The power of mentoring girls IRL (in real life)

By Jill Zelmanovits, CEO and Chief Listening Officer, Girl Guides of Canada

Remember that priceless piece of career advice a friend or mentor gave you? Chances are, they leaned in with that bit of wisdom in person and not in a text, DM or social media post. In an era of infinite ways to connect digitally, in-person connections still reign supreme – in terms of benefit and impact. At Girl Guides of Canada, we’ve been helping girls build their network of peers and women mentors since long before words like ‘networking’ and ‘mentoring’ were corporate catchphrases. On International Day of the Girl (October 11), our new report In Real Life (IRL) Matters reveals why it’s essential to support girls in building real-life connections.

In the first study of its kind on the social capital of Canadian youth, Girl Guides asked girls about their sense of belonging and whether they feel supported and connected to the communities where they live. What we discovered is that not only how girls are interacting is changing significantly – girls report having 3.3 in real life (IRL) close friends on average and 13.5 online-only friends – but that it’s a shift we need to pay attention to. The study reveals that girls with more in-person connections are more likely to feel like they are listened to, accepted and cared about and report they have a greater sense of belonging. Those who rely more on online connections don’t share the same level of optimism about the future or sense of having a network of friends or family that can support them.

So why do these findings matter? Well, we all have a role to play in helping create spaces for girls to have in-person relationships with peers and the adults in their lives. Teenage girls in particular are at a critical time in their lives – they have leadership roles to explore, careers to consider, choices to make. Mentoring and supporting these budding trailblazers as they start their career journey can have an immeasurable impact in propelling girls towards amazing opportunities with all the top skills and confidence, they’ll need to achieve their goals.  

At Girl Guides, we see first-hand the powerful benefits of giving girls the opportunity to connect with women mentors of all backgrounds. Our volunteers come from all walks of life, from every imaginable career field. They listen to what matters to girls and create a collaborative team environment where everyone’s voice is valued. They inspire girls to not only see women as leaders, but also to see themselves as leaders – one mentoring moment at a time. Basically, the kind of mentoring program that career gurus recommend is exactly what girls find for themselves in Guiding – and what they need more of in this world.

Of course, it’s not just adult mentors that matter to girls. Building a solid peer network is important, too. When girls connect in real life, they build a solid foundation to support one another in immeasurable ways. We see this at Girl Guides all the time. It’s a 6-year-old Spark learning to tie her shoe and using her confidence to help another girl. It’s a 13-year-old Pathfinder discussing mental health with her unit and then reaching out to support a friend. Girls have pretty much nailed the secret formula for cheering each other on and empowering one another in moments big and small. What they need is adults to support and encourage them to make these real-life connections. (Bonus: when girls have the opportunity to support one another, they’ll carry these mentoring traits into their adult lives. It’s a ripple effect that goes on and on.)

It’s unlikely any of us got where we are without a mentor’s help and guidance. We don’t need to wait until girls are in career mode to give them the same mentoring opportunities. Helping them create those mentoring and peer networking moments now will make a real difference in creating a world where girls empower girls – and in turn go on to achieve extraordinary things.

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