It’s difficult to have a voice in a world that tells you that you don’t deserve to be heard. And that makes a conversation about nurturing the potential of young women and girls early in their leadership development all the more relevant, timely and undeniably important.
My leadership journey has been about turning “no” into “yes.” Growing up as a girl of color in a low-income family, it was about overcoming obstacles and standing up when the world told me to sit down.
In the U.S. and across the globe, girls and women represent a powerful and influential segment in our global society. Yet their voices and significance are often not recognized. Companies with the highest representation of women in leadership roles have a 34% higher return on investment than those with few or no women, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
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At Girl Scouts, we recognize that a woman’s interest in STEM-related fields happens when she is a young girl, playing with games and toys, developing her creativity and using her imagination. Even if a girl is drawn to STEM, she might find that boys take the lead in a school environment due to unspoken assumptions about gender roles. Girl Scouts offers a safe, supportive place for girls to seek challenges, help them decide which topics they want to explore and figure out how they want to go about it.
I had an extremely pivotal moment when I was 12 years old. Having been a Girl Scout for two years, I had learned about the environment and the outdoors. One day, I noticed some kids had drawn graffiti over a historic cave that had indigenous writing on it. It really upset me, and after talking to my mother about it, I decided that I wanted to become an advocate to protect the environment—and to speak on behalf of people who didn’t have a voice.
So early on in my formative years, Girl Scouts allowed me to realize my potential. It inspired me to follow my dreams and taught me how to use my voice. It’s also where I learned the leadership skills that greatly impacted my future success. Girl Scouting showed me that anything was possible. But most of all, it gave me the freedom to discover my own talents and capacity for leadership in a safe environment where I could experiment, learn and grow.
Read more: 5 Ways to Make Workplaces Better For Women
We’re on the cusp of ushering in a leadership renaissance for girls worldwide—girls who are poised to advance our communities in significant, influential ways. So the next time you gaze into the bright, optimistic face of your daughter, niece or granddaughter—or the Girl Scout selling you our iconic cookies—know that the young girl standing before you represents the limitless potential for excellence and embodies the capacity for greatness.
Anna Maria Chávez is the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. To volunteer, reconnect, donate or join, visit girlscouts.org.