Girl Scouts research is key to building today’s leaders

This story is part of a series about the leadership and life skills girls are learning as members of Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. It is made possible with funding from the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan.

Want to know about girls in business startups, high tech, and cybersecurity? How about where girls stand on issues of equal pay and gender equality?

Ask the Girl Scouts.

On the national and local levels, Girl Scouts is doing much more than grooming future leaders, creating new badges, and running cookie sales. The Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI), staffed by PhD researchers, not only explores what is relevant to girls today, but also studies the impact of Girl Scout programming and leads national discussions about girls. The findings are used to inform programming decisions, public policy, and advocacy for girls and Girl Scouting.

GSRI research is comprehensive and helps Girls Scouts stay current – to make sure girls are learning things that spark their interest and that will help them succeed in the workforce and in life. 

GSRI has conducted studies on girls in STEM, for example, with programs developed to encourage girls to pursue math and science. Then, they drilled down deeper, with a study dedicated to cybersecurity, exploring why more girls don’t pursue cybersecurity careers and how girls can be better represented in cybersecurity and in the digital/technology space in general. 

The exciting thing about this research, say the organizers, is what Girl Scouts do with it. By the end of 2020, Girl Scouts had earned more than 1 million STEM badges, including 150,000 specific to cybersecurity.  The badge curriculum and requirements for K-12 Girl Scouts were developed in partnership with Palo Alto Networks, a world-leading cybersecurity company. Not only does programming encourage girls to consider cybersecurity careers to increase female representation, but it also could help to address the overall shortage of qualified cybersecurity workers, which continues to grow.       

Along with STEM research, Girl Scouts has also studied gender equality in the workforce; learned that girls care about women’s (unequal) representation in Congress; and analyzed overall trends in the health and well-being of girls. In a study to better understand girls’ outlook on entrepreneurship, the institute surveyed girls ages 8-17 to discover that more than half have an entrepreneurial mindset and even more are interested in becoming an entrepreneur, but most aren’t getting the learning opportunities they desire. Girls Scouts provides a foundation to learn business skills, and it teaches entrepreneurship through its direct sales Cookie Program and now Digital Cookie Program. There are even badges in Cookie CEO and Business Startup. 

Darci Essmaker, a data analyst for Girls Scouts of Southeastern Michigan (GSSEM), says the GSRI’s studies are critical to creating national programs that are implemented locally, like one over the summer that tied STEM to outdoor/nature studies. Individual councils also can glean localized data from the institute’s U.S. surveys. GSSEM does some of its own research too. 

“I can provide data on how diversity, equity, and inclusion are important to the girls moving forward or I could provide information on how girls feel about a certain topic that we've taken a look at,” she says. 

Leadership in Action

At the heart of Girl Scouts is leadership. Learning how GSSEM can help girls find their voices and create change is essential to the mission. The GSRI constantly looks at female leadership and conducts national research studies to better understand how young people define, experience, and aspire toward leadership now and in the future. 

For Donna Baldwin, mother of 11-year-old Girl Scout Kashya, the benefits of her daughter’s participation in Girl Scouting are most prominent in Kashya’s increased concern and caring for people and community. “She is much more willing to participate in charitable activities with me,” says Baldwin.

For Kashya, who has been in the Girl Scouts since kindergarten, the most important thing she has learned as a Girl Scout is “how to be kind and helpful.” She’s also had new experiences, like sleeping outside with no bed or shelter, and she’s looking forward to participating in a Lego League this winter. Girl Scouts Lego programming helps girls create a solution to a community issue or problem by designing and building a Lego robotics project. The Girl Scouts present and compete in FIRST Lego League competitions annually.

"As all the activities and Girl Scout messages sink in, it will be exciting to see what sort of young woman Kashya will grow into," says Andrea Evans, girl empowerment specialist at GSSEM. According to the GSRI, she’ll be more likely than a non-Girl Scout to be less afraid to take risks, more ambitious, more confident in her abilities, and more likely to stand up for her beliefs. 

As a result of studying young people’s perspectives on leadership, Girl Scouts has established itself as a thought leader for parents, supporters, and partners who are committed to raising confident girls and young women who are equipped to lead in their homes, schools, and workplaces. 

To learn more about Girl Scout Research Institute data on girls and leadership development, visit www.girlscouts.org. To learn more about how to get involved with Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan visit www.gssemteamup.com.