For an organization with a legacy and history as bright as the Girl Scouts, it sure isn’t living in the past. One year before its 100-year anniversary, the Girl Scouts are undergoing a massive overhaul to with a focus on “girl-centred leadership.”
“The best way to solve America’s leadership crisis is to put more women in top leadership roles. And the best way to grow tomorrow’s women leaders is to grow strong girl leaders today,” says Kathy Cloninger who was CEO of the Girl Scouts for eight years, stepping down in November.
Cloninger faces the reality of American business head on, and seeks to increase female participation. “How worried are we in girl scouting that there are so few women in top leadership positions in almost every industry across the country? Quite,” she says. “Our focus is leadership. It seems the right time to combine our own story of transformation and to get the country to pay attention to the fact that women are a significant talent pipeline to future leadership in America.”
Part of this overhaul includes a stronger focus on business basics. At its core, the Girl Scouts are big business. Those ubiquitous cookies bring in more than $700 million annually.
Cookies are big business
“People overlook the cookie sales,” says Cloninger, “and underestimate the business side of the cookie sale. Throughout the cookie sale you would find a girl scout is running a business and learning about her product, developing a sales plan, approaching customers, closing the deal, investing real money.”
These skills have proven their merit, with a Girl Scout survey revealing that 70 per cent of women who own their own business or are in top leadership roles in American business (C-level) were former girl scouts.
In her new book, Tough Cookies: Leadership Lessons from 100 Years of the Girl Scouts, Cloninger describes how and why she spent years modernizing the organization, redesigning badges, updating handbooks and margining 300 regional offices into 100.
In a prescient move, Girl Scouts made pre-emptive changes to their handbooks before it became a necessity. Girl Scouts was doing OK, says Cloninger, but OK is not good enough.
“It’s not like we were in a crisis, but we did begin to feel a little bit like we were moving into that status quo. Businesses all over the country, you don’t wait until you are in crisis.”
Girl Scouts could not have survived 100 years without a history of foresight—consider that the organization began before women had the right to even vote.
“I am most proud of this transformation,” she continues. “We have an incredible portfolio now—it’s sophisticated, interesting and fun and now we are ready to go out now and bring more girls into girl scouting. Membership increase will be a big part of the future.”
Cloninger says the success of the overhaul will be measured in 10 years, in increased membership and a girl scouts that represents the diversity of the nation.