According to a 2019 study by Plan International, 76% of girls globally aspire to be a leader in their country, community, and career. They surveyed over 10,000 girls and young women in more than 70 countries. One interesting finding was that girls today have a different definition of leadership than the status quo, one that is more collaborative and brings about positive change. They want to move on from the old controlling, authoritarian model. One major way parents can help is to start acknowledging different forms of being powerful and leaders in their daughters.
Girls tell me the kids at school who get the most notice and are considered leaders are team captains, student council officers, queen bees, and popular, pretty girls. Most girls don’t fit these roles and their style of being powerful is often overlooked. John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio’s book The Athena Doctrinesurveyed 64,000 citizens in 13 countries and found that across age, gender, and culture, people believed feminine qualities of leadership correlated more strongly with making the world a better place. Feminine traits included collaboration, community building, compassion, win-win thinking, flexibility, and connection. The Plan International girls listed striving for social and gender justice, making decisions collectively, and leading in a way that empowers and helps others as their most important leadership qualities.
Our challenge is to find ways to encourage and acknowledge these traits in children. Despite hearing a lot about empowering girls, parents receive little instruction on how to parent to that end. My new book, She Leads: A Practical Guide for Raising Girls Who Advocate, Influence, and Lead, lays out practical tips for how parents can raise strong, influential girls. Let me offer you one tool to get you started.
The simple act of caring is heroic. Edward Albert
Sit down with your daughter and make a list of all the ways kids show leadership and courage. I have done this many times with girls at my retreats and camps, and the following are some of their ideas: stand up for yourself and others, not care what other people think of you, handle conflicts peacefully and directly, set clear, firm boundaries, inclusive and kind to all, don’t allow themselves to get sucked into drama and gossip, listen to and meet other’s needs and concerns, lift others up, make everyone on their team/ class successful, and are committed to bringing their community together.
Acknowledge and affirm these qualities in your daughter. Point out examples of these different types of leadership and power whenever you see them in books, movies, and the news. Look for kids and adults who lead with compassion, collaboration, connectedness, and with a win-win vision. Kids can get overloaded with pseudo-important people on reality shows and on social media. Make sure they read stories of truly courageous people like Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Goodall, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Israelmore Ayivor. One word can end a fight, one hug can start a friendship, one smile can bring unity, one person can change your entire life. And I would add to this quote: One girl can change the world.
Look for Dr. Jordan’s new book: She Leads: A Practical Guide for Raising Girls Who Advocate, Influence, and Lead coming out in early November.