Saturday, September 12, 2015

The State of Girls: Unfinished Business Forum in Hampton

Over the past several decades, there have been promising developments for girls in the United States, particularly in the areas of educational attainment and extracurricular activities, but many girls are being left behind and face significant challenges in making successful transitions to adulthood. On September 10, Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast, in partnership with Thomas Nelson Community College and Bon Secours Health System, hosted The State of Girls: Unfinished Business Forum to discuss a report from the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) that stakes out key issues and major trends affecting girls’ healthy development and leadership in the United States today.

Lara Overy, Jeanne Zeidler, Edith White, Dr. Lonnie Schaffer,
Aditi Dutt, Beth Dickens, Dr. John Denver
Panelists at the forum included: Beth Dickens, academic assistant coordinator in the science, engineering and technology division at Thomas Nelson Community College; Aditi Dutt, family educator for Bon Secours Health System; Dr. Lonnie Schaffer, vice president for academic affairs at Thomas Nelson Community College and Jeanne Zeidler, president and chief executive officer for the Williamsburg Community Health Foundation. The forum was moderated by Edith White, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Hampton Roads.

Throughout the evening, panelists spoke on a variety of issues affecting girls, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, leadership development, self-esteem and physical health. Each panelist shared unique insight in their area of specialty, as well as personal anecdotes about their experiences as women leaders.

“Low self-esteem can be a big obstacle to leadership for girls and women,” Dr. Schaffer said. “Women face different challenges to leadership than men do, but it is important that you know your leadership style and that you are comfortable with it.”

A common sentiment shared by the panelists during the forum was the important role that parents play in building confidence in their children, whether it’s giving them opportunities to explore their interests or role modeling self-talk and behavior that boosts self-esteem.

Dutt addressed the issue of self-esteem by sharing ways that parents can help build confidence in their daughters.

“You should praise your girls for being, not just for doing,” Dutt said. “It’s also important to recognize the effort that your girls put in to something, not just the outcome of a task.”

Thoughts and insight shared by the panelists parallel findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute. Girls who shy away from leadership opportunities do so because of relational issues or lack of confidence in themselves. Researchers from the GSRI found reported an alarming statistic in The State of Girls: Unfinished Business—while 92 percent of girls say that anyone can acquire skills of leadership, only 21 percent believe that they currently have those key qualities. 

 Other topics covered by the panelists included wage disparities between genders, the effect of poverty on children and ways to combat the increasing rates of obesity among today’s youth. Panelists also spoke about ways that girls can be supported in their STEM interests and endeavors, including the importance of mentors to show girls that they can reach their dreams. Dickens proudly shared that many of the top educators and department chairs in the STEM fields at Thomas Nelson Community College are women.

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. Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast, in partnership with the Virginia Beach Branch of the American Association of University Women, will be hosting a similar forum on Wednesday, September 30 at 6:30 p.m. at WHRO Studios in Norfolk. The forum is free and open to the public. Find more information at