New Girl Scout Study Shows What Girls Are Doing to Gain Traction as Digital Leaders

“Decoding the Digital Girl” finds that although many girls excel in key digital leadership skills, there’s more that parents and educators can do to help girls become tomorrow’s tech leaders.

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NEW YORK, NY (February 11, 2019)—Today, Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), the premier leadership development organization for girls, released Decoding the Digital Girl: Defining and Supporting Girls’ Digital Leadership. 1  For the report, the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) surveyed close to 2,900 girls and boys ages 5–17 and their parents to learn more about girls’ digital leadership, differences between girls’ and boys’ digital engagement, and the role of parents/caregivers in this domain.

In defining digital leadership, GSUSA takes into account not just what a person knows about technology, but what they do with that knowledge to create, innovate, and connect with others to further their own development and make the world a better place. Based on this model, the Girl Scout Research Institute identified and applied to the research 10 digital leadership criteria.

“As a passionate engineer and tech entrepreneur, I am excited to share the findings in Decoding the Digital Girl, which show that girls are already leading in the digital space,” says GSUSA CEO Sylvia Acevedo. “This study puts data behind our belief that today’s girls are the digital leaders, makers, and creators of tomorrow. Our goal is to help all girls reach their leadership potential as we provide them with the tools and support they need to successfully lead in the 21st century.”

Industry experts point to a pressing need for tech jobs that call for skills such as social and emotional intelligence and creativity, to bring a human hand to the management of big data. As seen in Decoding the Digital Girl, girls are demonstrating these skills and others that position them to become future tech leaders.

In terms of gender-based findings, Decoding the Digital Girl (Download full reporttop findings, or see interactive verson.) reports that girls match boys in digital leadership overall, with 52 percent of girls and 50 percent of boys qualifying as digital leaders. However, there are some specific differences that illustrate the value of girls’ unique tech skills and behaviors:

  • Girls use technology to create more than boys do (e.g., making videos and doing coding projects through apps and online programs; 45% of girls vs. 38% of boys).
  • More girls than boys discover a new talent or interest through technology (68% of girls vs. 59% of boys).
  • Girls are more connected than boys to social issues/causes via technology (60% of girls vs. 51% of boys).
  • Girls are more likely than boys to engage in educational activities online, including playing games for learning purposes (55% of girls vs. 41% of boys) and reading books/articles (40% of girls vs. 28% of boys).
  • Boys are more likely than girls to, online, play games for fun (81% of boys vs. 72% of girls) and game for four or more hours after school (31% of boys vs. 17% of girls).
  • Boys are more confident than girls in their tech skills (84% of boys vs.77% of girls).
  • Boys are more likely than girls to believe they are the digital/tech expert in their families (53% of boys vs. 38% of girls). 

For the study, parents and children were interviewed separately, with results showing that parents treat their daughters and sons differently when it comes to tech use. Parents tend to be stricter with girls; they’re more likely to require that their daughters get permission to download apps (60% vs. 51% of sons) and “friend” the parent on social media (21% vs. 14% of sons). They’re also more likely to report that their sons figure out new tech on their own (72% vs. 67% of daughters), while daughters learn tech from someone else. These differences offer insight into areas where parents, as well as educators, can increasingly support their girls’ digital engagement and leadership development.

Additionally, the new GSRI research finds that girls in lower-income households may be missing out on valuable digital learning experiences. Compared to higher-income girls, they have less access to laptops, tablets, and desktops and are less likely to participate in online educational activities such as doing homework and using school apps (56% vs. 63% of higher-income girls) and reading books and articles (34% vs. 43% of higher-income girls). Unfortunately and perhaps not surprisingly, then, girls in lower-income households are less likely to be digital leaders than girls in higher-income households (45% vs. 54%). These findings emphasize the need to increase digital access and engagement opportunities for low-income girls, to close the gaps and help all girls become digital leaders.

Girl Scouts were included in the study to help gauge how effectively Girl Scouts of the USA develops girl leaders in the digital space. The data shows that Girl Scouts are more likely to be digital leaders than non–Girl Scouts and boys (64% vs. 43% of non–GS and 50% of boys). Girl Scouts particularly stand out when it comes to connecting to social issues and causes online (72% vs. 51% of non–Girl Scouts) and connecting others to social causes through technology (63% vs. 37%).

Decoding the Digital Girl shows that girls are ready to change—and currently changing—the world through technology,” says Kamla Modi, PhD, Girl Scout Research Institute. “They are upending gender stereotypes in tech competence as they not only excel in the digital space but use tech for good. And although they still face challenges, with more targeted attention from educators and other supportive adults, girls can and will develop and emerge at the forefront of tech leadership.”

 


1 The GSRI partnered with FROM and Touchstone Research to conduct qualitative and quantitative research with 2,894 participants across the U.S., including 944 girls and 503 boys ages 5–17, and 1,447 of their parents. These national samples aligned with U.S. Census data for youth ages 5–17 with respect to race/ethnicity, urbanicity, geographical region, and household income.

 

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