Eighteen months ago when Karen Meier took the helm of Boy Scouts of America Inland Northwest Council, she became one of just six female Scout executives in the organization, and locally the first ever female Scout executive.
Earlier this month when Brian Newberry became CEO of Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, he became the only male chief executive in the Girl Scout organization.
“I really consider Spokane to be proactive in breaking down barriers and looking for the best individuals for what the organization does,” Meier said.
Indeed, Spokane isn’t usually considered progressive, but these hires are definitely outside the norm.
For Meier, the position offered a homecoming. The 1979 Mead High School graduate and WSU alumna had been serving on the Far East Council in Japan.
“Wherever Americans live, you’ll find Scouting,” she said.
She’d followed her husband throughout his 22-year military career.
“Now, he follows mine,” she said, smiling.
The selection committees of both organizations chose to focus on hiring the best candidate for the job, regardless of gender.
“While I’m sure it didn’t go without notice to the selection committee that one of our top candidates for a position historically held by men was actually a woman, once we delved into matters of skill set, experience, leadership traits and vision, honestly, Karen’s gender was never an issue,” said Paul Read, Inland Northwest Council president.
Jeff Philipps, who headed the nominating committee, agreed.
“The goal of the nominating committee was to select the very best candidate to drive the future of scouting, regardless of gender,” he said. “Karen was chosen for her proven leadership, her financial acumen and her passion to deliver scouting programs that engage youth.”
Newberry’s selection didn’t raise any eyebrows at the Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, either.
The former commander of Fairchild Air Force Base’s 92nd Air Refueling Wing, retired after a 23-year military career, and most recently served a four-year stint as executive director of Leadership Spokane.
He was a member of the local Girl Scouts board development committee, but said, “I initially didn’t apply because I recognize the importance of diversity and of having a female in leadership as a role model.”
However, others encouraged him to apply.
“Brian is a demonstrated champion of youth and committed to the Girls Scout mission and movement,” said Kelly Fukai, Girl Scouts board chairwoman. “He’s a proven team-builder and tireless advocate who will utilize those skills with our staff, council and community partners to elevate and amplify the success of our girls.”
Meier and Newberry believe leadership is gender neutral and both are passionate about growing and developing their programs.
Meier oversees 20 full-time employees, Newberry 28, but both leaders say volunteers are the heart and soul of their organizations.
In fact, energizing those volunteers ranks high on the Boy Scout Inland Northwest Council’s strategic vision, called “Vision 2022.”
“Volunteers are our most cherished asset,” Meier said.
Newberry said the same about his organization.
“I’m not an expert in Girl Scout leadership,” he said. “But I’m here to encourage, motivate and inspire our incredible staff and volunteers – they’re the experts.”
Also at the top of their respective agendas – growing membership.
Newberry said many, if not all, youth leadership organizations face declining numbers due to a many factors, including busy families and the prevalence of young people connecting through technology instead of in-person.
He may be new to Girl Scouts, but he already knows the significance for girls who join.
“Fifty percent of woman in business today were Girl Scouts,” he said. “Seventy-six percent of female senators were Girl Scouts. Ninety percent of female astronauts were Girl Scouts, and 100 percent of female secretaries of state were Girl Scouts.”
Likewise, Meier is passionate about developing the next generation of leaders.
“Boy Scouts of America are going to continue to inspire and make a positive impact on the world,” she said.
That role is continuing to evolve as the national organization prepares to welcome boys and girls into Cub Scouts during the 2018-19 program year. The Inland Northwest Council is an early adopter and will allow eligible packs to officially register girls (K-4) in Cub Scouting.
While there’s no name change for the younger set, the older group, those ages 11-17, will undergo a name change in February to become Scouts BSA.
Whatever tensions may emerge at the national level, at the local level, Meier and Newberry are embracing their seemingly unconventional jobs.
Meier said their hires demonstrates the “little big city” mentality of Spokane.
Newberry said it speaks to the region’s pioneering mindset.
“We’re in this together to make our community and our nation a better place and diversity is part of that,” he said.
Neither believes their respective organizations are in competition for members, funding or volunteers.
“There’s room in our community for all youth leadership programs.” said Meier. “There are endless possibilities Spokane has to offer leaders now and in the future.”
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