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Wednesday, Jun 12, 2024


In May, Girl Scouts of Orange County held its 10th annual Voice for Girls, a virtual event to rally Orange County’s decision-makers and key influencers around a vital mission: to support and champion girls in reaching their full potential as leaders in society.

Participants included more than 200 business leaders, community leaders, elected officials, educators, and others who believe in the power of girls who can change the world.

This year’s theme—The Power of the All-Female Environment in Fueling Female Leaders—brought compelling conversations and leaders to the table.

Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a developmental psychologist, gave a presentation illustrating how all-girl environments help them develop confidence and take risks.

Following the keynote, a panel of OC leaders from Experian, Gensler, Kaiser Permanente, and Western Digital discussed the role and impact of female affinity groups in driving recruitment, retention, and performance in the workplace.

High school-aged Girl Scouts facilitated the panel, asking questions and interacting with the panelists, who shared important insights into programs for women they have successfully implemented within their organizations.

Developing Confidence

There are tremendous economic and societal benefits to investing in female leadership.

Participating in Girl Scouts is a powerful factor for developing courage, confidence and character, which in turn build a foundation for success in education and careers, enable a lifetime of leadership, and provide high levels of life satisfaction, according to a 2021 study by the Girl Scout Research Institute.

Alums assert that Girl Scouts set them on a path for achievement, connected them to something bigger than themselves, and helped them develop their passions and interests.

Take for example Kirsten Okamoto, who earned the prestigious Girl Scout Gold Award that is given to those who find sustainable solutions to community issues.

“Participating in Girl Scouts has enabled me to see powerful female leaders and the possibilities for my future,” she said. “It has shaped who I want to become and helped me believe I can change anything.

“As a future leader, I don’t think my hopes and desires are any different than those of today’s leaders. I simply want to be trusted and for people to believe in my power as a woman, while also seeing every facet of my identity and personality.”

Kirsten, a recent graduate of Sato Academy High School, has interned this summer with Aerojet Rocketdyne and will attend University of California, Santa Barbara this fall to study electrical engineering.

Invest in Future

Studies—including the preeminent 2001 World Bank Research Report “Engendering Development”—consistently show that one of the most effective ways to boost a nation’s economic output, enhance productivity, and improve the overall vibrancy of society is to invest in the leadership capabilities of girls and women.

Female leadership also brings greater credibility in institutions and more democratic outcomes. At the practical level, research from Credit Suisse in 2014 showed increased return on equity when women perform in top executive roles and 75% superior growth, high cash flow, ROIs, and lower leverage with stronger levels of female leadership.

Unfortunately, the pandemic brought tremendous costs to women and society as nearly 3 million American women left the workforce due to the increased need to support child care, education, and household obligations, despite working full-time “outside” the home.

Women are experiencing significant increases in domestic violence, stress and burnout, and mental health issues. Mothers, women of color, and women in senior roles have been hit especially hard.

Accordingly, it is more vital than ever—as business and community leaders—that we recognize the importance for organizations today to have a clearly articulated business case for women, active male engagement in championing women, and the intentional commitment of resources. When we have diverse groups around the leadership table, we are simply better equipped to create the solutions of today and tomorrow.

We need spaces where women are wholly seen, heard, and valued. Where they’re supported. Where experiences are created for how they uniquely learn and lead, not just based in a shared gender. Where they can hear from and share with those who have “been there,” even during challenging times. Where they can see themselves filling every role.

The most effective all-female spaces provide an inclusive, safe space where there are greater opportunities for women to build confidence. They develop interests and skills in areas where women are traditionally underrepresented with opportunities to connect. And they foster collaboration instead of competition.

How can this be practically accomplished?

The Keys

We must begin with access to role models and the provision of safe and confidential groups and spaces where norms are created and owned together. Small, defined groups also work well, whether across career level or type, or affinity groups based on race, being parents and caregivers, or the intersection amongst these things. Real skill-building of soft skills critical to collaboration, negotiation, inclusion, and self-promotion can yield tremendous outcomes.

Indeed, in a world of boys’ clubs, Girl Scouts gives girls their own club, her own “pod” where she can build the confidence and resilience that come with taking risks and learn to innovate and problem solve. And that’s what businesses must also do: create a safe space for women to discover their passions, stretch their limits, and shine their brightest in the boardroom, laboratory, and beyond.

We know that women’s leadership brings many important economic and societal benefits, and that is why we’re doing everything we can at Girl Scouts to fuel the pipeline for tomorrow’s change-makers, cure-finders, and beacons of inspiration.

As an expert on girl leadership, Girl Scouts of Orange County is uniquely poised to lead Orange County in helping girls reach their leadership potential and place the need for balanced leadership in the workplace and society front and center, locally and nationally.

We hope you’ll join us in this critical work that serves to benefit our community and the world.

Editor’s Note: Vikki Shepp is CEO of Girl Scouts of Orange County where she’s spent over a decade in numerous leadership positions, including volunteer management and mission operations. The nonprofit, which reported $10.9 million in revenue for the year ended June 30, 2020, has 25,000 members, including 15,000 girls, and 10,000 volunteers and adult members.

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