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The Girl Scouts used to be segregated. A century later, they have their first Black CEO.

Judith Batty, a former Girl Scout herself, made history when she became the first Black woman to join the youth organization as CEO.

The Girl Scouts used to be segregated. A century later, they have their first Black CEO.
Image Source: The Global Ambassadors Program

On Monday this week, former ExxonMobil lawyer Judith Batty assumed the position of interim CEO of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA). She is the first Black woman to assume the position and was once a Girl Scout herself. A century ago, when the youth leadership organization was first established by Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low, all girls were supposed to be part of the movement. However, girls of color—Black girls, in particular—were left out. This makes Batty's entrance as CEO even more monumental occasion for the organization, CNN reports.


The Girl Scouts was founded in 1912. During its first few years, the Girl Scouts racially segregated girls into Black and White groups. Years later, when Batty—whose mother was a Girl Scout, too—went on to become a Brownie with her local Nassau County Council in New York, this was no longer a practice. The now-CEO continued scouting over the years, after which she went on to serve two terms on the National Board. Joining the GSUSA as CEO is not the first milestone she has achieved; Batty has served as both a corporate executive and senior legal counsel for ExxonMobil, where she was the first woman and first Black General Counsel of the ExxonMobil affiliate in Japan.


According to Batty, her top priority at the moment as the interim CEO is "to ensure a smooth transition." Since joining the youth leadership organization earlier this week, she has been "working with, learning from, and listening to all of the members" of the GSUSA. Batty fiercely recognizes the organization's racial past and hopes to steer the Girl Scouts towards a more progressive path, with regard to diversity and inclusion. "While we are proud of our progress, I am committed to engaging the movement in difficult discussions about race in an effort to make the Girl Scouts an actively anti-racist organization," she affirmed. "In addition, I will work to drive our technology forward so that we can meet our girls where they are and deliver programming directly to them on the platforms they use. And finally, I am committed to ensuring our movement has the resources it needs to overcome disruptions caused by the pandemic."


When Low first established the Girl Scouts during the years of Jim Crow, she left it up to local chapters to decide how they would run their programming. Though she feared that White girls in the South would resign if Black girls joined the movement, she claimed that the GSUSA was "bound to in the end to admit them." This was, nonetheless, not Low's attempt at inclusivity. Stacy A. Cordery at Iowa State University wrote in her book Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of Girl Scouts, "It is safe to say that in 1912, a time of virulent racism, neither Daisy nor those who authorized the constitution considered African American girls to be part of the 'all.'" The "all" here referring to the fact that the organization was reportedly open to all girls.


The desegregation of the GSUSA began in the 1950s as a result of the Civil Rights movement. In 1956, Martin Luther King Jr. even described the organization as "a force of desegregation." Almost 20 years later, Gloria Dean Randle Scott became the first Black national president of GSUSA. Today, the GSUSA has 1.7 million girl members, 13.1% of which are Black. Nearly 17% of members are Hispanic and another 5.5% Asian. White girls still make up a large majority of the Girl Scouts membership at 71%, but things are sure to change over time.


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