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 Perceptions Shift After Historic Election Season

Gender, Civic Participation and Leadership

Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference.

A study launched by the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) titled, “The New Leadership Landscape: What Girls Say about Election 2008,” finds that the presidential election, and the intense campaign season that preceded it, generated an unprecedented level of interest and engagement in civic participation and community service among young people ages 13-17. The survey also reveals that girls in particular have not only gained an increased awareness of the barriers that face women, but also an improved sense of their own abilities and potential to overcome those obstacles.

The GSRI, building on its 2007 comprehensive study of girls’ leadership and aspirations, “Change It Up! What Girls Say about Leadership,” spearheaded this post-election survey to determine the impact that this historic election had on girls’ leadership goals. The survey consisted of online interviews conducted with a sample of 3,284 respondents between the ages of 13 and 17.

“In order to ensure that we continue to provide the best leadership experience for girls and young women, we think it’s important to take a close look at those issues and events that inspire girls to want to become leaders in their own communities,” said Laurel Richie, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Girl Scouts of the USA. “This historic presidential election, which for the first time featured two female candidates and an African-American, is certainly such an event.”

"The results of the post-election survey are revealing," remarked Judy Schoenberg, Director of Research and Outreach for GSRI. "It's clear that this election season has encouraged girls to re-examine their ideas about leadership, civic participation and their own ability to influence the world around them as future leaders. While girls are aware that women face challenges, they have also gained confidence and were energized by the 2008 election."

Race and Gender

When questioned about the role of gender, both boys and girls have substantially increased their appreciation for the difficulties that women face in our society.

  • 43% of girls today strongly believe that "girls have to work harder than boys in order to gain positions of leadership," a statement that just 25% of girls agreed with just a year ago.
  • The percentage of girls who believe that, "in our society, it is more difficult to become a leader for a woman than a man," has increased from 23% in 2007 to 37% in 2008.
  • The percentage of girls who believe that, "today both men and women have an equal chance of getting a leadership position," has declined from 35% to 24% between 2007 and 2008.
  • Strikingly, despite becoming more aware of obstacles women face, more than four in 10 girls (41%) say that the 2008 election had a positive impact on their desire to be a leader.

Survey Highlights: 

  • The majority of girls (59%) say the election has increased their confidence in being able to achieve their goals in the future.
  • 55% say the election has increased their comfort level in speaking up and expressing their opinions on issues that matter to them.
  • 51% say the election has boosted their confidence in their ability to change things in the country.
  • Girl Scouts are more likely than other girls to think they have a high chance of becoming president (55% of Girl Scouts versus 35% of non-Girl Scouts).