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The City Journals

Women leaders urge Girl Scouts to ‘take the lead’

Apr 03, 2017 09:06AM ● By Travis Barton

South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood introduces herself prior to the roundtable discussion where seven women leaders spoke with Girl Scouts. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

With International Women’s Day and Girl Scout Week in Utah, March was a time to celebrate women. There was no celebration more appropriate than the event on March 9 at the Columbus Center.

Women leaders from South Salt Lake and Salt Lake County convened for roundtable discussions with local Girl Scouts about how they can take the lead in their communities. The event was organized by Salt Lake City Troop 374, with parents Sharen Hauri and Lisa Zumbado inviting the community leaders to participate.

Salt Lake County currently has three female mayors and South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood said there’s a similar statistic with women in city council.

“We need women’s voices at the table every time that we’re having a conversation, those perspectives are so valuable,” Wood said.

Wood was at the event along with six other women in leadership positions including Melissa Jensen from Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake councilwomen Sharla Beverly and Portia Mila and Salt Lake County representatives Erin Litvack, Stacee Adams and Ze Min Xiao.

All of whom shared not only what they do for a living, but how they got there.

Janet Frasier, Girl Scouts of Utah CEO, said she had many role models when she was young but they weren’t “mayors of cities, they weren’t dealing with immigration issues and they weren’t even running companies.”

“What’s so amazing about an opportunity like this, it’s hard to be what you’ve never seen,” Frasier said. “So when young girls can come see grown women doing things and talking about their jobs they’re literally opening these minds to ‘I didn’t know I could do that.’”

Jensen, who works in Salt Lake City’s Housing and Neighborhood development, and Adams, the county’s communications director, both shared childhoods where their families flirted with homelessness. Jensen would get her food from the local gas station and Adams was the first of her family to go to college.

“Everyone’s faced with different challenges—single families, not being able to pay rent, different things like that—it’s still possible to have an amazing career, to go to college,” Mila said. “It’s important that you let that sink into little girls heads right at the beginning when they’re really little.”

Each woman spoke about the importance of having women in leadership roles. Frasier referenced high percentages of women currently serving leadership roles came from Girl Scouts. She said 80 percent of women business owners and 59 percent of women in federal office came from Girl Scouts.

“We have really created the pipeline for women who are active in taking the lead in their communities for over a century,” Frasier said. Girl Scouts of the United States of America are celebrating their 105th anniversary in 2017.

Beverly said Wood helped recruit her and Mila into running for city council with both of them making lasting relationships.

“(She) invited us into this world of politics and leadership and I think it’s important we do the same thing for other people, specifically women and girls,” Beverly said. “The statistics in women leadership is shocking, there’s not enough and I think events like this are gonna help be part of the solution.”

Emma, a Girl Scout for over two years, said she plans to continue being a good Girl Scout following directions so she can go to college.

“I learned what they [the leaders] do, what their hobbies are and different things from the other Girl Scouts in the troop,” Emma said of the roundtable discussions.

Leaders said they hoped both the Girl Scouts and the mothers present learned valuable life lessons with South Salt Lake leaders encouraging them to get involved the community.

“I would hope they walk away understanding how important they are or how important their voice is,” Wood said, adding that some girls shared with her that they often feel quieted. “At that time, it’s the most important thing for you to do is have an opinion and to be heard.”

Frasier said with the amazing and inspiring things women are doing now, she hopes the girls use these women as role models for their future.

“Helping girls realize that you don’t get to these places because you were born that way or you’re perfect,” she said. “But that you learn how to learn, you learn how to fail, how to tap into your network and find the people who can stick by you. That’s what I see happen and gives the girl a sense of her potential.”