Change it Up: What Girls Say About Redefining Leadership

Girl Scout Research Institute

The findings of this national study provide a nuanced view of girls’ attitudes, aspirations and experiences regarding leadership.

Based on survey responses by nearly 4,000 boys and girls ages 8 to 17, the report found that girls differ significantly from boys in how they view leadership and their desire to take a leadership role.

First, leadership for girls focuses primarily on “personal principles, ethical behavior, and the ability to effect social change.” Girls, more than boys, emphasize what leadership should be used for – bringing people together, standing up for personal beliefs, and effecting social change – rather than individual roles and power positions.

The report suggests that this aspirational view of leadership, as opposed to the traditional take-charge model, may contribute to girls’ conflicting attitudes about attaining leadership.

The report also finds that building self-confidence in supportive environments is key to developing leadership skills in girls.

Strikingly, while “92 percent of girls believe anyone can acquire the skills of leadership, only 21 percent believe they currently have most of the key qualities required to be a good leader.” The study found that girls have low self-confidence in skills they consider crucial to leadership, such as being organized, making decisions, taking charge and dealing with conflict.

The report also identifies barriers that girls face in seeking leadership roles, including fear of public speaking, peer pressure, and a desire to avoid being seen as bossy. Fully 39 percent of girls surveyed said they had been “discouraged or put down, usually by peers and classmates, when they were trying to lead.”

Factors that increase girls’ leadership aspirations include participation in organized and informal activities and strong support from their mothers and peers.

Significant attitudinal differences also exist along demographic lines. Girls’ desire to be  leaders peaks at ages 8 to 10. Further, African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American girls are much more likely to want to lead than white girls. Free, 52 pages. (212) 852-8000, 



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