Girl Scouts Have Nurtured Generations of Women Leaders

One of the best memories of my childhood was being a Girl Scout.

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Fiona Ma with Girl Scouts

One of the best memories of my childhood was being a Girl Scout. And I shouldn’t be surprised at this, but every time I do my informal surveys, the results are the same: a lot of the women I serve with (and I think a lot of the women in top level positions in government, business and academia) owe their success, in part, to the Girl Scouts.

Why is Girl Scout service so ubiquitous among the women who serve in public life? Think about the lessons that generations of young girls have been taught by the Girl Scouts, and it’s easy to see why. 
As Girl Scouts, we were incentivized to get badges for doing good deeds. We competed to see who could sell the most Girl Scout cookies each year. We bonded with other girls and our Girl Scout mothers. We built up our confidence and self-esteem by getting a badge for trying/doing new things.

Girl Scouts taught us how to listen to each other, work with each other, and help each other grow. And that’s because Girl Scouts is about so much more than selling cookies and doing community service projects.

Just look at what’s required to win the Gold Award, which is the Girl Scout equivalent of Eagle Scouts. Only 5.6 % of eligible girls actually earn this. It requires 80 hours of an approved project that has a sustainable, long term impact on a community. Winning the Gold Award means honing skills like team building; long-term planning; documenting the process through one, sometimes two journey books; quick thinking to solve dilemmas and emergencies. Girls who learn these skills become women who succeed and inspire. The Gold Award just turned 100 years old, and was recognized with a proclamation honoring such an important milestone.

A few weeks ago, I was preparing to speak to a group of Girl Scouts some 35 years after my own time. The audience was a group of talented and successful Girl Scouts who are fast approaching college, and the point in which they must choose their careers. Several women who work in and around the Capitol were my co-panelists, and as I was preparing for the event, I wanted to reconnect with my time in the Scouts.

I tried to find my old sash. I looked up our Girl Scout Promise and Girl Scout Law (which is still part of my DNA today) and read up on our founding mother, Juliette Gordon Low, who initially founded the “Girl Guides” in 1912 and funded much of the early activities out of her own pocket.

Could she imagine what her work would grow into more than a century later? I’m not sure, but I’d like to think so. I’d like to think that she knew she was starting something that would be such a transformative force for good in our society.

That’s because the Girl Scouts have grown and changed over the years. When I was a young girl, we dreamed of being nurses and teachers and (in my case) accountants. When I asked that same question to the young women at the panel discussion, they answered with career aspirations like environmental scientist and pediatric neurosurgeon.

The classic image of the Troop Leader (a young, stay-at-home mom) has evolved into a more accurate reflection of who we are as a society. Troop leaders can be dads, grandparents, even professionals who just want give back some of their time to something bigger than themselves. The one thing that has stayed the same is their level of commitment. My Troop Leader throughout my time as a Brownie and a Scout was Mrs. Leeds, and I’m sure today’s Scouts will have the same warm memories of their Troop Leader as I did with mine.

The values that Girl Scouts instill are timeless. And each successive generation of young girls who have grown up with the Scouts have grown up in a world with more and more opportunities for them than ever, thanks in part to the women trailblazers who got their start in the Girl Scouts. I was blown away by the young women I met at the Panel Discussion, and I am so grateful that Girl Scouts are nurturing and inspiring the next generation of young women to not only succeed, but to lead!