scientists, chefs, entrepreneurs, and leaders. STEM and high adventure are key. Even in 1913, Girl Scouts offered an “Electrician Badge” and a “Flyer Badge” so girl could be pilots.
Girl Scouts is crafted to empower young women. The troops are organized in committees or groups. Fewer than 6 percent of girls earn the highest level, the Girl Scout Gold Award, which my daughter proudly did.
Boy Scouts is designed to empower young men, and its pack structure is more military-style hierarchies, with just 4 percent earning the better-known Eagle Scout Award. Girl Scouts is working on a new branding strategy for the Gold Award and building the professional connections for those who earn it, recognizing that women need networking opportunities long after they take off the vest.
Rather than reinforcing traditional stereotypes, the programs to tap into how genders tend to communicate, bond and learn differently. Still, in either program kids who don’t fit a mold can find a place in scouting.
BSA says they don’t know how or if the program with change to accommodate girls, and Girl Scouts says that’s a sign the girls may just be tag-alongs in a watered-down version of the BSA program, rather than one uniquely for girls.
I can pick out a Girl Scout a mile away. They are industrious, entrepreneurial, and unafraid to blaze a trail. While as an adult they may never again climb an alpine tower, Girl Scouts learn lessons they carry into the nation’s boardrooms, on the floor of Congress and even into space.
Today, more than 50 million American women credit Girl Scouts with contributing to their early development, including 90 percent of female astronauts, 70 percent of current female senators, 80 percent of female tech leaders, and 50 percent of female business owners.
If this debate leads families to what scouting can build, all the better. Scouting is a training ground for the future of this nation, starting with 6-year-olds.
Girl Scout researchers say that age 6 is when gender bias begins, and when girls start seeing boys and men as leaders. As enriching as the BSA program is, I don’t want my girls getting lessons in leadership and self-sufficiency in a program designed by and for men.