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Cookie season is coming! Beginning in January, girls across the country will be knocking on doors, setting up tables at grocery stores and using social media to sell the sweet treats that have become synonymous with the Girl Scouts. And while we can all enjoy the fun of debating whether Thin Mints or Samoas are the most delectable (Thin Mints get my vote), cookie season has a deeper meaning for me. The truth is, I would not be the businesswoman I am today if I hadn’t been a Girl Scout.
What many people don’t realize is that the Girl Scout Cookie Program is actually the largest entrepreneurship program for girls in the world — raising $800 million annually to support girls’ empowerment programs in local communities — and the skills learned go far beyond a single transaction over a box of cookies.
The program taught me how to set goals and put a plan into place, both of which are crucial skills for an entrepreneur. I also learned selling strategies — I gave my parents and friends’ parents cookie order sheets to take to their offices, for instance, launching my own little multi-level marketing network — and that it’s possible to turn a no into a yes, which came in handy when I was fundraising to launch Brit + Co in 2011.
Perhaps even more crucially, however, the program helped me develop those all-important "soft skills" so many young girls struggle with. As an extroverted introvert, selling myself or even a product doesn’t come naturally, but selling cookies gave me the confidence to persevere. I was encouraged to get out of my comfort zone and be a risk taker. By the time I graduated from college and landed my first job with Apple, determination, grit — and indeed risk-taking — were simply part of my DNA.
I was fortunate to develop those characteristics early in life, and they are at the heart of one of our missions at Brit + Co: to instill courage and confidence. We reach millions of women every month who have a lack of confidence, and our goal is to get them to take that first step. It could be an act as simple as dyeing their hair a different color or a more complicated decision, such as changing careers, moving across the country or starting a business.
We need more women to be brave — to take a risk, and not just for themselves. According to the American Express 2017 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, between 1997 and 2017, the number of women-owned businesses grew 114 percent compared to the overall national growth rate of 44 percent for all businesses. That’s great, but here’s the kicker: In 2016, women received $1.46 billion, a paltry 2 percent of all venture capital (VC) funding. Clearly, there is still a huge gender gap when it comes to funding female-led startups.
One reason for the gap is that women are often excluded from the networks so critical to making connections and securing funding. Unfortunately, venture capital is largely still a boy’s club, so a key roadblock to having more female entrepreneurs is a lack of female venture capitalists. In 2017, only 8 percent of partners at the top 100 VC firms were women. The reality is that we need more women to enter the world of venture capital and make financial bets on a broader and more diverse number of female business owners.
But, VC is a risky business and women are not generally perceived as risk-takers. We didn’t start out that way though. According to the authors of The Confidence Code for Girls, between the ages of eight and 14, girls’ confidence levels fall by 30 percent; between the ages of 12 and 13, the percentage of girls who say they’re "not allowed to fail" increases by 150 percent, and more than half of teen girls feel pressure to be perfect. That’s why we need to reach girls when they are young — to encourage them to push their boundaries, trust their instincts and take healthy risks — before they are socialized to play it safe.
That’s precisely what Girl Scouts did for me, and why their programs are so vital. Whether selling cookies, learning about STEM or getting involved in the community, girls are exposed to a variety of different experiences and encouraged to dive right in. Most importantly, Girl Scouts may be one of the few places where a young girl is taught that failure is an option — and that from failure comes growth and learning. By inspiring and empowering girls at a young age, we can develop the next generation of women who can support and fund other women.
So, next time a Girl Scout knocks on your door, open it knowing you’re opening many doors for her.
December 14, 2018 at 11:08AM