Why Girls Need Mentors

iStock_000017829061XSmallBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

According to a new study produced by The Girl Scouts of the USA, four out of ten girls say they have had no opportunities to interact with successful women during the last school year. That could be why so many of them (38%) said they weren’t sure if they were cut out to be a leader.

The study, conducted by Roper Research, polled 1,000 girls between the ages of eight and seventeen. Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA believes “ToGetHerThere: Girls’ Insights on Leadership” shows that role models must be made more visible to girls everywhere, so that they see themselves as leaders.

“It is abundantly clear that our girls have a vision of their leadership potential that is incompatible with what we know they can achieve,” she said.

Teaching Leadership

The report notes that 81% of girls believed that workplaces could do a better job of supporting women, and 67% believe that family responsibilities impact women more than men.

The study also revealed that 65% of girls feel that women have an equal chance as men to attain positions of leadership – like becoming President of the USA or head of a major corporation. But, as Connie Lindsey, National President, Girl Scouts of the USA, explained, most girls don’t feel they have the right skills to be leaders themselves.

“Our Girl Scout Research Institute found that while the majority of girls think anyone can acquire the skills of leadership, only 21% believe they currently have most of the key qualities required to be a good leader. This may cause girls to opt out.”

She added, “Negative influences such as stress, fear of speaking in front of others, appearing bossy, and peer pressure may cause girls to simply disengage from assuming leadership roles. We need to change that, and ToGetHerThere is a bold step in the right direction.”

ToGetHerThere is the organization’s newly-launched global fundraising campaign with a goal of $1 billion, in order to teach girls skills in finance, science, technology, environmental, and global leadership in the US and 94 countries around the world.

Being Bossy

The study mentioned a statistic that will ring true for many professional women. According to the study, nearly 40% of girls said they have been laughed at or put down for “being bossy” when they try to lead. This is a reminder of the reality that many women face in the workforce – walking the fine line between being liked and being a leader.

Recently Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Conference at Davos, Switzerland, about the shortage of female leaders. Sandberg was speaking on a panel entitled, “Women as the Way Forward.”

Sandberg said this kind of name calling was something she herself had faced. Bloomberg Businessweek reported:

“Little girls are called bossy,” she told the audience on Jan. 27. “Anyone at Davos who as a girl was called bossy? If you got to Davos you were that. I was,” she said, raising her hand. “Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.”

Sandberg echoed the double bind that has been described by Northwestern University professor Alice Eagly:

“Masculine qualities are seen as more crucial to leadership, so women are thought to be less qualified than men. We call this the double bind because when women have these ‘masculine’ characteristics and behave in ways that are competitive and ambitious, it’s not seen as a good thing,” Eagly said.

“This is because women are thought of as ‘nice’; they must be nice even when they become leaders, which leads people to question whether or not they’re cut out for the role. If they’re not nice; however, people wonder what’s wrong with them. Men don’t have this problem because they’re never expected to be nice.”

The research shows that girls begin dealing with this double bind at a very early age. But by meeting and spending time with female role models who have risen above this paradox, girls can learn to see themselves as leaders, rather than stepping aside.