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HAGELIN: Leadership is more than being in charge

- - Sunday, February 12, 2012

Culture Challenge of the Week: "Gender Equality"

Each of us hopes our children will be leaders — that they will stand up for what's right and influence others to do good and be better people.

But that's not the vision of leadership feminists have for our girls. For them, leadership is less about standing up for what's right and more about power and by-the-numbers "gender equality." That's a trap — and a recipe for personal unhappiness.

The Girl Scouts recently kicked off a new awareness campaign, "To Get Her There," that aims to promote girls' leadership. The campaign, however, sports a peculiar message: Something is "seriously stopping girls from reaching their full potential" as leaders in our society.

What evidence do the Girl Scouts present to support their claim that girls are stifled in their leadership potential? That the boardrooms of America fail to represent a 50-50 "equality" between men and women. That some careers - technical, scientific, mathematical and involving certain kinds of physically intensive work — attract more men than women. (More girls want to be teachers than architects, for example.)

The conclusion? Something must be holding them back.

The villains, according to the feminist logic? That old corporate glass ceiling — and the burden of raising families.

A new study released by the Girl Scouts (and conducted by the research firm GFK Roper) says girls believe intractable barriers prevent women from being "at the top" of a corporation and girls feel "family responsibilities weigh women down more than men as they try to move up in their careers."

The Girl Scouts, of course, say they can fix that if the rest of us support their To Get Her There campaign (and their $1 billion fundraising drive for their feminist leadership programs). The goal: To achieve equal gender representation in leadership positions in all aspects of society within a generation.

In other words, pick a job, any job (except "mommy track" jobs) and let's make sure that, within a generation, 50 percent of the leadership positions in that sector belong to women.

How to Save Your Family: Embrace Leadership Based on Values, Not Power

Here's my problem with the Girl Scouts' approach.

It's a mistake to conclude that girls will somehow fail to lead or to reach their potential if they don't have "equal" representation in corporate offices. Only 1 percent of the girls surveyed said they aspired to sit in corporate boardrooms, while caring professions — being a teacher (16 percent), veterinarian (10 percent) or doctor (9 percent) — appealed to them very much. That's a good thing, not a problem to be fixed.

And for women who do aspire to sit on corporate boards or become CEOs of major companies — I say "Go for it!" Women have the same legal protection from workplace discrimination that men do, and it's important to know and understand those laws.

It's equally important to understand, just as men should, that to be a truly inspiring leader — someone deserving of power — one needs also to serve others and be known as a person of integrity. The Girl Scouts' own data show girls distinguish "power" from leadership based on values and integrity. For example, while just 19 percent of girls say that "when they are older, they would very much like to be someone who is in charge of other people and makes decisions," 84 percent want "very much" to be a leader who stands up "for their beliefs and values." That, too, is a good thing.

And while girls acknowledge the difficulties of certain aspects of leadership — they find public speaking to be intimidating, for example — 73 percent consider themselves to be leaders already, and an even higher percentage, 84 percent, say they have "influence" in their circles. And that glass ceiling? They really don't see it as the great problem the Nancy Pelosis of the world do. Sixty-five percent of girls say women have a "totally equal chance with men today to attain leadership positions like president or head of a major corporation."

What about family? The only question the survey asked framed family as a negative — something that "weighs" women down. But girls know better. When asked whom they admire most, more girls named "mom" than any other person, including celebrities and Michelle Obama.

Leadership is about doing good and helping others become better people. It doesn't take a corporate title to be a leader. It takes values and integrity — and caring about others.

Maybe the old feminists should listen a bit more attentively to the younger generation. They might learn a thing or two.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosaveyourfamily.com.