Barbara Hill: Leading Like a Girl (Scout)

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by Allison Arnold

Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore (GSMSTS) builds tomorrow’s leaders into young women of courage, confidence and character. The 9,779 Girl Scout members across 30 counties engage in programming under the four pillars: STEM, life skills, outdoors and entrepreneurship.

Barbara Hill has worked professionally in Girl Scouts for the past 25 years and became the chief executive officer in 2017. Her involvement and commitment to Girl Scouts began as a young girl on the South Side of Chicago. 

“What the Girl Scouts did for me is it took me from my neighborhood to a larger world beyond my community,” Hill said. “It took me into the outdoors.”

Growing up before Title IX, Hill didn’t have the same opportunities as her brothers, who were very active in sports.

“Living at that time in a very urban environment, my mother wanted to seek out an opportunity for me to become involved doing activities, especially for girls,” Hill expressed. 

Her mother was the leader of her troop, made up of 27 girls. Hill says she knows where 17 of them are today. 

“It taught me to take some steps to really develop the curiosity in me,” Hill said. “It put me in situations to become more connected with other accomplished women and women in my community overall.” 

Over the years, Hill has worked in various Girl Scout Councils and served in Girl Scouts Overseas. While abroad, Hill lived in Japan, running the Asian division, which is comprised of Japan, Okinawa and South Korea.

“What the Girl Scouts did for me is it took me from my neighborhood
to a larger world beyond my community. It took me into the outdoors.” 

Barbara Hill

“Our role over there is working with families…to provide that same Girl Scout leadership experience that they would be able to have in the United States,” she said.

While working in Japan, Hill and her Girl Scouts climbed Mount Fuji. When Hill was a young Girl Scout, her troop started small, camping in a backyard and eventually camping in a national park. The outdoors is one of the Four Program Pillars in Girl Scouts. 

“How we take girls outside and develop that outdoor experience is so important to move them away from their gadgets and their tools,” Hill expressed.

Entrepreneurship is another pillar in which girls learn goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and business ethics through the Girl Scout Cookie Program. In 2018, the Girl Scouts from GSMSTS sold more than one million boxes of cookies. Hill recently talked to a group of girls who decided to use their cookie money to visit Savannah, GA, the birthplace of Girl Scouts. 

The third pillar, life skills, includes developing civic engagement and communication skills, in addition to learning about healthy living and how to be a good global citizen. STEM is the last pillar, which provides learning experiences in computer science and engineering, robotics and other STEM-related areas. 

According to the 2018 GSMSTS report, programming focused on these four pillars grew from 15 percent to 75 percent throughout 2018, giving girls the opportunity to earn more badges and develop essential skills. 

“What we are seeing is that girl scouting is beginning to grow in this area,” Hill explained. “More girls are excited about the possibility of thinking big and developing their leadership skills.” 

GSMSTS provides financial assistance for membership and uniforms. 

“There is still a perception about Girl Scouts and that perception is that we are an organization only for girls who can afford to be Girl Scouts — that is not the reality,” Hill said.

Hill emphasizes that, contrary to a recent rumor that the organization is merging with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts will continue to be what it has always been. 

“We’re not merging,” she said. “We are and will continue to be an organization for all girls, by girls, and it’s going to continue to be girl-led as well.”

Girl Scouts has a strong record of preparing girls to grow into strong leaders: Ninety percent of female astronauts, 80 percent of female tech leaders, 76 percent of female U.S. senators and 100 percent of female U.S. secretaries of state were all Girl Scouts. 

“We continue to look at how can we begin to incorporate our program so they can become good global citizens overall, and through our four pillars — that is a way that we see continuously developing our girls and our program.”


Allison Arnold is a freelance writer and avid adventurer who loves hiking, traveling and trying new foods. She loves writing about food and culture on her blog, For the Love of Tacos.

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