When it comes to advice about their futures, girls often hear adults tell them: “Do what makes you happy.” Yet that well-intentioned advice can be undermined by the fact that most middle school girls are surrounded by messages in the media and their communities that dissuade them from leadership positions, especially in science, technology, and math.
A new study by Simmons College finds that Girl Scouts are more self-confident and have broader career aspirations — less limited by gender stereotypes — than girls who are not involved in similar organizations. The report, done in conjunction with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, shows that organizations that serve girls boost their confidence and should be part of a larger effort to improve women’s participation in top roles in society.
“Unfortunately the gendered landscape is alive and well,” says Mary Shapiro, lead author and a professor at the Simmons School of Management. “Being a Girl Scout really makes a difference in how confident you are.”
The study was launched in 2011 in hopes of answering the oft-asked question: Why is there still such a wide gender gap in the United States when it comes to leadership? While women make up more than half of all college graduates, they make up only 14 percent of executive officer positions in the United States, the study notes.
Advocates and academics have long fretted over what they call the “leaky pipeline,” where women fail to reach top roles in all areas of society. While researchers have looked at child development factors and business structures that keep women behind, Shapiro says little research has been done on middle schoolers. To carry out the study, researchers this year questioned nearly 1,200 middle school students, including 414 boys, 475 Girl Scouts, and 299 girls not in the scouts.
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