“You can’t be what you can’t see”—words often repeated here at Girls Inc., such as when we invite female scientists, engineers, and tech employees to speak to our girls and show them examples of women succeeding in STEM careers. Our girls were able to witness some incredible female leaders during summer camp at the annual Touchstone Awards and in Washington, D.C. where we took our Young Women in Leadership members. The girls who have participated in these opportunities with Girls Inc. have had the chance to see themselves reflected in these powerful female leaders, and they’ve been able to imagine a future where they could take on these types of roles, themselves.
It’s clear that seeing examples of female leaders is crucial when it comes to girls imagining themselves as future leaders. From an ABC News article highlighting a Harvard study about girls and leadership, we can see how girls think of women in leadership positions:
The study of 20,000 students showed only 8% of teen girls preferred female political leaders.
“Males have always lead, so I guess we’re kind of used to it,” one 17-year-old girl said.
“Right now it seems to be mostly a male-dominated sphere,” added another.
The Harvard study (Leaning Out: Teen Girls and Leadership Biases) was published in July 2015, right in the thick of the 2016 Presidential Election, where Hillary Clinton would go on to make history by becoming the first woman to secure the nomination of a major political party.
Although Clinton’s bid for the presidency would ultimately be unsuccessful, the enormity of what her candidacy meant for all of the girls and young women watching the events unfold cannot be overstated. In the entire 240-year history of the United States, we have only ever had men as presidents, and precious few women have even run for president, much less secured the nomination of a major party and came so close to the presidency. In fact, despite losing the election by securing fewer Electoral College votes than her opponent, she won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.
As she reflected on her ultimately unsuccessful campaign to win the 2016 Election, Clinton spoke directly to an important segment of her audience:
“And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
Women secured the right to vote less than a hundred years ago, and the strides they have made in the political arena are still sadly far behind their male counterparts. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, women make up only 19.4 percent of Congress, 33.3 percent of the Supreme Court, 18.8 percent of mayors, and 0.08 percent of governors. Now, more than ever, our girls need to see women not just succeeding, but at the very least putting themselves out there and attempting to win elections, regardless of whether they’re ultimately successful in those bids for election. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.