Girls have things to do: Empowering our girls to become leaders

I truly believe girls are natural born leaders. When they are young, girls are fearless and ready to take on the world. But this drive and passion seems to dissipate when they get older – specifically during the tween and teen years.

Much of this can be attributed to peer relationships and the importance of fitting in and being “popular.” In some cases, girls start to put more value into the views of their peers. gp

When did being smart become so unpopular? Why do girls have to fight so much harder than boys for success? Females have broken many barriers, but we often struggle to gain acceptance, respect and equality. In fact, many still have doubts about a woman’s ability to lead.

These are pervasive messages. But there is good news. We can counter them. The vehicles for change are increasing daily and those in the driver’s seats are making an impact.

Three of those drivers were featured in a recent Parade Magazine article: Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State turned professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; Anna Maria Chávez, the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA; and Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. The story made me realize that today’s girls have important work to do. And that includes my daughter.

As a mother, I always look for ways to build my daughter’s confidence and help her discover her strengths. I remind her to use her own judgment and to be true to her voice, no matter what her friends and peers say.

The Parade article poses some poignant questions that highlight three things that we, as parents, can do to support our girls:

  1. As Condoleezza Rice and Sheryl Sandberg say, words matter. In a Girl Scouts study of 8-17 year olds, one-third of girls who said they didn’t want to be leaders attributed their hesitancy to a fear of being disliked by their peers. “We are trying to get at the subtleties, the messages that keep girls from achieving,” Rice says. For example, Sandberg wants to ban the word “bossy.” “I tell parents that instead of saying, ‘My daughter is bossy,’ try, ‘My daughter has executive leadership skills.’ It seems that statement is taken more seriously when said about a boy: “My son has executive leadership skills.” There is often a difference of expectations for girls versus boys. Therefore, in addition to using different words with our girls, we need to become much more comfortable expressing and accepting statements about the strength and power of our girls.
  1. Leadership is critical during the early years. “Women still represent only five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs,” Sandberg says. “And more worrisome is that the number has been stagnant for a decade. What hasn’t changed fast enough is our acceptance and encouragement of female leadership. That goes for all of us—parents, teachers, managers, society, everyone.” We must see our girls as valuable leaders.
  1. PARENTS are the vital source for building strong leaders. We, as a community, are responsible for empowering our girls to be great leaders. Consider the words of Anna Maria Chavez: “Instead of teaching me how to cook, my mother taught my brothers how to cook, and me how to run a board meeting.” Sandberg agrees. “I, too, had supportive parents who told me I could do everything,” she says.But the rest of the messages I got from society were pretty negative on leadership.”

girl powerIn the article, it’s apparent that all three women encountered some obstacles. The force that kept these women empowered, however, was the strong leadership of parents.

I am a strong advocate for girls, and not just because I am the mother of a nine-year-old girl. We need strong girls in our society. To create strong girls, we need to surround them with positive friends, family, teachers and role models who will foster in them a desire to lead. Self-confidence helps build character and strength. How can we lift up our girls? How can we educate young men to see girls as leaders?

It’s up to us. As a school that teaches children to learn, love, serve and live, how can the Canterbury community lead the way? From our children’s academic experiences to their spiritual growth to their every day interactions with one another, let us do all that we can – because girls have things to do!

Read the full article in Parade Magazine.

“We are trying to get at the subtleties, the messages that keep girls from achieving,”  Condoleeza Rice, American political scientist and diplomat.

by Na’Tell  L. Miller

Na’Tell  L. Miller is a Canterbury Parent to Natalya I. Jones ( 4th–Wesney). She values the constant change and positive growth that Canterbury offers students. When time permits, she enjoys swimming, photography, and scrapbooking.