Lessons in Leadership: Girl Scouts See Themselves in Politics

DelBeneLast summer, Redmond Girl Scout Julia Doherty sat down across the table from a role model of female leadership: Washington Representative Suzan DelBene.

It was part of Girl Scouts of the USA’s new video series, called Portraits in Leadership. Across the country, Girl Scouts like Julia met with their local congresswomen to learn about their individual leadership journeys and discover what inspired them to take on leadership roles!

The interviews gave Girl Scouts an opportunity to ask these accomplished women for advice about the skills and the character girls will need to develop in order to lead our world in the twenty-first century.

As a Girl Scout alumna, Representative DelBene knew the importance of giving girls opportunities to lead: “You hear more and more about all of the opportunities that are out there and how important it is that we make sure that girls and women have access to those same opportunities,” she explained. “Part of that is giving people a foundation and reminding them that they can do anything.”

One of the great things about Girl Scouts is really exposing young women to things that they may not have normally thought about going into, giving them an idea of what different opportunities are there, and letting them participate and learn.” (Watch the full interview here!)

This interview just one of 22 interviews and counting—from Alabama to West Virginia—and there were a lot of Girl Scout alumns to choose from: 70% of the women in the U.S. Senate and 57% of the women in the House of Representatives are Girl Scout alumnae! And, regardless of whether or not they were Girl Scouts, each congresswoman spoke of the value of having an organization such as Girl Scouts to help girls develop leadership qualities.

Anyone who works regularly with girls knows how insightful and determined they can be. If you’re an alumna, troop leader, or current Girl Scout, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that GSUSA’s recent study Running for a Change: Girls and Politics confirms that their determination and interest extends into politics: 67% of girls express an interest in politics, an astounding 93% of girls have been engaged in some kind of political work or leadership activity, and a vast majority (83%) of girls have participated in a cause, campaign, or organization they believe in strongly.

The message is clear: girls are politically savvy and motivated. They see problems in the world and they want to be a part of the solution. And they believe in standing up, taking action, and working to make things better in their communities.

It might seem safe to assume that this interest in political action translates into an interest in seeking higher office. Sadly, it doesn’t. In fact, only 37% of girls say they’re interested in becoming a politician one day—and only 9% are “very interested.” At some point along the way, something happens to cause girls to opt out of politics as a career choice.

Girl Scouts is all about helping girls realize their true leadership potential. Not every girl, of course, will aspire to political office, and leadership can take many forms. But surely the fact that 28% of girls describe themselves as being at least “somewhat interested” in becoming a politician should translate into more than the 18% of women we see in Congress today!

Girls want to be engaged. They want to be involved. They want opportunities to lead. It’s time that we as a society stop causing them to turn away from politics and start changing our national dialogue about female politicians, so that girls can bring their talents to bear in the political arena.

Politics and governance need to become another space where girls are inspired and empowered to take action to change the world. And as the adults in their lives, we need to establish a culture that lifts up women in politics rather than pushes them down, so that girls—and all of us—can know a world where men and women are seen as equally qualified decision makers and ambassadors for change.

Representative DelBene sums it up in her advice to girl: “It’s really important, especially for young women across the country, to remember that they can do amazing things.

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