Raising One Boy — and Empowering Two Million Girls

What my upbringing among strong Latinas taught me about being a mother and a leader.

Celebrating Cookie Day, a Girl Scouts holiday, with some scouts.

For me, being a mother has included moments of joy, as well as numerous challenges, much as it does for every mother out there. Unlike other mothers, I’m in a unique situation: I’m trying to help my son and two million girls achieve their greatest potential. I’m the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, which helps girls develop leadership and other talents, in areas such as science, technology, engineering and math; entrepreneurship; and the outdoors.

The Latino community in which I was raised had clear expectations for each gender: Males made decisions, and females played supporting roles. Fortunately, I saw my mother break this mold by running for our local school board, supported by my father who celebrated her courageous leadership. As a child, I was always surrounded by strong, empowering Latina women who valued opportunities to use and develop their talents (all of their talents, whether they fell within the traditional gender norms or not), and work toward solutions that could benefit as many people as possible. My mother made sure my brothers knew how to cook and taught me how to run a board meeting. As an elected official, she used to take me to meetings so I could witness strong female leadership in action.

From her example, I understood that I too could take action to make a difference in the world. I also never doubted my desire to be a mother and follow in the footsteps of other mothers I’d known—to equally balance motherhood and leading and organization. I count myself as fortunate, because I know it’s a daily struggle for others. Growing up surrounded by such strong women even influenced the way I raised my son, with the utmost respect for the strength of women and girls.

It’s important to me to share this message with my son, and with others, because girls, just like boys, are ready to lead. I see girls lobbying their town hall to build a safer crosswalk for their elementary school, and tackling global issues such as poverty, illiteracy, and pollution through their own amazing advocacy and service projects.

Here I am with Malala Yousafzai and some Girl Scouts at the New York premiere of a documentary about Malala.

Yet when a girl expresses strong attitudes or other qualities that, in boys, are associated with leadership, she is often criticized and disliked, according to Girl Scouts research. Our research also shows us that by middle school, more boys than girls are interested in leading. How are we supposed to level the playing field for girls and women if we continue to discourage the very traits that get them there?

Investing in girls is not just a women’s issue — it’s a societal issue. It’s about ensuring that we have every capable person prepared to lead, drive social progress, and create a brighter future for everyone. Increasingly, the pressures of a global economy are going to require us to leverage the full potential of all of us, both men and women, equally in the work force. If we’re going to fix the leadership pipeline for girls — from student government to the White House, student volunteer to non-profit board chair — we have to start young.

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