The Girl Scouts have been preparing girls to become leaders -- and to run their own businesses -- for 100 years. (Last week, in fact, was the 100th anniversary of founding of the Girl Scouts of the USA by Juliette Gordon Low.) This is no idle claim: More than two thirds of the female members of Congress and an incredible 80% of women business owners were Girl Scouts. Clearly, there's something about this organization that really works.
What's the Girl Scouts' secret? I can think of about six reasons the group does such a good job laying a foundation for girls to grow up to be their own boss.
1. They have to sell cookies:
Yes, I know. After a couple decades of Thin Mints and Samoas in every office pantry this time of year, the Girl Scout cookie sale seems more like a charitable ritual than business training. But to girls doing it for the first or second time, it's not old hat. In fact, it's a challenge. Selling cookies teaches goal-setting, decision-making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. Like entrepreneurs, girl scouts need to understand inventory control (how many boxes you will sell), marketing (door-to-door, a booth in front of a chain store, social media, mobile, etc.) and your place in the community (for Girl Scouts, that means deciding which nonprofit gets their profits). They even have to learn a little about mobile payments technology.
2. They're encouraged to dream big:
After setting the record in the Southwest Texas Council for the most cookies sold last year -- 3,258 boxes of cookies in less than 3 months -- first time scout Hannah Richmond is swinging for the bleachers. She plans to sell 10,000 boxes this year.
3. They have to work together:
Girl Scouts learn cooperatively. They work together to identify and solve problems. And, as we know, successful business leaders rely on support from others, both within their organizations and outside.
4. They have to give back:
Girl Scouts learn to be socially responsible from the get go. Hannah Richmond donated her profits to an animal rescue shelter in her home town of San Antonio, TX.
What goes around comes around. Research bears this out. Successful entrepreneurs believe that philanthropy and volunteering makes their companies more successful. This was instilled in Nina Vaca when she was a Girl Scout, and she's now passing that wisdom on to her two daughters. Vaca is CEO of Pinnacle, a $200 million socially responsible company that provides staffing and other services, and Board Chair of the United State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
5. They have to wing it, sometimes:
Women have a tendency to dot all their "i's" and cross their "t's" before pitching their company to investors, concedes Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of Pipeline Fellowship, which trains women philanthropists to become the angel investors behind for-profit, women-led social ventures. In contrast, men are more likely to just go for it and trust that the "i's" will get dotted.
Girl Scout encourage the just-go-for-it attitude, says Anna Maria Chávez, the new CEO of the Girl Scouts. Ms. Chávez has set an ambitious goal for the Girl Scouts -- to help close the gap between men and women in leadership positions within one generation.
For that to happen, of course, the business world will have to get more comfortable with female entrepreneurs. And more grown-up girls will have to choose the entrepreneurial path than do now. Those are big changes, indeed, but odds are good they'll start with someone selling Thin Mints on a sidewalk near you.