This is the third installment in a six-post series about SWSG’s model and impact. In light of 10 years of strong work, this series shows the impact of SWSG’s model and connects it to current events and research about girls and women today.
Women in leadership has been a highly discussed topic in the media as of late. With women slowly making their way up the ranks in politics, business, and other fields, there has been much discussion about how to continue this trend.
With the Ban Bossy campaign by the Girl Scouts and Lean In, the push for cultivating leadership in girls is progressing more than ever.
With fair criticism of the Lean In movement, I’d like to make the claim that the term “leadership” encompasses much more than climbing up the workforce ladder to continue the work of a patriarchal society.
If you look at synonyms for the word “leadership,” you get words like “command,” “power,” “skill,” and “influence.” These qualities can be found in girls and women around the world, regardless of where they situate themselves in the workforce.
I’d like to suggest a different take on the Lean In and Ban Bossy movements.
Girls’ leadership focuses on voice. By teaching girls to lead — to effectively “lean in” — you teach them to command respect; not wait for it.
Strong Women, Strong Girls is among the many organizations that have a focus on girls’ leadership outcomes. But there is a difference between training future CEOs and training loud, proud, influential women.
One mentor discussed with us how SWSG helped to create a space to cultivate leadership in their girls. She states, “One of my girls came to me with her report card. Upon looking at her grades, I noticed a significant improvement in a majority of the fields. I asked Taylor if SWSG had helped her and she happily replied, “Oh, yes!” I asked her why and she told me “leadership” — she had become a role model and a strong leader in her classroom.”
We need our girls to feel powerful, skilled, and influential. We need them to command the attention of those around them to enact thoughtful change. These are all qualities that are crucial to continue the work of our foremothers within the women’s movement.
Cultivating leadership in girls means creating new activists, organizers, public figures, and policymakers. If we teach girls to lean into leadership, we effectively teach them how to lean into their communities, their families, and their jobs to effect institutional change through their strong voices.
According to The State of Girls: Unfinished Business, only 22 percent of girls say that being a leader is a top goal for them. The report details the multitude of reasons why girls are not necessarily interested in leadership opportunities – fear of speaking in front of others, shyness, fear of being laughed at, being called “bossy,” and inciting anger in others.
When we create spaces for girls to be leaders – to be powerful, influential, commanding, and skillful – we then see a shift in interpersonal relationships between girls and the institutions that surround them.
Think of a strong girl, once silenced by her shyness, sitting in a classroom where a teacher has yet to bring up any female authors. She now raises her hand and says, “Why aren’t we talking about female authors, too?” She is effectively leaning into the institution that is barring her ability to feel represented and shifting the paradigm.
Think of this same strong girl, once silenced by her fear of inciting anger in others, who is being forced into a situation that she is uncomfortable with. She now pushes away from that person, commands their respect and confidently says “No, thank you.” She is effectively leaning into the society that inherently tells her she needs to please everyone, regardless of her feelings.
One strong girl can empower their peers in the same way. When we teach girls to lean in, we have to teach them to lean in together.