Last week, 88 years after the battle for women’s suffrage was won, Hillary Rodham Clinton stood before the Democratic National Convention. The woman who has come closest to becoming an American presidential nominee spoke to her party and endorsed the first African American nominee.
In this unprecedented year, Clinton’s run for the White House sent a profound message to young women and girls across the country: Yes, you can.
It is critical that our girls understand they can aspire to positions of leadership, even to the presidency. However, we have a lot of work to do before they truly believe.
In March, the Girl Scouts of America conducted a national survey of 4,000 girls and boys ages 8-17 to get their perceptions of leadership and opportunity. The results were striking.
Only 39 percent of the girls want to be the kind of authoritative, individualistic leaders they see today. Girls are more likely than boys (67 percent vs. 53 percent) to want to be leaders in order to help others and work with others to achieve a greater good. And a majority (82 percent) agreed that girls and boys are equally good at being leaders.
But more than half of respondents agreed that “in our society it is more difficult to become a leader for a woman than a man,” and that “girls have to work harder than boys to gain positions of leadership.” The facts seem to verify those impressions — women hold only eight gubernatorial seats and make up just 17 percent of Congress.
To encourage women and girls to pursue leadership positions, we must make bold statements declaring our support. We should celebrate 2008 as the monumental year it has been and champion a national commitment to encourage them to seek public office.
This has been a remarkable year for women and has renewed hope that anything is possible. But girls need more role models from the boardroom to the athletic field, within academia and technical fields, as inspiration to achieve positions of leadership. Women here — like Swanee Hunt, founding director of the Kennedy School of Government’s Women and Public Policy Program, former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey and broadcast legend Liz Walker — show girls that anything is possible.
As we celebrate our presidential candidates, let us also honor women and demonstrate to the next generation that anything is possible. The future of our state, country and world rests in the hands of these girls. We must prepare them well.
Ruth N. Bramson
CEO, Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts