Social Change Story: Girls with Great Futures

Women’s Fund Grant Partners move needle for positive social change & gender equality. To illuminate the grant-making in action and the work being done for women and girls, we are bringing their stories to you.

The Boys and Girls Clubs’ Girls with Great Futures initiative is a program that works to specifically empower teen girls to think big and raise their expectations for their own potential. Girls with Great Futures fills the gap for girls between career preparation and career achievement by addressing issues of gender norms, implicit bias and how these views both cause and perpetuate gender inequality.

  • Tell us, what has been valuable to you about being a Grant Partner with The Women’s Fund? Why does this partnership matter?

Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus greatly values being a Women’s Fund of Central Ohio grant partner because they are a true partner in every sense of the word. The Women’s Fund encourages the work Boys & Girls Clubs is doing not only with financial resources, but through additional research, data, and connections in the community that increase our ability to serve girls in Columbus. Thanks to the Women’s Fund, we have Columbus-specific data that helps to guide our program in a productive direction, addressing current issues that plague our girls.  Our partnership with the Women’s Fund has allowed us to develop and fine tune rich programming specific to our girls while educating our boys. We are grateful to be a part of the Women’s Fund family.

  • When you talk about a shift in behavior or definition, is there a story that comes to mind that showcases this in your work?

This summer one of our Club members and participants in the Girls with Great Futures program, Faith, became an advocate for girls assuming leadership roles in the Club. As part of her summer youth employment at Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus she was assigned a group tasked with starting an entrepreneurial business. When it came time to select roles for each team member to fill in this fictitious scenario, Faith immediately and unapologetically assumed the role of CEO. While it was exciting for staff to see Faith jump into a leadership role, it was her next course of action that deserves recognition. Other groups that were tasked with the same entrepreneurship goals all had selected male CEOs, sparking Faith’s curiosity and motivating her to engage in a discussion regarding the pattern. After work that day, the staff saw her approach her colleagues and friends in the program asking them why they took a lesser role in these leadership opportunities. When she was met with blank stares, Faith proceeded to encourage them and build their confidence to take on a leadership role that showcased their important strengths and abilities. The next day, two of the girls asked their male counterparts to exchange roles and the boys agreed. It took Faith’s encouragement all summer to make sure her female peers weren’t just the CEO in title, but also in their leadership skills and responsibilities.

This is just one example of how the Girls with Great Futures program gave our girls the confidence to become leaders, unapologetically pursue ambitious career paths, and encourage their female peers along the way. This matters because not only was Faith shifting her behavior to step out of her comfort zone and encourage her female peers, but she was also challenging the idea of typical female roles in the workplace. Her commitment to changing both behavior and concept is the catalyst for social change as it trickles through her sphere of influence into the community at large.

  • Share with us an outcome of the program that highlights the social change shift you are working to create.

Many of the young girls at the Club have big ambitions: to be president, a trauma surgeon, professional actress and other exciting careers.  Yet, as the girls mature, we witnessed that those ambitions seem to fade as reality sets in that knowledge, personal connection, and pathways towards success don’t seem as readily available to them as their male peers. We aimed to ameliorate this perception so that our girls felt encouraged to pursue ambitious careers rather than remain apprehended by their circumstances. This is essential because we know that our girls’ confidence peaks at age 9.

Fewer than 20 percent of all mayors in the state of Ohio are female. Columbus’ Mayor Andrew Ginther reported in his State of the City Address that for every dollar that a male earns in the workplace, a female earns proportionately $0.78, even lower than the national average. Ohio has never had a female elected as governor. Women own only 39 percent of businesses in Ohio. All these statistics address the point that opportunity is not created equal for our girls. To ameliorate this, we need girls who aren’t afraid to challenge what is the currently accepted as the norm. By dreaming big and sticking to those dreams, our girls can fill the roles that males unequally hold.

At the end of programming, girls in the program who were past that essential age of confidence (9 years) still felt inspired and motivated to pursue challenging professions. Seeing this shift in behavior was motivating because we knew it was not just the work of staff changing perceptions, but our girls relying on one another for encouragement due to the influence of Girls with Great Futures.

  • As a Women’s Fund partner you have incorporated gender norms into your work. How has this evolved what you do?

Incorporating gender norms into our program has not only changed the way Boys & Girls Clubs thinks about the work we do, but it has greatly changed the way our staff behaves at work. After engaging youth in Girls with Great Futures content (specifically the Gender By Us toolkit), many staff members have realized their own gender biases and are actively working to change their perspective. As a role model for all of the boys and girls they interact with at the Club, they have learned to integrate gender equality into everything they say and do, changing both their own behavior and the behavior of our youth. 

We know that the Central Ohio community thrives when we bring gender norms into the work we do. At Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus, the more we can create gender equality within our youth, the further we have advanced our mission to empower youth to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens. More women entering male-dominated careers and having equal access to success means that their own personal circumstances will change for the better, contributing to the overall health and well being of our entire community.

  • Tell us, what is the value of including boys in the Girls with Great Futures program?

Including boys in the Girls with Great Futures programming is an essential component for our girls to be successful. We want our boys to understand and witness firsthand the disparity between genders so they can make a shift in their definition of gender roles and a shift in the behavior they display on a daily basis. By starting early, many boys can change their thought process to ensure they are contributing to a solution for the next generation, not perpetuating the problems we see currently. Education our boys means more girls feel motivated, empowered and supported in their journey to overcome educational and career barriers standing in the way of their future success. When our boys become husbands, fathers, employers, and activists in the future, we know that they will be advocating for women, building them up and taking a more active role in supporting their goals and ambitions.

  • For Girls with Great Futures, what would success look like in 3-5 years?

Girls with Great Futures focuses on a shift in definition and a shift in behavior. First and foremost, Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus is working to create a shift in the definition of gender as youth come to understand their own implicit biases. In the upcoming three to five years, Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus sees the definition of gender blurring as the Club and society continues to embrace those whose gender identity is different from the typical male or female categories. As the definition begins to change, we seek to smash stereotypes and boxes that many girls are automatically assigned at birth.

Success in the realm of shifting behavior happens in the Club and then moves towards life outside our Club walls. Youth will continue taking the lessons that they have learned to shift their behavior and move that conversation into their homes, communities, and schools to become change ambassadors for the rights and equalities of not only girls at the Club, but in all of Central Ohio.

  • How can someone get involved with this program?

A program such as Girls with Great Futures takes an entire community to implement- men and women alike! We always need additional resources in order to compensate staff members and provide field trips for youth to explore new career opportunities. To support Girls with Great Futures, a donation can be made online at bgccolumbus.org. Additionally, if members of the community are looking to become involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus as a mentor, guest speaker, volunteer, or contributor in any other way, they can email us at info@bgccolumbus.org.

  • Anything else you would like to celebrate or share?

The Women’s Fund has taught each of us at Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus how to be better advocates for women and girls. They have taught us how to fight for what we know is right and to support gender equality unapologetically, advancing the needle of social change as we both work together for our girls.