Mission Trumps Tradition
I love the Girl Scouts. For nearly 20 years, I worked for the organization, often serving as its national spokesperson, and I was always proud to do so. I was less than proud this week, though, when I heard that local Girl Scouts in Washington, D.C. had decided to march in the inaugural parade. Administrators rationalized this decision by saying that participating in the parade is a tradition and pointing out that the Girl Scout organization is not political. While it is true that the Girl Scouts does not take political stands, that is beside the point. I argue that the decision on whether or not to march should be about mission, not politics.
The mission of the Girl Scouts is to “build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” I have trouble justifying that mission with the fact that Girl Scouts will be honoring a man who has bragged on national television about grabbing women’s genitals, an act that amounts to sexual assault. This same man talked about entering the changing rooms of an international beauty contest when the female participants were in various stages of undress. When several women, one a respected journalist, accused him of sexual assault he insisted he was innocent because they were not attractive enough to rate his attentions. Why does this man behave this way? Because he can. He has no scruples about capitalizing on the power differential between himself and his victims.
Manage for the Mission
I can’t imagine that saluting this man helps build courage, confidence, or character in a girl. If anything, it sends the message that no matter what a man in power says or does, it’s OK. But it’s not OK, at least not in the last few years. Consider what happened to other men who behaved similarly. Roger Ailes lost the chairmanship of Fox News and his colleague, Bill O’Reilly, paid millions to settle a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a woman in 2004. Just last week, Fox News paid another female employee somewhere in the high six figures to settle a similar suit against O’Reilly. And we all know about “Carlos Danger,” aka former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner. Would the Girl Scouts honor them?
We used to have a saying when I worked at Girl Scout headquarters in the 80s and 90s: Manage for the mission. Coined by then-CEO Frances Hesselbein, it was a reminder to us that every decision should be based upon the values and purpose of the Girl Scout movement. I wish that today’s Girl Scout decision-makers had kept this in mind.