Nationwide study finds that girls aspire to a different kind of leadership
Girl Scout Research Institute study suggests redefining leadership
Despite the increasing presence of women in leadership positions from Wall Street to the halls of Congress, more than half of American girls say they don’t aspire to be leaders, turned off by the conventional conception of leadership as command and control, according to a study released recently by Girl Scouts of the USA.
The nationwide survey, conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI), found that 39 percent of girls want to be leaders, and that the desire for leadership is higher among African-American (53 percent), Hispanic (50 percent) and Asian-American (59 percent) girls compared to Caucasian girls (34 percent). Yet a majority of girls (52 percent) are deeply ambivalent about leadership, saying that being a leader is not that important to them.
Key Findings from the GSRI study: Change it Up! What Girls Say about Redefining Leadership
The data indicate, however, that while girls find the command-and-control style of leadership unappealing, a majority of them would aspire to a different kind of leadership focused on personal principles, ethical behavior and the ability to affect social change.
Some 68 percent of survey respondents said they would want to be leaders who stand up “for their beliefs and values,” and 59 percent said that they would like to be a leader “who tries to change the world for the better.”
“It’s clear from the research that girls today don’t embrace the conventional style of leadership,” said Judy Schoenberg, Director of Research and Outreach at the Girl Scout Research Institute and lead author of the study, Change It Up! What Girls Say About Redefining Leadership. “It’s simply not how they want to lead. Girls today appear to be redefining leadership in terms of being more inclusive and serving a larger purpose.”
The study, which provides a rare glimpse into girls’ evolving perceptions of leadership and comes amid U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s high-profile bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, involved a national survey of 2,475 girls and 1,514 boys ages 8 to 17, as well as a series of focus groups and ethnographic interviews.
The survey also yielded data on current leadership perceptions. Overall, 61 percent of youth consider themselves leaders in their everyday lives, with the proportion being highest among African-American girls (75 percent), African-American boys (74 percent), and Hispanic girls (72 percent).
Indeed, the survey and qualitative research revealed that boys and girls share many of the same perceptions of leadership. However, there were differences. Girls’ leadership aspirations were more likely to be driven by altruistic motives, whereas boys were more likely to be motivated by power and money.
Girls were more likely than boys to be leaders because they want to help other people (67 percent vs. 53 percent), share their knowledge and skills with others (53 percent vs. 47 percent) and change the world for the better (45 percent vs. 31 percent).
Boys, on the other hand, were significantly more likely than girls to be motivated by the desire to be their own boss (38 percent vs. 33 percent), make more money (33 percent vs. 26 percent), and have more power (22 percent vs. 14 percent).
Furthermore, a strong majority (82 percent) of youth agreed that girls and boys are equally good at being leaders. However, 56 percent of respondents also agreed that “in our society, it is more difficult to become a leader for a woman than a man.” And more than half (52 percent) of girls and boys agreed that “girls have to work harder than boys in order to gain positions of leadership.” That perception was more widely held by girls (57 percent) than boys (44 percent).
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