We’re in a whole new era for women in leadership and an epic time in history. People across the country celebrated the historic and powerful moment when Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman and person of color to serve as vice president of the United States, the highest position that a woman has held in our country. In Olympia, Senator T’wina Nobles (a Girl Scout!) is Washington’s first Black state senator in a decade. More women, and women of color, are getting a seat at that all-important table.
We’re celebrating each woman elevated to a position of leadership in government, especially in our own state. The significance of this cannot be overstated.
With that power comes tremendous responsibility and accountability. What leaders choose to do with their power is what ultimately counts. We're calling on every woman in a position of leadership to be mindful of the power they hold, and all the young eyes watching them – particularly those in communities furthest from racial, social and economic justice. They're counting on their leaders to make choices focused on equity and making the world a better place.
Tomorrow’s leaders are alive today. They’re listening to the powerful message leaders are sending for girls everywhere to aim high because anything is possible. For us, this underscores the importance of building a Girl Scout community of every race, ethnicity and religion that’s a source of connection and mutual support. That community to turn to is essential given the complex issues facing us as individuals and as a nation.
I’m reminded of a virtual Girl Scout discussion from the past year when a young panelist shared what she learned about the history of the 13th Amendment and how free slaves were often entrapped back into slavery through unfair means after slavery was abolished.
She said, “When the slaves were freed, they said, well, they can only become slaves if they were doing punishment for a crime. So the white people started making up all these different crimes like loitering ... they were trying to get the slaves back by making up crimes. And then it happened again 100 years later when these people, they got money from the jails when the jails weren’t filled, so they started making up crimes so more and more people could go to jail so that they could get more money, and I don’t think that’s fair.”
She educated everyone on how that mindset has since translated to more Black people being disproportionately imprisoned due to systemic racism. Those young eyes are watching, and understanding, the weight and responsibility of leadership and power.
So many things that have happened in this last, tragic year have deepened our understanding of the weight and responsibility of growing our cultural competence and humility, and our resolve to do so. More than ever before, our young people are looking at leaders of all stripes – in government, business, community and nonprofit organizations. Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and white. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and straight. It’s especially incumbent on white, cisgender leaders like me to recognize that systemic racism and oppression are ingrained in our organizations and work to dismantle those practices. It’s incumbent on leaders like me to own our mistakes and learn from them – to take sustained action toward greater equity and be held accountable for it.
Our goal is for every young person from a BIPOC community to see a place for themselves in our organization. We’re amplifying our support for our BIPOC young people, families, volunteers, donors, alumnae and employees. Most importantly, we’re listening to our BIPOC community members to better understand how we can remove barriers to access and improve how we function.
We looked at what we’ve done, and are planning to do, from a programming perspective to weave inclusivity and antiracist best practices into the fabric of our programs to provide meaningful and relevant experiences to all members. We’re partnering with community organizations whose work is exclusively focused on DEI and seeing how we can use their good work as a model, while also supporting what these organizations are doing to create an equitable, sustainable community focused on racial justice and advocacy.
As another young Girl Scout said, “The young people who need us today are the leaders we’ll need tomorrow.”