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Ep 37: How to build a strong pipeline of future leaders - Jennifer Bartkowski & Elina Dickens

Updated: Jun 20, 2023


How do you listen, pivot and adapt so you can build a healthier future for yourself and a new generation of female leaders?

In this interview with Jennifer Kiehl Bartkowski and Elina Dickens, we discuss,

1) How girl scouts are pivoting to build strong communities

2) How we should invest in ourselves to better our physical and mental health

3) What we can do to tackle imposter syndrome, believe in ourselves and show up as our authentic selves to work and college

4) How to goal set and execute our vision

5) Why we should not minimize ourselves but believe in our abilities, talents, and experience and still do it "OUR" way.

Jennifer Kiehl Bartkowski is the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas and is a respected leader in the non-profit sector who is driving change within and outside her organization. She won the 2022 Stevie Award for Women in Business. Jennifer brings passion and drives to building strong local communities to give access and opportunities to many who may be limited due to social and economic reasons.

Elina Dickens is a Business Major at UT, won the Girl Scouts Gold Award and is recognized for her work in the community. As a freshman, she got to do a prestigious internship at Deloitte.

Podcast Recommendation: Bettina Brown "In the Rising" Podcast:

Drop me a note: I would love to hear from you about your stories and your journey. You can reach me on Instagram @womencareerandlife or Gmail at .

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Guest: Jennifer Bartkowski

Guest: Elina Dickens

Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas

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Instagram: womencareerandlife

Below is a transcript of the episode, slightly modified for reading.


[00:00] INTRO [Jump to section]

[00:50] Meet Jennifer & Elina [Jump to section]

[03:03] Introduction to Girl Scouts [Jump to section]

[10:20] Women in Leadership Role [Jump to section]

[11:38] Dealing with Impostor Syndrome. [Jump to section]

[15:02] Transitioning to College, Goal Setting, Connections [Jump to section]

[17:06] Being Yourself...Authentic Self [Jump to section]

[19:15] Pivoting to adapt...Leadership Journey...Get ready for the new challenge. [Jump to section]

[21:36] DEI Journey... inclusion...Mental Health Challenge [Jump to section]

[29:32] Building Trust and Community in Diverse, communities [Jump to section]

[35:15] Encouraging, Enabling, Empowering Girls in STEM [Jump to section]

[36:18] Empowering access to education [Jump to section]

[38:13] Note to 21-year-old self [Jump to section]

[39:49] Takeaways [Jump to section]


[00:00] INTRO

Sirisha: Hello everyone. This is Sirisha and I host the Women Carrier and Life Podcast just like you. As travelled very with parts, stumble a little, pick me up and learn a great deal on my journey. Many of us face similar questions, but we don't always get to have a conversation with our friends or peers. In this podcast, you will hear real stories that you can connect with on the challenges of navigating a carrier in life. You must be wondering who I am. In my everyday life, I'm a carrier woman, a mom, and an ever-reader. I'm also a road tripper, amateur gardener, and even a fashionist on some days, join me and my guest as we have an open and honest discussion on carrier change trade-offs and working across boundaries. You get the idea. It's a perspective you simply may not hear anywhere.

[00:50] Meet Jennifer & Elina

Sirisha: Hello everyone. Thank you for being here today. I have two amazing women who are joining me for this podcast interview. I have Jennifer Keel, Bartowski, and Elena Dicken. Both of them are involved with the Girl Scouts. Jennifer is the c e O of the North Texas Girl Scouts Association. She's been very powerful in the nonprofit sector. She's had an amazing career. She started out working with the American Lung Association. She's worked with United Way and had a very long stint at the Girl Scouts. She established the STEM Center for Girls Scouts as well so that it gives access and flexibility for a lot of young girls to see what they can do in the STEM field because that is a space where there's little representation from women, especially as they go into leadership roles.

A lot of today's conversation will be around leadership and congratulations, Jennifer for winning the 2022 Stevie Awards for Business. Thank you. That is very amazing and I'm so glad we get to talk to you.

Jennifer: Thank you. I'm so honored to be invited and to participate.

Sirisha: and we also have Elina here who is a young woman who is a sophomore at UT Austin in the McComb School of Business. She was a gold scholar and also she won the Young Girls Women Distinction for Girl Scouts, which is a true honour based on all the work that she did. And I think the part that I'm looking for is this sort of energy that's gonna happen in today's conversation from two different perspectives. And as talks about her Girl Scout journey and what she looks at beyond in the future. She's also been a leader in her. Way because she's helped establish this major Unity in her town for having conversations across diverse backgrounds. And what I found interesting is you did this traffic theme talk, which I thought was cool. You know how to have a conversation with a cop when they stopped you for a ticket. I wish someone had taught me that skill as well... So Elena, thank you for being here. I'm looking forward to today's conversation. Thank you. So to get started, Jennifer, why don't we start with you? Can you walk us through some of your journeys and how you ended up being here, where you are right now?

[03:03] Introduction to Girl Scouts

Jennifer: First, thank you so much for having me. Of course, I was a girl scout growing up. I was a girl scout through ninth grade. My mother was my leader, her mother was her leader. I'm the oldest of five kids, four girls, and all of us were girl scouts. So I camped and sold cookies and did all the activities and it was a great big part of my life and truly, I think Girl Scouts taught me a lot of the leadership skills that I've learned over the years that it, and was a foundational part of. what kind of leader I ultimately became. So I'm very grateful for that leadership journey that I started with Girl Scouts when I was in college at Texas a and m University, I joined an organization called Alpha F Omega, which is a co-ed service organization. And I would do a hundred hours of community service every semester, and I loved it. And in that opportunity to do service, I made tons of friends, people who are my friends today, 30 years later. and I got to have significant leadership opportunities at the end of my undergraduate program, I went to my advisor and said, you know what, I love engaging the community and getting students involved and helping people put their time and treasure toward the community making it a better place.

Is there a job like that? And he said, yes, there is. People will pay you to do that. And I said I wanna do that. So I went on and got a Master's of public administration with a nonprofit management speciality, also at Texas and m. And then I started my nonprofit career mostly in fundraising I started at Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas in 2009 as the chief development officer became the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer and then in 2014, I became the CEO of Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, the very proud c e o of Northeast Texas. And I've been in this position now for eight and a half years, and I'm just so honored to get to lead this council and lead this organization through the transformation that it's going through post covid.

Sirisha: Yeah, that's pretty amazing. You have over 25,000 young girls involved in your organization, and you've just received a grant from McKinsey Scott for 3.8 million, so there's a lot of activity going on. I'd love to revisit this conversation on what you have planned with that, and we'll come back and have that discussion in a few, please. Elena, so why don't you walk us through, we just did a brief intro, but what's been your journey through Girls Scouts? When did you start? What were some pivotal moments for you walked through it?

Elina: So when I first started Girl Scouts, it was back in fourth grade. And so my mom, we were, I left daycare and so she was like, okay, we're gonna go somewhere and I was like, okay, where are we going? And so then I come to this church and so basically it's all like my family, friends and people that I've known for a while in the room and so I was like, mom, what is this? And she was like, oh, it's Girl Scouts. And I was like, girl Scouts and I was like really excited because I always told my mom that I wanted to get involved with something and at the time, all my family friends were in it, and I was like, I feel like I need to be in it. You know what I mean? Just do what everyone else is doing. And so at first, when you hear Girl Scouts, you think it's, oh, okay, like you just sell cookies. But then it's, once you're in it for a while, you understand what Girl Scouts holds. It's like really a ticket for not only meeting diverse girls, so being a part of camps, but it's also about like professional development, networking stops, things that you can't get that exposure, I would say in every other org because Girl Scouts like specifically. Great opportunities. For example, at the Michelle Obama conference, we had a bunch of networking with Ericsson after the Young Women Distinction events. We had a STEM workshop at the Girl Scouts. It was one of their buildings, and it was like a computer tactical workshop. So it's just little things like that you learn at such a young age that can carry on so far. And so from there, like little professional workshops that it came into your bronze award, then it became like your civil award and then your gold award. So, it's as you are building these professional qualities, you're also learning leadership through these workshops, through the camps, and then through these awards that you're doing as it is the Moto, you sell cookies and you learn things through there. It's also about taking it to the next level in the professionalism.

Sirisha: Well, That's pretty amazing. I didn't realize there was such a breath to girl scouts. It's interesting. Even in the corporate world, I don't think that is such a structure for people to grow and give them support and show them the path forward and also visibility, right? That other people look like you and talk like you and have gone through the same experience and I know you said in college that there's a lot of diversity because you're outside your bubble from high school, but I'm sure girls Scouts going to these conferences already gave you some flavour of that because you saw so much of it and just the access for professional development, STEM and everything. You know how to talk. I think it's unique that as a freshman you did an internship for Deloitte. I think that's amazing because I recruit and I work in corporate and I dunno how many companies have freshmen join them. So that in itself, I think speaks to the skills and the confidence you've built over the years and the Girls Scout motto is character, confidence and courage, which I think is embodied in both of you because. Both of you have grown through that chain over the years.

Jennifer: Pretty cool. Thank you. Elena's pretty impressive on her right? But I'd like to think Girl Scouts was an important part of her journey. It sounds like it was. I think it's just so important when you think about Girl Scouts, how deliberate we are about a couple of things about inclusivity for sure. We want to be a place of belonging for every, but also about progression. So girls can start in kindergarten and they can go all the way through 12th grade and each year they build upon their skillset or their leadership. and honestly, it is the largest leadership pipeline for female leaders in the world. There are over a million Girl Scouts in the country, and these girls are going through a 12-year leadership. The training program is really what they are. So when a girl like Alina gets her gold award and graduates from high school, she is ready. I imagine that Deloitte probably saw her resume and said, gold Award Girl Scout. This girl already proved herself. We were not even taking a risk and hiring her for this internship. And that's our goal no matter how long our girls stay in girl scouting, we want ha them to have that very deliberate focus. on inclusivity, on progression, on confidence building on leadership so that when they leave Girl Scouts, they do have that courage, confidence, and character that they need to go be the very best version of themselves.

Sirisha: Absolutely, and it's so well said, Elina, why don't you walk us through what you did to win the distinction of the award, like what sort of project and give some visibility because I know there was a lot of coding and other things as well, so, please.

Elina: Yes. So, like walking through the project. So first I started, I think it was about, it was my sophomore year. I was like, okay, what do I wanna do? So when I was like looking at different options, I knew that in Texas there was a ratio between the amount of ESL learners and the amount of teachers. So the problem was you had a lot of ESL learners, but you didn't have a lot of teachers and so what happened was that they weren't getting that one-on-one time that they needed. I decided to make a format, just a program that allowed for ESLs to get that more one-on-one time. So my team and I were paired with an ESL organization and so we came in weekly and we would go in and just teach them format and give them that more one-on-one time. Whether it was like flashcards, whether it was in racing games, whether that was just doing more conversations. Just little things like that.

Sirisha: That's nice because it brings in community tech and just teamwork together to solve a problem that's quite large and it's a scalable solution in some ways, what you've done is that you could scale it out to a lot of people to have that impact.

[10:20] Women in Leadership role...Challenges... Strengths

Sirisha: So congratulations again. Thank you, Jennifer. You've been in leadership in the nonprofit sector. Uh, very impressive career. Thank you. What do you see as the way for women to grow into these leadership roles? What do you see as the biggest challenge that they have? What makes them unique? What is that unique perspective they bring?

Jennifer: I think women the diversity of women brings a lot to the workforce. 50%, 51%, some say of the population is female. We desperately need women to be around the table in leadership and design and engineering, so that whatever products we're developing, whatever solutions we're seeking, work for all people, not just. For men, but work for all people and they bring a diverse perspective. They bring compassion and empathy. They often bring very strong problem-solving skills, resourcefulness, and so much more. I have had a long career in the nonprofit sector and I think the thing that has really. Worked the most for me and it's advice I got when I became c e O at the Girl Scouts is I need to be the very best version of myself. I don't do anybody any good if I'm trying to be the very best Alina Dickens or the very best, whoever, because I can't be anyone but myself. And so I need to work hard to be the very best version of myself and to understand my strengths and build those up and where I might have gaps filling those gaps.

[11:38] Dealing with Impostor Syndrome...Leverage your strengths...You are right for the job

Jennifer: One of the things I know holds women back, and it's held me back too, is that idea of imposter syndrome. This idea that you have to be perfect to succeed and do not have enough confidence in who you are at this moment to go for it all the research shows that men will apply for a job regardless of what their background is women wait until they have every single skill set. That is asked for before they apply. And I think we've got back away from that. We've got enough faith in ourselves, enough confidence in ourselves to say, you know what? I might not know how to do that now, but I'm teachable, I'm coachable, I am resourceful, and I'm persistent, and I'm resilient, and I can get in there and learn that skills because I have so many other great skills that are gonna make me a strong leader, and this organization needs me, right.

Sirisha: The thing that stood out from what you said is not only having the skills to do what we need to do, I had two of my managers when I got promoted to make this comment to me. I knew who I was replacing. They said we don't need you to do the job as they did it. We hired you to do it the way you are going to do it and I thought that was very well said. Because when you're entering into a role, especially if you're within the same organization getting promoted and all peers and bosses, it's hard not to transform and follow the same line. And the other part is I had the boss whose role I took also come in and say, do whatever you want. Gave me the freedom to make choices. So bringing your skillset, your unique perspective is very, I. because you can learn the skills like you said. And also the other part is sometimes you can hand some stuff off to others who are much more capable to allow them to be visible and get their forum, to grow their careers. So there are so many ways this can be done, and I think just taking risks, jumping ahead, jumping forward to move forward, I think needs to be done. There are organizational challenges. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot that organizations and structure and society as such we need to do, but there's some of the stuff that we hold ourselves back and we self limit ourselves, and we just need to gain that confidence to go and try.

Jennifer: Yeah, and I have a great story of when I became CEO I became CEO as the succession plan for the former CEO and the former CEO was tall and beautiful and wore these beautiful clothes, and she was a great public speaker and there were so many great things about her and I became the CEO O when she resigned and I remember thinking, oh my gosh, she has such be big shoes to fill. I don't know if I, I'm not wearing the right clothes. I'm not sure I've got the right look. I'm not sure. Speaking public as she does. Although I'm a great public speaker, I don't know why I thought that. And that's when I got the advice that this woman gave me, which was the very best. Jennifer Burkowski, you can be. No anybody needs you, you to be a version of that person and it turned out about, as I settled into the job and saw what kind of problems and challenges and opportunities were ahead of me, the organization did need my special skillset. And it took me about a year to 18 months to go. Oh, I get it. Yeah. That's what exactly they need. And you're right. I'm not great at everything. There are certain things I'm not good at, and I have learned to delegate a lot of those things to my team, and some of those team members are excellent at those things, and it's a development opportunity for them and allows me to focus on the things that I do best. Being perfect. No, being good at everything is not possible, so that should be scrapped immediately and go find your sweet spot, the thing that you do well. Build that up, elevate that, and find others to support you in the areas that maybe you don't like or you may be not quite a skilled app.

[15:02] Transitioning to College, Goal Setting, Networking, Making Connections

Jennifer: Elina, for you, what is your takeaway like advice when you're looking at corporate or transitioning through school? That's working well?

Elina: So in terms of advice that I feel would help, that has helped me now and has also helped me in the future is planning and organizing and setting goals. Like what do you wanna achieve now? And potentially like what do you wanna achieve later? And you know how you can always like have that goal like set in your head and like you say, okay, I wanna do this or I wanna do that, but it's writing it out. That's why like I have a board in the back and there's, I write my goals out there and I like to look at it every day and I also have a paper from this organization. And it's just setting out everything that you wanna do. Because for me personally, I realize that once I write it down, it does come to fruition. It may take a little while, but it gets there. And then I'm also, in terms of advice, just really trying to, Meet and connect with as many people as you can because I've heard so many times that connections take you farther than just your grades on a piece of paper or skills that you may be like great at. Because from what I've heard and seen is that whenever you connect with people and girl scouts like I met, Like you guys, and that's gonna take me farther when I've met people through college Also, like for working that internship, it was purely like also just connections, like knowing people too. And so what I've realized is that really using the resources that I have here, as well as just connecting is also gonna take me further down the road.

Jennifer: It's all about the network.

Elina: Yes, it is.

Sirisha: It's, I think you hit the nail on the head because when you are in school, it's quite of a huge mindset. Yes and then sometimes even culturally, it's all about putting your head down and going for it. You give it all your best, and meritocracy in some ways gets rewarded. That's the image that school has not that that is not important. You have to give the best like Jennifer said, but what we forget is the real world is completely different. Meritocracy is one small portion of it. Sometimes it can have a very tiny effect because it's the connections in the network that the meritocracy will help you.

[17:06] Being Yourself...Authentic Self

Sirisha: To build, to find opportunities to do other things as well.

Elina: Yes. Oh yes. On top of that, the last thing I did wanna add is also just being yourself. I know just like trying to be like your most authentic self. Cause I know in college it can sometimes be intimidating. Like when like you're interviewing for something or you're trying to get something and say, say that you don't have any networks or connections, right? But you want this opportunity. It's a present. Who you are and the things that you've done in the past to prove that you're qualified to do this position or prove that you're qualified to pursue this. Because I know there are a lot of people that they're nervous about, oh, like I have to act like this way. I have to talk a certain way. I have to sound like a robot. And that's not true at all because. For anything that I've done. I learned that just relaxing and just pretending like they're like my friend, like that I've been talking to them like forever and just, just being lax, I feel is also a big, I feel like just like in just college and the future.

Jennifer: Yeah. I love that Elena said that. Guess again, it goes back to the advice I've gotten and to the core and the mission of Girl Scouts and we want every girl to. She belongs to Girl Scouts and part of belonging is feeling like you can be the core of who you are and that you're welcome as you are. And so I love that Aleena got that. I'm sure she got it from her family and school and also from Girl Scouts to show up as the best version of herself and people are going to be attracted to that... Um, and I hope that many girls get to see that and get to hear Alina say that because I think there's so much, particularly with social media these days, there's such a, it's a comparison culture, right? We're comparing ourselves to other people, and I always say, you're just gonna be a terrible version of that person, right? That's not who you are. Who you are. This world needs exactly who you are. And if you are not that person fully, then the world is gonna miss that. True.

Sirisha: And let's not forget that social media is a very edited culture. You can make look the way you want it to look if you edit it enough.

Jennifer: media looks very happy


Sirisha: Yeah. You know that that's just a sliver of time rather than reality itself in some ways. So yeah, just keeping that in mind and being, because your lived experiences, everything that you bring, your skillset is what makes you unique when you're talking about diversity and culture, in workplaces.

[19:15] Pivoting to adapt...Leadership Journey...Get ready for the new challenge.

Sirisha: We were talking about women in leadership, right? You were saying being resourceful, being organized, being empathetic. There are so many skills that you bring. All of those are what makes you be able to be successful. You described how your skillset after a year and a half as CEO O has been quite distinctly different from your previous CEO E because that's what the organization needed. So you never know, and I think it's quite hard to articulate what an organization always needs because you may find the problem statement in. Because you're working through it and realize that maybe it needs to be.

Jennifer: Yet without question. I'll give you a very good example of that. Pre Covid and post-Covid Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas have needed dramatically different leadership pre covid. We were on a roll. Things were positive, and we were serving 26,000 girl scouts. All the things were going in the direction that we wanted it to go. Then covid hit like for many other organizations, and it was a complete stop and everything turned upside down overnight. And we had to come up with virtual programming and close our camps and do all the start figuring out other financial resources to help support us and then we have the racial strife and the division of our country and all those things hit at once the uncertainty of the world. And now we're having the uncertainty of war and Ukraine and uncertainty of the recession. What our organization needed before Covid and what will we need now is very different now is a very uncertain, scary time, and our employees, quite honestly, and our girls are tired. They're recognizing their mental health challenges and how stretched and strained they are. We're in a time of great uncertainty. What happens? For this organization day after day is not clear. It's, I keep saying we're sitting in the muddy middle, right? Great things are happening and we're facing significant challenges and so I have been on a leadership journey for the last three or four years, the ADEI leadership journey, really understanding my place in the diversity and equity and inclusion space. The systemic racism that we see in our organization has to be unpacked and rebuilt to better serve the girls of tomorrow.

I've been on a leadership journey to B, get better comfort, more comfortable in this world of uncertainty that we live in, right? Every decision I make is unsure. I don't know. Because I don't know what tomorrow looks like and nobody knows what tomorrow looks like. So those kinds of conversations, we're living in this kind of muddy middle, as I said, but also the idea that I need to be extremely compassionate and caring for our staff who are working very hard, but are also very tired.

[21:36] DEI Journey... inclusion...Mental Health Challenge...Impact of COVID

Jennifer: Those are just a few examples of how I have been on a significant leadership journey and change because I wanted to be the right or right leader for this organization post covid, but it needed something different than what I was delivering pre covid. And I'd like to think that everyone's on a leadership journey their whole life anyway. But mine has been super deliberate and you touched on, essentially you're talking about burnout because that's been such a marker, right?

Sirisha: It's been an evolutionary process. Yes. Covid has been eye-opening, and for you halfway through your leadership journey in Girl Scouts, it's transformative. But I think what you're talking about is burnout and having us all deal with these trying times and talk about mental health. I know you have a badge. I did wanna ask you that question. So it's a great segue. , can you talk to me about what this badge on mental health is, I'm glad you're advocating and talking about it in the open and having open discussions when you're talking about systemic racism and dealing with it as an organization and making sure that it filters down to everybody because the whole point of Girl Scouts and any other organization, right? No matter whether you're running a corporate organization, now, you're running a small three-member team or you're working individually, is about equity, about diversity, about understanding that everyone. That they're included, that they're heard, and that they're not excluded because they have unique experiences. They have unique challenges that need to be addressed. So can you touch a little bit on the mental health badge and other aspects that are tied off into these?

Jennifer: Yeah, it's a funny story a little bit and we started our journey toward mental health programming in November 2019. So we thought we would take a luxurious year and do a bunch of research and find all these partners and create the strategy and, then Covid hit in March and we immediately recognized that girls were isolated, anxious, stressed about the future, and starting to be quite honestly depressed and concerned about their. and so we fast-tracked our mental health programming in April 2020. We put together a mental health advisory team of subject matter experts, including psychiatrists and others from organizations around Northeast Texas. We hired someone to serve as our mental health coordinator, and we launched our very first patch last year called the Okay to Say Patch. and it was a patch that was designed to teach girls from kindergarten through 12th grade to recognize their emotions and their minds. The situation, but also to reduce the stigma of mental health. If Covid did anything good for us, it's gotten us talking about the mental health crisis in America, and many of our girls are challenged with anxiety and stress. In some of our communities, families just don't recognize those challenges and they just say, push forward, get through it. You're fine. Don't worry about it. , quite honestly, that's a very scary thing to hear when you're feeling the challenges of a mental health situation. Then we just recently in October, launched a brain health patch with the Center for Brain Health, and this one we continue to do the okay to say patch, where girls are talking about emotions and mental health challenges. But this, the brain health patch is really about how your brain works. Because there's a science behind mental health and mental health challenges and mental wellness, and you can learn in this patch. You learn all about how your brain works in a very progressive and age-appropriate way. And what are exercises you can do to make sure your brain stays healthy, what exercises you can do to make sure your brain gets to rest and is ready for the world? Even in these uncertain times. So we're trying to come at this mental health challenge from all angles. We're providing mental health first aid training for our volunteers. We're providing mental health programming for our girls... We have had a big focus on mental health programs for our staff, including a mental health day, and a wellness. As well as programming for our mental health, and for our staff as well, because they're just as prone to having these challenges as anyone. If I can do anything for this generation of girls, I'd like them to talk more about mental health and mental wellness. Because it is, if you break a leg, you're gonna go see a doctor. If you're depressed, you should also go see a doctor and start to figure out what are the things you need to do to get out of this space. And the fact that many people still dismiss that is not a real illness is concerning because we know the consequences. Not paying attention to kids who are making a cry for help.

Sirisha: True. Elina, did you have anything you wanted to share in that space before? How has your experience been through Covid or what you have heard? Because mental health now is a conversation, and you're right, that's been the positive thing. Something that was always hidden behind the screen that we never talked about and it needs to be discussed. It's a silent illness because no one sees it, right? As they talk about handicapped parking, and this is a social consciousness on our part. When you see someone parking in the handicapped parking, if it's obvious why they're parking, you're okay. But I, I read stories and I hear of women and men and others when they park there and it's not obvious. People are wondering why they parked and why they have a tag. So in some ways, it's the same thing. You can't see anything. That doesn't mean it doesn't. What has been your experience or are you having conversations with your peers or with family around mental health or just Covid was a trying time, uh, being a teenager in high school was isolating in so many ways when you wanna be social and go for graduation with your friends, and you couldn't do any of that.

Elina: Yeah. Yes. I have to agree. I know it Actually, it was funny because my birthday, it's the second to last week of February and we had this spring break coming up, and then, so I had this big party for my 16th birthday. I was like, woo-hoo. All right, so then we're gonna have spring break and then I'm gonna go back to school cause I'm always ready to go back to school after spring break is done... So then it's okay. School's gonna get cancelled for one week. And I was like, okay, that's fine. School's gonna get cancelled for two weeks. Then it kept going, pushing on and on and I was like, I just saw my friends a couple of weeks ago, like everybody, big congregation to going into nothing. And then now it's like we have to stay at home all the time. I wasn't allowed to leave until June 20th. Was trying to figure out what to do. The first, like the first three weeks, I was just bored. Like I didn't know what to do. And then after. I started, I made a schedule, okay, what am I gonna hit for the day? So I wake up in the morning, I eat, I practice s a t, I do a home workout, and then I just talk with my family and hang out with my family. I try to set a schedule and a routine, like even though I am. Going to be at home all day trying to figure out something to do, and that is just an upsetting schedule. So as I thought my days were going by slower when I wasn't doing anything, my days were starting to go by quickly when I started having a schedule. And then also that time I was able just to get closer to my family because we're all basically at home. We're within the proximity of each other. So that's when we got to play with each other. We started doing family nights, so we had games, we had dinners together because no one, had anything planned for the week, so why don't we just do stuff together? And then progressively started talking to friends. We started seeing friends little by little. So back when I think it started, August started hitting, and I started seeing everybody progressively. And so it did get better. But also during Covid, knowing that I had that time, that was prime time for me to like complete everything for my goals award, because I had little parts done with everything going on. I said, okay, I'm gonna do a little by little, but now it's, I have all this time. Just, but at this point, like there's no excuse. Just complete it and go through with it. So it was also a prime time for me to get my stuff done.

Sirisha: Yeah, COVID was interesting. I had teenagers at home. It was great family time, but I think in the second year, they probably wanted to see more of their friends as well. Slowly, the seams are starting to stretch and in a lot of ways I had it lucky because the kids were older and I didn't have to pair in them, be in a cafeteria, or do all like the 10 extra hats that I had to wear. Families with young kids. That was a trying time for everyone. So mental health is just for the kid, for being isolated. Because for those who transition into kindergarten and first grade, it would've been completely mind-boggling to them that, hey, school is all online, and what do you mean? I have to go to school and I have to socialize now, and they've not developed the social skills. And then for the parents to be doing work, doing this caregiving, everything in one shot was a lot to stretch people.

Jennifer: a lot.

[29:32] Building trust and Community in diverse, communities … Mackenzie Scott … Girl Scouts Grant...

Sirisha: What is Girl Scouts have planned for the 3.8 million that you got from McKinsey Scott, which is amazing. I think she's given what, like 30 million to all of Girl Scouts, so that's great that you've got the grant. So what activities and things are you looking forward to?

Jennifer: She gave 84.5 million to the Girl Scout movement and 29 councils received funding. Ours was 3.8 million. And I'll just tell you a quick story. I got a call in May that we were receiving this funding. It was a surprise. We did nothing to apply. She just recognized that Girl Scouts Open Northeast Texas was doing transformational work for girls. I didn't, we didn't get to announce it until just a few weeks ago. I'm so grateful for how she's giving back to the community, particularly to girls and women who are under-resourced. So we are actually amid a transformational initiative to rethink and reimagine Girl Scouts for the future host Covid. We've lost 24% of our membership because families backed away from extracurricular activities. We haven't had access to schools. And what we're hearing both from diverse communities and other communities is that they are considering different organizations that may meet their needs better. and they aren't aware of, nor do they trust Girl Scouts. And so we are going a new approach to build trust and community with families that maybe have never accessed Girl Scouts in the past. We're doing that by investing in our people, investing in our processes, re-imagining our spaces and engaging in the community. It's a four-pronged approach. And the Mackenzie Scott funding is going to fuel that approach. Then after that, once we identify exactly who we need to be for girls of the future, We will be going to the community to do a capital campaign to sustain us for the future, but we believe we're the most important organization for girls today, particularly now that girls are lacking the social-emotional skills that they didn't get during Covid. When I think about Girl Scouts, I think when a girl is born but she's gonna go to school, we still have a community or a place of worship and, but she's gonna have a family that's gonna support her in most cases. Hopefully, she'll have those three legs of a stool. But right now, schools are at the end of their rope. They don't have any more bandwidth to be able to provide social and emotional learning. They're focused completely on academics and not every girl has a strong community or even a strong family. So I think to make girls strong in the future, we're gonna have to consider Girl Scouts the fourth leg of that stool, and to ensure that every girl gets that leadership journey, that social and emotional learning. Place of belonging that perhaps they're not gonna get from anywhere else. And that's my reimagination of Girl Scouts. That's my thinking of who Girl Scouts needs to be. It needs to be as prevalent as an important and as a necessity for every girl as anything else that's in their lives. That's what we're reimagining ourselves as. And Mackenzie Scott is allowing us to do some big thinking around.

Sirisha: 80 million is, is amazing, it is a contribution to support it. I wanted to take a little deeper, you said it was trust and other issues. So what is it that people, what is the sort of the core point that they're struggling with that you need to transform?

Jennifer: I think it's a couple of things. Quite honestly, I don't think we've been proximate to communities. I don't think we've gotten to know our communities. And honestly, I'd say that what we've always done has gone into communities and said, here's Girl Scouts, take it or leave it. Instead, what we wanna do going forward? Hey, what do you want out of a girl-serving organization and how can we be that for you in every community, no matter how high or low income, no matter what their diversity, they have traditions and legacies and practices that support that community. We need to know what those practices and traditions are so we can engage them and elevate them for the girls in that community and that means that we have to... That means we have to stay. We can't go and come out. We're gonna have to stick with those communities for some time. We're gonna have to be proximate to those communities. We're gonna have to be engaged in building trust in those communities. It's a very different approach. I think we've been somewhat transactional in the past. This new approach is far more relational, and that means that we have to have a different skill set. Thus the important investment we're making in our staff to ensure that our staff are ready to be the representatives and ambassadors of Girl Scouts, is that we need our staff to be in the communities that we want us best serve.

Sirisha: You almost need community advocates and ambassadors with each community. And even I'm thinking of someone like Elena, right? Someone who's been a transition point who can tell you the history of it and what's important to you. But also, who's a living example of it as well?

Jennifer: Yes, exactly. Because you are right. Every every place has its traditions and trust is something very hard-earned, but easy to lose. So it takes a lot of investment too. Be very careful about how you choose to communicate what message you're communicating. It's an investment in time and money, right? It's not something that's gonna happen overnight. I told my board, and I said, we wanna serve more girls in this community, but it's not gonna happen tomorrow. It's gonna happen in three or four years, or maybe even longer, and that's okay. We have to build the infrastructure to be the kind of organization we know girls need us to be. We need to be the best version of ourselves, just like each of us individually is trying to be versions of ourselves, Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas is on its journey to be the best version of itself.

Sirisha: How do you choose to pick which communities, because you can't hit everybody? So what sort of criteria would you look at when you are picking these communities to engage?

Jennifer: We're already engaged in several communities. We're partnering with Bachman Lake, and that's a Hispanic community with which we've been partnering for some time, but also we've been engaging the Hispanic community, both leaders on our board and committees, but also grassroots in the communities and understanding that culture. A lot of those communities, the Hispanic community tells us. Love the morals and values and characteristics of Girl Scouts. They just don't know much about us. Quite honestly, Mom wasn't a Girl Scout. They don't know our traditions and legacies, so it's an opportunity for us to go in and engage them. So we're excited about partnering there.

[35:15] Encouraging, Enabling, Empowering Girls in STEM …Building a STEM pipeline...STEM Center of Excellence...

Jennifer: In addition, Elena mentioned our STEM Center of Excellence. It's down right at, it's in the city of Dallas, but right near Duncanville, Texas, and it's 92 acres. It's. 15 million investment we made in that camp. And it is a 21st-century living laboratory for girls, and it's open to all girls in northeast Texas. But we have an opportunity to build relationships down in the southern Dallas area around the STEM Center of Excellence, where those girls have access to a unique asset that can help them identify what kind of career they may wanna have. This is a community that has many jobs going unfilled. And STEM is the highest paying jobs there are if we wanna break the cycle of poverty in this community, regardless of demographic, we need to get more girls access to those jobs in the stem. A lot, you said at the beginning, women are still underrepresented in STEM careers. We think we can change the workforce pipeline. So I think we partner with ours, his Hispanic communities, starting with Bachman Lake. Find out what we need to do to build trust. And then in the community surrounding our STEM Center of Excellence in Southern Dallas. I think those are two good places for us to start.

[36:18] Empowering access to education...First generation college

Jennifer: Totally. And the opportunities are also beyond that. A lot of communities do not have people who have gone through college, a first-generation college, and. Just for them to understand what it means. Think you hit the nail on the head when you said they don't know what Girl Scouts means. Even to me, my limited knowledge is I grew up in India, so what I remember when I was like a kid in elementary school.

Sirisha: So it's very different on what the scope is and sure, you're continuously evolving yourself. So in some ways, it's about visibility. You have to market yourself, even though you are a service organization, you have had to tell people what you have to. And the opportunity is you are working the pipeline downstream, meaning the people in the communities, but you have an opportunity to now work the pipeline upstream with corporations not only to support but giving these girls opportunities to do potential internships or have STEM camps or get access to people in engineering fields so they see other women representatives that they can look up to.

And preferably if you have access to similar communities, someone who's grown up in that and who's been extremely successful, I think when they see that, kind of opens your eyes. Yeah. The picture changes in your mind saying, okay, I can do this. Yeah. Very nice. This should be a pretty transformational journey and you've been pretty honest and open about trust being an issue. It takes a lot of, I guess in a way, trust to say that even in a, in a certain open forum, You've highlighted what the challenges are and probably a lot of organizations are going through similar challenges. Yeah. Post Covid has been very hard to engage even inside corporations and committees because you've had quite a significant portion of the workforce, like come on board during Covid, so you haven't built those physical connections back to work. I would look around and sometimes I wouldn't recognize a quarter to half the people because so many of them had come on board when. Working from home, you don't always have a video call so you don't meet everybody. And so it's, you have to make that human connection to our, Elena said, you have to go back and make those connections again and understand that's what's, that's the glue that holds us all together.

[38:13] Note to 21-year-old self

Sirisha: Yep. So this is a question I ask everyone as we wrap up this interview. Jennifer, I'll start with you and I think I might change the question a little bit for Elena. What is the advice you would give your 21 year old self trust in yourself?

Jennifer: You are who you need to be and just build on that.

Sirisha: Excellent. And it goes back to being your authentic self.

Elina, I think 21 probably is not the right question for you... Oh, I'm gonna have to think about this. Okay. What advice would you give your 16-year-old self? Because that was at a pivotal time as Covid came, but it doesn't have to be covid related.

Elina: I think the advice I would give to my 16-year-old self is really. Truly being yourself. I feel when you're in high school, I guess from the high school I was a part of, sometimes you felt like you couldn't be like your most authentic self. And so it was always you just act like someone that maybe like you're not all the time and it just didn't feel like right and you know, I went over Covid and stuff like that. That was the time when I had time to just like self-reflect on myself and what I want going forward in my life. So something that I would just go back to is just, just really being confident in yourself and just trying to be the most authentic.

Sirisha: Lovely. I think both of you have got similar thoughts and what is the one word you would use to describe yourself?

Jennifer: I'd probably say authentic.

Sirisha: I would probably say inquisitively. Very cool. So, everyone who's listening, I think we've touched on different aspects. If you're part of Girl Scouts, we would love to hear your story. If you're from Northeast Texas or wherever in the world. What the impact has, what it given you and what do you think there's an opportunity for Girls Scouts to expound on because there, as Jennifer said, they're transforming themselves so I'm sure they would love feedback from other aspects as well.

[39:49] Takeaways

Sirisha: I would love to hear your stories. Also, we touched upon goal setting arena struck me as someone super organized. I find that quite amazing. She's super organized, which is cool and has set goals and has almost like a vision board in front of her. On how to achieve that. But some of the key takeaways are investing in yourself, both mentally and physically in a way, because we're talking about mental health and making space for yourself and your community and also bringing your whole self to wherever you are, being authentic. And don't let yourself, in some ways be minimized or doubt that you can't. To go back to Jennifer's experience, you can do whatever you choose to do, and just because you may think you're not a right fit for that role or that organization or that opportunity, don't hold yourself back because that you might be exactly the person they didn't know they were looking, The thing you have to realize is people are not always sure what they're looking for till that right person comes along and then things will flex to fit and give you that space and you can, if you're taking on a new role. My only suggestion from everything you've heard is to be whoever you are. Do not try to imitate somebody else. Because that is not what everyone needs. They could just have had that person do their role and everything we talked about with social media and stuff, that's just an edited version, but bring your, unedited student to everything we are having in this conversation. So thank you. I'd love to get some feedback if you're listening to this and hear your own stories on how this was and you can email me at women carrier in live to let us know. And Elina and Jennifer, if you wanted to share the social media links for Girl Scouts on your own so people can get in touch.

Jennifer: just visit GSNETX and you can see our Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and all of those handles. Thank you so much for allowing me to do this with you. It was a lot of.

Sirisha: Thank you for taking the time.

Elina: I just wanted to say thank you.

Sirisha: I hope you enjoyed today's episode. Tune in every other Wednesday to catch the next episode. If you think a friend may benefit from this, please share this podcast with them. All the resources we talked about are also available on my website, women career and Please like, subscribe and leave us a review on your favourite podcast platform. I would love to hear from you about your stories and your. You can reach me on my blog, Twitter, Instagram, or Gmail, women's carrier in life. Until next time, this is Siria signing off. Remember, there are infinite possibilities to drive change in your career and life, which will you choose to make a reality today.

Guest : Jennifer Bartkowski

Guest : Elina Dickens

Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas

Host: Sirisha

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