Posted by: annekdupuis | October 20, 2016

Where Girls Grow Strong

I know on this blog so far we’ve mostly talked about current events/news, but I’m going to take this moment to talk about my experience as the Leadership Specialist at a summer camp for the Girl Scouts of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the perspective it’s given me on leadership development in young women. The leadership development program I worked with is one I’m intimately familiar with having gone through it during high school and then now being a staff member facilitating it with my girls. As Leadership Specialist I work with girls ranging in age from about 12-18, but for this blog post I’m going to focus on my time with the Counselors in Training (CITs) which are high school age. This program has evolved a lot in recent history, when I was a CIT (summer 2012 and 2013) the program was built almost entirely around Girl Scout tradition and was built mostly on internship time with groups of campers, where as now we’ve developed the program to encompass more general leadership techniques and practices the girls can apply outside of the camp and Girl Scout context.

This summer I had the privilege of working with 13 of the most amazing young women, and the progress I’ve seen in all of them over this past summer and the last couple years is one of the most heartening things I’ve ever had the fortune to be a part of, and continues to give me hope for the future of women in leadership. My experience in leadership development prior to CNU was almost entirely in all female environments (Girl Scouts and an all female high school) and I’m a firm believer that in many ways it is one of the best ways to develop leadership in young women and this past summer only reaffirmed that for me. These girls were able to learn leadership in theory and then put it into practice in a very safe environment where they knew that they were surrounded by people there to support them. Being in an environment like the CIT program they were set up with tools for success and then given the opportunity to practice both team and individual leadership skills. Often times in coed environments during these formative years I feel like it can be easy for girls to get overwhelmed by their male peers because its what society expects from them. However, in an all female environment its easy to be a female leader and build your confidence as a leader without being made to feel like an “other”. I know from my experience my confidence as a leader was built largely while I was surrounded by other women, and now I don’t find coed leadership roles any more daunting than my all female ones whereas a younger me never would have spoken up or had the confidence that I do now.

PS Sorry this is a little late somehow I just saved it as a draft instead of posting…

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Responses

  1. I found your insight really interesting. I never had many experiences in an all girls setting, and it is interesting to think about how formative that can be for girls. Especially around middle school and high school, girls are bombarded with images from media and society about what women are supposed to look like. Very rarely are those images leaders or intellectuals, rather, they show girls that it is more important to be pretty and popular. This can be such a damaging image, and I think it can keep girls away from certain roles and interests. A program like the the girl scout one you were a part of or an all girls school force girls to see girls in leadership roles, because there is no one else to do them! In addition, they also have role models leading them. I wonder though, if there is make the same impression about women as leaders on young men…

  2. I love this and your perspective of empowering young girls. I grew up in a church where I had older girls encourage and mold me and now I get to do that for other girls. I think you’re right, adding guys to the mix can make building up girls and their leadership skills more difficult when they are always aware of them. They either feel like a separate group or they can’t focus on learning because they are trying to compete for their attention. For girls to learn and grow I definitely think it is best for them 1. to have really encouraging confident female leaders to look up to and mold their behavior after and 2. teach them in a setting where they don’t have to constantly be worried about proving themselves to catch a boy’s attention.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post because you described a personal experience about something positive. I can only imagine how great of an experience that has been for you and the other women you were surrounded by. Focusing on leadership in high school is such a fulfilling experience because around this age is when you began to pick up multiple responsibilities and develop challenges for yourself. Gaining that experience and learning the theories of leadership empowers women, like your group, and enhances your confidence to lead.

  4. This sounds like such a good program for instilling leadership skills in young women. I like that y’all transformed it to be focused on leading in general, outside the context of the Girl Scouts. It’s important to be able to apply what they’re learning to a specific context while they’re at the camp, but providing them with the knowledge to be competent in other contexts is so crucial as well, and it sounds like y’all did this well.
    This post was so refreshing to just get to hear about how these topics we discuss in class are so relatable to real life scenarios. Also, it’s just nice to hear about something positive working in the lives of young women and building them up in that way. Very encouraging!

  5. I completely love this! I agree that some of the best ways to foster leadership in women is with other women. After doing our reading for class tomorrow (Tuesday) and how encouragement is such a big part of getting women to become ambitious, I think that this program that you are a part of is a great way to provide that encouragement. I think starting in this “safe” environment allows these women to feel comfortable in their own skill set, so much so that they can take it out into other organizations with other sexes and be confident enough in their own abilities that they won’t question their leadership based on gender- just that they are qualified, have the ambition/experience, and will be the best leader possible.

  6. This was a very interesting post, and I greatly enjoyed reading it. I often feel we leave out women’s leadership potential in all women groups. I do agree that this context helps develop strong leadership potential in women otherwise undeveloped in coed contexts. Furthermore, your post supports the importance of context in any leadership situation.

    However, I do disagree with some of your points, Yes, an all girl context can provide an atmosphere of trust and support where girls feel they can experiment with leadership styles that they may not be comfortable doing in coed contexts. Consequently, all female groups create their own set of problems and implications. Girls can be each other’s worse enemy. As Wilson (2007) describes the “mean girl phenomena”, girls often compensate for their lack of power by controlling other girls. They often become the police of what is considered feminine for women; thus, adding to society’s stereotypes and prejudices that women must live up to (p. 63). Women come to shape the functions of their ambition towards pleasing men rather than leading them. The “mean girl phenomena” can be extremely present in all female groups where society has already taken hold of expectations. Therefore, girls become the guards of societies expectations and continues to enforce them (Wilson, 2007). . However, if you can achieve an environment where prejudices and bias are minimal, I bet you can create an environment where women truly can grow and develop as strong leaders.

    This open environment may be impossible to ever achieve because we are constantly bombarded with stereotypes and prejudices. Maybe with practice and time, we can start to develop women groups in this style. Furthermore, women need to continue to stick together through mentorship and support in order to conquer in numbers. We must change society in numbers.

    -Allison

    Wilson, M. C. (2007). Closing the leadership gap: Add women, change everything. New York City, NY: Penguin Group.

  7. I love this post! I am the vice president of a Christian sorority, so I have had the chance to grow as a leader in that environment as well as help other women grow as leaders. I personally have always felt like there’s something special when women gather in a community–obviously we can never completely understand each other, but it’s really cool when you have an experience and other women gather around and say, “hey, I’ve had that too!” There are some things that I feel like men just will not be able to understand as they have never experienced them, but which women will pick up on immediately. I think that’s a great environment to foster leadership in–you have a set of people with whom you have at least one thing in common (although probably much more than that), and who have probably experienced many of the things you may struggle with as a woman leader. I just think it can create this wonderful community of women mentoring and helping to build up other women.

    I do agree with Allison, though. An all-woman organization brings it’s own problems, especially when the group descends into in-fighting and women tear down other women instead of building them up, which I see most often when women gossip about each other. I also think because women often have so many experiences in common that they also know exactly where to hit to make it hurt. That kind of fighting can cause a woman who would potentially become a great leader to decide to give up hopes of leadership, which robs the community of a lot of really great things. I also think that decision making may become biased, because men often offer a different perspective. As ironic as it seems, an all-woman organization can suffer from lack of diversity when men are not part of it, and it loses out on the things men in general bring to the table–especially their own personal experiences, which a woman obviously would not really have the knowledge of since she hasn’t experienced being a man. It can cause the group to become polarized if the leaders are not careful.

  8. I agree with your point that women leaders develop better at a younger age when they are surrounded by other girls. Our Wilson reading for this week talked about ambition in women and how one of the best ways to encourage women everywhere to follow their ambitions is to get behind them and encourage and push them to greatness. Therefore, a setting where women can thrive without male competition is a great environment. Wilson also suggests that girls compete with each other for male attention and in the setting you have described it seems as though its a great place for women to see the value in other women and push them to be better at every step of the journey. I believe too that at a young age girls need to learn that they’re not always competing against one another but can be helpful to each other’s successes. This way, women can learn how to promote other women to leadership while also learning how to lea themselves.

  9. I think it’s great that there are opportunities like this for young girls! I think it’s so important to learn leadership skills during formative years in order to make them more a part of who those girls are as individuals, and to help make those leadership skills a part of their personality. As we’ve learned in class, boys and girls learn gender roles from a young age, including boys becoming more dominant than girls. If, however, girls learn to become strong leaders separate from boys, they have the capability to become ambitious or powerful without boys speaking over them, or without the girls feeling the need to use mitigating language when presenting their ideas. I think that this is an opportunity that all girls should have, not just in girl scouts, but maybe offer classes in schools in order to encourage leadership among young girls.

  10. Yes, I love this! I think this is the complete opposite of the phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see.” I think that training girls in leadership is a great way to show them female leaders to model themselves after and that is empowering. I think this training sounds like it affirmed young women of their identities as a leader, which is necessary for practical application of leadership. I think that some type of co-ed training could be introduced to round-out the experience, but I’m so happy to hear of a personal, positive experience of leadership development in young women.


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