Leadership Insights

Grooming girls to be Fortune 500 CEOs

Girls who code
Girls who code

Quick quiz: What do IBM CEO Virginia Rometty, former Procter & Gamble CEO Gina Drosos and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki all have in common?

Yes, they are all women, but ... they were also all Girl Scouts.

Gender disparity in the workplace and the "glass ceiling" has come to a head—an issue Hillary Clinton recently spoke about to an audience of Silicon Valley women. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and IBM's Rometty are powerful forces in the business world, but they remain the exception to the rule—even as there's some evidence women may even make better CEOs.

Women account for only 4.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and only 4 percent of senior venture capitalists. The high-profile legal case between legendary VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and a former female employee has attracted even more attention to the issue in the technology sector.

Setting girls on a course for success from an early age is essential, and while the 103-year-old youth organization renowned for girl leadership development—and thin mint-flavored chocolate wafers—was one of the very first to take the reins, there are a wellspring of others popping up to meet the call.

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Finding their voice at an early age

According to leadership coach Whitney Siavelis, often the lessons taught to girls at an early age defy rather than strengthen the mind-set that is essential for success.

"While young boys are taught to compete and win, girls are taught to be polite and wait their turn," she said. "Women need to learn from a very young age that they can create their own 'turn' by finding their voice and not being afraid to ask for help along the way."

She added, "Only by instilling confidence and a sense of self-worth do any of us succeed."

When leadership skills are not instilled at an early age, the results are sobering. The nonprofit organization Girls Inc., which dates back to the Industrial Revolution when it was founded to help rural girls move to cities to find jobs, claims that without leadership skills, 1 in 4 girls will not graduate high school, 78 percent of girls under 17 are unhappy with their bodies, and 3 in 10 girls will be pregnant by the time they are 20.

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The high-paying, high-powered jobs of today and tomorrow are in these fields, and we desperately need to create opportunities for women—who are the majority of the labor force—to fill them.
Reshma Saujani
CEO, Girls Who Code

The great digital gender divide

The U.S. Department of Labor projects that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million job openings for computer specialist job openings. Today, however, women represent only 12 percent of all computer science graduates.

According to a study conducted by the National Science Board and the Girl Scout Research Institute in 2012, 74 percent of middle school girls express interest in science, technology, engineering and math (now known by the acronym STEM), but by high school only 0.3 percent of girls select computer science as their college major.

Why this dramatic drop occurs remains unclear. However, if the future is going to be written in code, more women need to learn the language.

In 2012, Reshma Saujani was running for U.S. Congress in New York City. After visiting schools and witnessing the digital gender divide, she saw a substantial need to create opportunities for women in technology.

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In 2012, Saujani launched Girls Who Code in New York City to offer a computer science education to high school females. Starting out as a single program reaching 20 girls, it quickly evolved into a national organization serving more than 3,000 girls in grades 6–12.

"Girls Who Code isn't just about technology; it's about leadership," said Saujani, CEO. "The high-paying, high-powered jobs of today and tomorrow are in these fields, and we desperately need to create opportunities for women—who are the majority of the labor force—to fill them."

—By Lauren Flick, producer, CNBC .com