Girl Scouts are forging path to diversity


"Girl Scouts of the USA will reflect the full diversity of the population in its girl members, volunteers and staff; eliminate institutional racism throughout the Girl Scout Movement; and initiate effective interaction among diverse population groups."

-- From the Organizational

Diversity Goal, GSUSA.

I'll never forget the first time I met Nancy Richardson of Girl Scouts of the USA. It was at a formal dinner some 17 years ago in Delaware. In attendance were Coast Guard and Navy officers in their uniforms. In walked the gutsy Richardson, decked out in her Girl Scout leader's uniform. I liked her instantly.

After a recent three-year stint as director of the respected Girl Scout National Center for Innovation in California -- a facility praised by management guru Peter Drucker -- Richardson is back at headquarters.

She is the internal consultant for Girl Scouts' national pluralism strategy. I had a chance to catch up with her recently to discuss Girl Scouts' efforts in the areas of diversity and pluralism, issues that are finally receiving the attention they deserve in the nonprofit community.

"Girl Scouts has worked on diversity and pluralism for more than 40 years," Richardson says. "Now we are responding to more rapid demographic changes. We are a mission-focused,

demographically driven, values-based organization, so focusing on diversity and pluralism is just a part of the Girl Scout way."

Diversity, Richardson says, is a quantitative term, a sort of "who we are and what we have" inventory. Pluralism, on the other hand, is what we make of that diversity. It is the programs and experiences that help that diverse constituency work together toward common goals.

"Pluralism is good for all of us as Americans. This is not about making it better for any one group. In Girl Scouting that plays out at the troop level by showing respect for each other, enabling every girl to have her say, welcoming differences, learning about other religions, races and cultures, helping every girl feel good about her own identity."

Richardson speaks from experience. To this day she leads

a Mariner Girl Scout Troop in Maplewood, N.J., the same troop she was in as a girl.

Last fall, Girl Scouts launched their Strength Through Diversity program to their 331 chartered Local Councils, including a series of educational materials.

The program was based on marketing research conducted by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and presented in an easily understandable report, "Strength In Diversity: Toward a Broader Understanding of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Girl Scouting" (available from GSUSA, 420 Fifth Avenue, N.Y., N.Y. 10018-2702).

As the authors point out, the United States is becoming an increasingly diverse country. One statistic they offer is that by the end of this century, 72 percent of the population is expected to be non-Hispanic white. Yetby 2050, that percentage is expected to drop to 53 percent. GSUSA wants to be positioned to serve all girls as these dynamic demographic shifts occur.

"Naturally, we have implementation problems at every level," Richardson says, "but this is a continuing commitment. In the end everything from leader training to troop operations will reflect the pluralism we are striving for."

Nor does Girl Scouts plan its latest diversity push as a series of training programs. "This is not a workshop experience," Richardson says with some conviction. "Being inclusive is a way of life. We value diversity as a way of working and living together."

Girl Scouts of the USA is a shining example of how to lead the way in helping our youth work together, respect each other, and value their heritage.

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at The Brokerage, 34 Market Place, Suite 331, Baltimore, Md. 21202.)

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