Thursday, September 25, 2014

The State of Girls: Unfinished Business Forum

Although girls in the United States have made substantial progress in the classroom and elsewhere, persistent disparities and challenges exist that could keep girls from achieving their full potential. On Tuesday, September 23, Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast and Women’s Center at Old Dominion University hosted a forum, The State of Girls: Unfinished Business, to discuss a groundbreaking report released by the Girl Scout Research Institute that stakes out key issues and major trends affecting girls’ leadership and healthy development in the United States today.

Speakers at the forum included La Wanza Lett-Brewington, director of the ODU Women’s Center; Lynn Waltz, MFA, director of ODU Peninsula Center and Theveline Felix, ODU senior communications student. Barbara Hamm Lee, host of Another View on WHRV, served as the moderator for the forum and led engaging discussions about education, media and leadership.

Throughout the evening, panelists spoke to the importance of having programs in place to give girls and women the opportunity to take on leadership roles. They also talked about the importance of helping women realize that caring for children and taking care of a home are management skills that can translate into the workforce.

“Many girls in college are apprehensive to look for leadership,” Lett-Brewington said. “We need to redefine leadership so that women know they’re capable and experienced in managerial roles.”

These thoughts parallel findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute that for most girls, self-confidence is the factor that most strongly influences their desire to actively pursue leadership roles. In fact, researchers found that while 92 percent of girls say that anyone can acquire the skills of leadership, only 21 percent believe that they currently have most of these key qualities.

Panelists also spoke about the importance of education and how poverty can directly affect a child’s access to education. Waltz shared that children in poverty have a dropout rate seven times the rate of children who come from financially stable homes. The Girl Scout Research Institute reports that for girls, completing high school is essential for their success later in life, as having a high school degree leads to better job opportunities, higher earnings and increased access to health insurance.

“Engagement is the best indicator of success,” Waltz said. “We need to find ways to engage young people in their education.”

Other topics the panelists talked about included the issue of wage disparities between genders, the role of the media in reinforcing traditional gender roles, the benefits of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education for girls and ways to mentor girls to help them understand opportunities for them in education and the workforce.

A report similar to The State of Girls: Unfinished Business has never been conducted, making it a much-needed resource in the field for educators and advocates. Through the forum, Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast and Women’s Center at Old Dominion University were able to increase awareness about the need to create policies and programs that will address issues that impact girls today and in the future.

View more photos from the event here.