If you've bought Samoas, Thin Mints, Tagalongs, or Do-si-dos during the past few years, you probably noticed that the checkout process was a bit different than its pen to paper origins. Since being rebranded as the "Digital Cookie" platform in 2014, Girl Scout cookie sales have gotten a technical upgrade. The upgrade, which included personalized seller websites and mobile payments using Clover products, wasn't just about the organization adapting to the digital age or even increasing cookie sales, although both were positive outcomes. It speaks, more importantly, to a growing focus on STEM.
Last week, this investment intensified with the Girl Scout Stem Pledge, an initiative to raise $70 million towards getting 2.5 million girls involved in STEM by 2025. The announcement was made at Dreamforce, the annual conference held by cloud computing company Salesforce, where the Girl Scouts (a Salesforce.org customer) were one of three beneficiary organizations this year. (The other two were College Track and Upwardly Global.)
In addition to the 23 STEM and outdoor badges introduced earlier this year, the organization also announced 18 new cybersecurity and space science badges. As with other badges, girls need to complete certain curriculum to earn each one.
"This doesn’t mean we’re not focused still on our activities in other areas, but [STEM] is such a critical need that we had to do much more in our programming around that," Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, the president of the national board of the Girl Scouts of the USA, told Refinery29. "We know there's millions of jobs that are going to be necessary in these fields."
This goal is not remarkable on its own — plenty of organizations, and even the Trump administration, have pledged big money towards STEM initiatives with goals of bringing more women and minorities into the pipeline. While a financial investment is a positive step, it doesn't necessarily translate to success. Speculation about why women start majors, or even careers, in the sciences and then drop out at far higher rates than men vary from women being socialized into low mathematical confidence, to much-publicized harassment and lack of female mentorship.
However, there are a few things playing in the Girl Scouts' favor, starting with the democratization of its programming. "The curriculum is standardized so all girls have the same access to technology," Ebony Frelix, Salesforce.org's SVP of philanthropy and engagement, told Refinery29 of why she's hopeful. "Regardless of where you are in country you have the same opportunity."
Another reason to be positive is that members already have a strong role model in sight: Before Sylvia Acevedo was elected CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA this past May, she led a career that paralleled those of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, the women depicted in Hidden Figures. Acevedo was one of the first Latina to earn a graduate engineering degree from Stanford, and also one of the first Latina to work at NASA. There, she served as one of the rocket scientists behind the Voyager's Jupiter approach in the late 1970s and the Solar Polar/Probe Missions. Her impressive resume also includes executive roles at Apple and Dell. If you need a female mentor to guide you through the ins-and-outs of the tech world, Acevedo is a first-class pick.
For the Girl Scouts, the hope is that the organization's emphasis on the three Cs — courage, confidence, and character — coupled with STEM learning, will be enough to overcome the challenges women will inevitably face in the classroom and the workplace. High school aged members are not oblivious of these challenges: Julia*, a nine year Girl Scout and freshman in high school in Belmont, CA, acknowledged that the small populations of African American and Latinas in tech "can be a bit intimidating." Still, she added, "As long as it's something I want to do and see myself doing, I'll go for it."
As Silicon Valley looks ahead to a future that is hopefully more diverse, it may want to keep an eye on the troop members lining up on its doorsteps.
*Editor's Note: The Girl Scouts do not share the last names of their members to media.