I recently had the opportunity to literally provide business tips to girls - in a 2-part session that I facilitated for Junior Girl Scouts (9 and 10-year olds), helping them to earn their Business Owner badge. The 10 girls that participated give me great hope for the future. As we went around the circle introducing ourselves, they said things like, "I'm Amy and I'm Fabulous!" and "I'm Susan and I have "shareholds" in several companies" (she used the wrong term but had a very accurate grasp on what it meant to own stock). As in any group, some were talkers and some were more reserved, but I saw no self-esteem issues there! The mission of the Girl Scouts has been refined slightly over 100 years as our culture has changed, but Girl Scouting has always been about leadership. The current message is: Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place. I certainly saw that on these two Tuesday evenings in November.
While obviously rambunctious 9 and 10-year old girls, they were thoughtful and serious about planning their businesses. We walked through a business plan and they were surprised to learn how much is involved in starting a business. Many decided that the funding to start their businesses would come from their parents; I suggested a Plan B. When my friend Nancy came in to talk about banking, and Melanie came in to talk about SBA resources, the girls were also surprised to learn that you actually had to apply for a loan and overcome objections or concerns that the banker or SBA loan officer might have about their business. (They thought the bank was just a money store where you go and and withdraw what you need). Finally, they drew a picture of their businesses and presented that along with their business plan to the group.
Sometimes I use this as one of my "two truths and a lie" when that game is played at networking events: I was a Girl Scout from Brownies through Seniors - and then I was a troop co-leader for a mentally impaired troop in Kalamazoo while at Western Michigan University studying Psychology. It was not particularly cool or un-cool to be a Girl Scout even back when I was in school, but we were lucky to have terrific leaders who made it interesting and rewarding and I remain friends with many of those girls today. We volunteered at several places including the Detroit Historical Museum (if I survive an apocalypse and we have to start society over from scratch, I can spin wool into yarn on a spinning wheel...I'm just saying). We took trips to Mystic Connecticut to learn to sail; we traveled to Toronto and Washington, D.C. Of course, camping is a big part of Girls Scouting. Some might be surprised to learn that I didn't just participate in pre-primitive camping, but full-out primitive: digging a hole for the latrine and to wash dishes (different holes of course), pitching a tent and cooking over camp fires built with matches and kindling. (To be fair, I was younger then and not yet addicted to my curling iron).
My Girl Scout background doesn't often come up in conversation, so I found it curious when I was looking for a place to hold these sessions and reached out to my Posse sister, Tyla, to see if I could use one of her Montessori School classrooms. Not only did she generously offer her classroom, but helped me moderate the first session - and told me that she was also a Girl Scout for many years. Then when I asked two more very accomplished friends, Nancy and Melanie, to speak to the girls about business and banking at the second session, I learned that they had also been Girl Scouts.
As a thank-you for doing these sessions, the Volunteer Specialist from the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan gave me a book written by the CEO, Tough Cookies: Leadership Lessons from 100 Years of the Girl Scouts. It's a fascinating look at how Girl Scouts have impacted society over the years and how the organization is evolving to remain relevant today. The author and CEO, Kathy Cloninger, shares statistics that we already know: only 3% of Fortune 500 CEO's are women, women hold just 17% of congressional seats in government and make up only 15% of corporate board directors. Then she shared a statistic that I did not know: though only 10% of American girls have been Girl Scouts at any one time, 80% of female senior executives and business owners are former Girl Scouts. Coincidence? I think not.
As Tyla was looking around the room, she said she could see all of our other Posse sisters as 9-year old girls (you'll recall from past posts that my Posse is a group of women who seceded from the Woman President's Organization and continue to stay in touch as an informal advisory group for each other - and serve as drinking partners). Almost all of our personalities were in that room.
Now that I'm thinking about it, while I also belong to several "mixed" business groups, I have a long history of joining girl-groups: Girl Scouts, Executive Women's Golf League, National Association of Women Business Owners, Smart Girls Book Club, Women President's Organization - these associations have provided a strong foundation and an invaluable source of support, guidance, information and resources. (I can only assume that the Red Hat Society is the logical next step!)
Most people associate Girl Scouts with cookie sales without being aware that the annual cookie sale is a powerful $700 million educational program that underscores their brand: developing leadership in girls. This is not the giant commercial for Girl Scouting that it sounds like, but it IS about the importance of encouraging girls to develop their leadership potential. We have a leadership crisis in this country and until women are involved at a higher percentage, we're only tapping the potential of half of our population.
So as Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book, Lean In, when your daughter/niece/student starts to sound "bossy", please do not use that B-word: tell her you're excited to see that she's exhibiting leadership potential. Maybe we'll see her in the future as the CEO of a Fortune 100 company that she founded - or (if she sets her sights lower) as President of the United States!